Stefan Richter is not one to hold back when it comes to offering an opinion on just about anything. Take his view on the fame he has gained from being a contestant on the Bravo reality TV series, “Top Chef.”
“It’s the same story every day,” Richter says. “It doesn’t change. They come in and they want to talk about ‘Top Chef.’ ‘Oh my God, Stefan, this episode was cool.’ People walk in all the time, and it’s the same story. For them, it’s the first time they have talked to me, but I’ve already told the same story 700 times. You have to have enough patience to deal with it.”
Richter, described on his website as a “larger-than-life personality and world-renowned chef,” loves the adrenaline rush he gets by competing on shows like “Top Chef” and by owning restaurants like Stefan’s at L.A. Farm in Santa Monica, Calif.
“It’s been an interesting ride,” says Richter, who also owns and operates three restaurants in his native Finland, as well as Stefan F. Richter’s European Catering. “It comes with pros and cons. I love people and the good thing is, I’m very hyper. I love people, and I love new clients and new faces. I love them. But somebody who is not as hyper and as social as I am, it’s a bit of a hard time. It takes so much energy out of you because you have to talk to people every day.”
Fortunately for Richter, he really doesn’t mind answering the same questions over and over again.
“It has helped my career tremendously,” Richter says of the show’s influence on his life. “Without ‘Top Chef,’ I wouldn’t have what I have.”
Richter was 13 when he left home to begin a four-year apprenticeship for a chef in southern Germany. His mother played a big role in inspiring him to become a chef, spending time with him in the kitchen after school beginning when he was 5 or 6 years old.
“I went to my mom’s work, and I would spend some time there,” Richter says. “I always enjoyed the whole idea of the restaurant business. It was always healthy stuff. Not weird healthy, but it was always from scratch. It could have been fried, but it always was good stuff made from scratch.”
Being a chef, says Richter, is the kind of profession that is not open to just anyone who wants to do it.
“When you’re a chef, you have to be creative, and you have to have talent,” he says. “It’s about talent. I know people, and they want to be chefs so bad, but they have no talent. If you love fixing cars, you’re probably going to be a good mechanic. But if you hate cars, and you’re only being a mechanic because you have to, you’re going to do a (expletive) job fixing cars. You’re not going to care. It’s all about how much love you have for what you do and how much talent you have.”
Richter doesn’t have one particular kind of food that he likes to cook more than any other.
“Cooking makes me happy,” Richter says. “It’s my happy place. It could be fish; it could be meat; it could be anything. I don’t love one more than the other. I love it all. Let’s face it. A great taco is a great taco. It just has to be done well.”
Of course, there’s a big difference between cooking in your kitchen at home and cooking for customers in a restaurant, especially one that has your name on the front door.
“You have to find good people and train them,” Richter says. “You have to find people who have that passion and enjoy doing it, not the ones who are doing it for a paycheck. And you have to give them the ability to be creative. My cooks are allowed to do specials. I taste them before, but they can do specials. Otherwise, they are going to walk away and create their own. So I’d rather keep them happy and let them cook a bit.”
Don’t be late
Richter is admittedly hyper, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what the future will hold. But one thing that does stick in his craw is people who are late. It’s one of the reasons that his watch is always 15 minutes ahead of the actual time.
“In 15 minutes, I can fix a lot of stuff,” Richter says. “A lot of people, they don’t think about that. What bugs me most about business is when people will say, ‘Hey, let’s have a meeting to talk about whatever and whatever.’ So you say, ‘OK, let’s meet in the restaurant at 11.’ Then they call you and say, ‘Hey, sorry, I’m stuck in traffic.’ Dude, you’ve lived in L.A. for 12 years now. You should know better. If you’re not on time, I’m not interested. You’re wasting my personal time.”
Looking to the future, Richter says he’d like to have a child someday and take a motorcycle trip through Russia and Europe. Other than that, he plans to continue opening restaurants a few at a time.
“I don’t want to go crazy because I’m not greedy,” Richter says. “People get greedy after they open one after the other, and they spread themselves so thin that they can’t produce a good product. I’d rather stick with what I know.” ●
Learn more about Stefan Richter:
How to reach: Stefan’s at L.A. Farm, (310) 449-4000 or www.stefansrestaurants.com