Top Chef Runners-up Speak

Top Chef’s overhyped, underwhelming (yet highly rated) fifth season came to an end last night, and just like that we realized that the agony and the ecstasy of this competition would soon be missing from our lives. The cheftestants experienced considerably more agony than ecstasy: one finalist was led astray by a sous chef, another made the mistake of freezing fish, and the other opted not to make a dessert course. In the end, dessert-averse Hosea took home the top prize, leaving Carla Hall and Stefan Richter behind to lick their wounds. We spoke with the two of them this morning about what went wrong and what they’re up to next.

Carla Hall

Stefan RichterPhoto: Courtesy of Bravo


So what were your thoughts on this final challenge? Were you pleased?
How could I be pleased? I was really happy about my hors d’oeuvre. I loved my first course. The second course, I loved the soup. In hindsight, I should have just done a beautifully seared piece of meat and really gone with the meat and potatoes and just let the judges fall in love with that soulful, well-prepared complex, but simple food. And then of course the last course I should have gone with my tart. That said, I never once considered that it was Casey’s fault.

So Casey wasn’t bossy or overbearing? She gave ideas and you liked them?
She had ideas. I accepted them, and I said ‘okay I think we can do this.’ I think I did lose my confidence. When you are in a situation and you’ve done it on your own and you try to keep everything together, as soon as there is somebody in front of you who has been through it, you almost exhale at that point and say ‘Oh my God, thank God I have help!’ And you’re like, ‘okay, let me lean on you, let me listen, what do you have for me? Let me take some of your energy.’ And I think I did a little bit too much of that and I gave my power away.

If you had put out courses that were more Carla, more your style, would you have a serious chance of winning this thing?
I have no doubt. I really believe that. I believe even if I had simply done a seared piece of meat and let the sauce be the star, that would have been great. And if I had done the tart, that would have been really great.

The prize money is a big draw but it’s worth mentioning that you were by leaps and bounds the audience favorite, which has its own sort of currency.
I truly believe that, and I sent out a big note to all of my fans on my Facebook page. It didn’t turn out the way that we wanted, but to have the heart and the love of all of my fans — and truly, I feel it, — means so much more to me. It’s another kind of winning. It’s not a prize that anybody even knew that we were going to get. So I’m so happy and so humbled by everybody’s support and notes.

What are your plans for the future at this point?
My plan is to continue catering. I have a kitchen in downtown D.C. and there’s a front space where I can teach cooking classes and have a chef’s table and invite people and just share a moment with me, occasionally. And then I’ll go to sell my cookie collection. A collection of sweet and savory cookies.

Looking back on this whole experience, what was the highlight for you?
Jacques Pepin, when he said ‘I could die happy with your meal,’ and how the peas stood out. For me, how the peas meant so much, figuratively as well as literally, that’s something that I really love. Something as simple as a pea was made memorable. When you really care about something you don’t care how small it is, it just makes a big splash.

You often spoke about putting your love into the cooking. Specifically what does that mean for you?
It means to be present when I’m making something. If I’m cutting carrots I’m thinking about cutting the carrots. I’m not thinking about ‘oh, who am I going to see tonight? Do I have an interview?’ and I want to enjoy the process of making this dish. Because when I’m enjoying the process, everybody feels it.

Stefan Richter

Stefan RichterPhoto: Courtesy of Bravo


What did you think of the way the show was edited?
I look great! Did I look great or not?

Did Hosea make better food?
You get judged by your last meal. We probably all cooked a pretty mediocre meal to be quite honest. If this is the best meal I’ve ever cooked, then I should not be cooking.

Why did that happen?
Because you have only five hours. You’re in a kitchen. A lot of people don’t see those little moments you have. You run around, you gotta run to the salt, the oil, the pots and pans, you don’t know where stuff is, it takes an extra hour or two. You know? It’s a bit different, you know?

If you take every challenge into account would you say you’re a better chef?
Do the math. How many challenges did I win?

I don’t know, eight?
Eight plus the Foo Fighters plus the group challenge. I won ten challenges including group challenges. I’m good, man. People truly know who’s the most talented guy on that show.

The show made it look like Hosea was sort of jealous of you. Do you think that was fake?
You know what? People are always gunning for the guy with the fame and fortune and good lucks. If I hadn’t won the first two challenges or if I’d been somewhere on the middle or the bottom, he wouldn’t have been gunning for me and talking shit about me, right? It’s the nature of the beast.

What was at stake for you in this competition?
I wanted to be known as the best chef on the show. After taxes, it’s $57,000 something. It’s not the money.

That’s not a lot of money when you’re talking about a restaurant, is it?
Ask anybody, to open a restaurant, if you get a small, decent space with 50, 60 seats, you’ve got to have at least seven hundred, eight hundred grand in your pocket. At least. Just to even go somewhere. I hope they up the price for next year, to $250,000 or $300,000 or something.

So what was the highlight of this whole experience for you?
For me to meet Tom and Padma, Eric Ripert, Jean-Georges ... all these guys, they’re great chefs. It’s amazing to have the chance to be around those people. And to be on national television. How many people do you know that have been on national television? It’s so nice. It’s great for everybody’s career, including Carla, Fabio, Hosea, all of us are getting a good, good deal here. We all love it.

So what about your crush on Jamie? What was the attraction for you?
She has the sweetest laugh, and she’s a great chef. My biggest competition on that show is Jamie. When Jamie left I was pretty bored.

And then do you have any plans to open new restaurants? What’s your ultimate goal?
My ultimate goal is to be Tom Colicchio, one of the smartest restaurateurs I’ve ever met in my life. And marry a woman like Padma.

Read more posts by Michael Alan Connelly

Filed Under: carla hall, stefan richter, top chef, top chef season five

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