In Defense of Stefan

By Ezra Klein

Like in all Top Chef posts, this contains spoilers, though actually very light ones.

Fine. So Stefan is hard to work with. Arrogant. Foreign. Ever watch how he smokes his cigarettes? So smug. He gets picked last for teams and bashed most on the video cuts. But it’s as if none of the chefs have paid attention to the challenge outcomes. It might be unpleasant to be on a team with Stefan. But you always win. It might be unpleasant to have him take control of the menu. But he’s (almost) always right*, and he’s never been challenge-losing wrong. Pairing with him is like giving yourself immunity. So why isn’t he a sought-after partner? Why are these chefs elevating pleasantness above tactics?

*The exception being Jeff’s tomato sorbet.

16 responses to “In Defense of Stefan

  1. My girlfriend and I couldn’t agree with you more. The entire episode last night we were blasting the stupidity of Hosea and Leah for purposefully marginalizing Stephan, and Radhika for going out of her way to not pick him. I’m pretty sure I want my chef to be a little arrogant because at the minimum I want my chef to take ownership of the food she/he has made for me.

  2. You misspelled his name. It’s “Stefan”. With an “f”, not a “ph”.

    You might consider googling or checking TC’s website before posting.

  3. Here here. Stefan is an asshole. But he is an asshole that can cook… really really well. It highlights the need to pick people for what they are good at. DON’T pick Hosea because you love him. DO pick Fabio to be the front of the house man. DO pick Stefan to cook.

    It also highlights something that annoyed me previously. Some of them don’t take desert seriously. (Witness what’s-his-name that got booted for the poorly executed rose-infused creme brulee, but thought desert would give him a free pass). Stefan shows that you can win no matter how small you think the assignment is if you do it well.

    But I still love Fabio the most.

  4. To paraphrase:

    We reject as false the choice between our safety (from elimination) and our ideals

  5. As we said at the Flophouse last night, they hated Hung, too.

  6. I actually like Stefan. The man can cook. He knows his shit.

  7. Is it true no one on Stefan’s team has ever gone home? If not (and I haven’t been keeping track), you’ve got to worry that he’ll get you so flustered and discombobulated that you go home despite his stellar performance.

  8. . . . that almost happened to Leah last night, as I recall.

  9. Midwest Product

    He gets picked last for teams and bashed most on the video cuts. But it’s as if none of the chefs have paid attention to the challenge outcomes. It might be unpleasant to be on a team with Stephan. But you always win.

    Is winning at all costs the point of the experience? I think even among the participants you’d find a variety of answers to that question. But even if you assume a totally game-theoretical approach, picking Stefan right away in spite of his douchebaggery might piss off everyone else, leaving the contestant with a Pyrrhic victory. It’s not going to win them any points with Stefan himself, who takes great pains to make sure everyone knows he doesn’t give a fuck, but it might well lose points with everyone else that they’re inevitably going to have to work with later on. It could be the players all view it as a sort of Prisoner’s Dilemma; all felt they must shun Stefan because they didn’t trust what the others would do if they didn’t shun him.

  10. the other glaring exception in stefan’s track record was last week when the judges universally panned his dishes.

  11. “they hated Hung, too.”

    And Marcel!

    I don’t think the Quickfire winners are exactly naturals at Risk. Tactics just isn’t their bag, so to speak. Neither is competitiveness. they were definitely shoot-for-the-middle types. Not a good mix for Top Chef.

  12. If you are the team leader, having him on the team undermines you. If you are confident and wish to stand out for your particular leadership skills, you don’t want him on your team. Stefan will not listen to you and will do whatever he wants regardless. Sure, it’s a risk to not choose one of the most talented cook’s, but it might be worth it.

  13. I don’t understand why they keep saying he is trying to sabotage people. I mean he’s definitely rude and hard to work with, but I’ve never seen him do anything to sabotage anyone. I agree that generally he ends up saving people.

  14. I think Stefan is great. He knows how to get the job done. People like to complain about him, but that’s just because he’s good. He would have been a great team leader.

  15. Also, with a show full of people who can’t actually cook well (extremely disappointing group), he’s the only one that is refined and elegant in his cooking. He also hasn’t used scallops yet.

  16. We’ve been having this same conversation around the chef’s table and I think a couple of points here are salient:
    1) I am not convinced that stefan is difficult to work with. He is opinionated, yes, but he is also expert. In past seasons we have actually seen mean, competative constestants who are legitimately confrontational. As a friend pointed out, however, the show is trying to drum up drama, so we must be seeing Stefan’s worst. If this is his worst, he is pretty chill and the contestants are just scared to play with a serious competitor.

    2) Leadership skills are clearly lacking, but so are cooking skills and Stefan has both and is usually right about both. Why wouldn’t you want this guy on your team?

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