Meet Rich Terapak and Steve Stover, the Duo Behind WOSU's 'Chefs in the City'
Two of Columbus’ consummate food hounds celebrate 40 years of cooking together.
The duo of Rich Terapak and Steve Stover are a kind of Laurel and Hardy among Columbus gourmands, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s restaurants. You may have heard them on WOSU 89.7, where the pair discuss the local food scene, dining trends and more during All Sides With Ann Fisher’s “Chefs in the City” on the first Friday of each month.
For the past 40 years, the two lawyers have moonlighted as cooking instructors at various venues around town—from their early days at Overbey’s Emporium at The Continent to Betty Rosbottom’s La Belle Pomme cooking school at Lazarus to Easton’s Sur La Table. Most recently, they’ve taught classes—that morph into dinner parties—at Franklin Park Conservatory. A recent class last fall at Franklin Park had them demonstrating a pair of on-trend “sheet pan dinners.”
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During an interview at the Columbus Club in December, I ask the two friends whether it’s the cooking or the teaching that keeps them engaged as instructors after 40 years. “It’s the feel-good you get out of the classes,” Terapak says. “For a while we had this one group of, now that we’re 75 we can call ’em old ladies. They came to classes for years. They followed us around from different locations, and that’s sort of rewarding. As lawyers, you didn’t get a lot of immediate positive responses. You know, ‘Gee, wasn’t that a great contract.’”
Stover is the “always prepared” half of the equation, while Terapak admits to winging it. “We have always done lesson plans, which I think are helpful,” Stover says. “And we’ve always [taught] our own recipes. We were at Sur la Table for a couple years, and I’m exaggerating, but they said, ‘In April, we want you to do Mongolian cuisine. And here are the recipes.’” That was the end of that.
The pair have observed—and contributed to—the evolution of the Columbus dining scene into a more sophisticated and well-respected one. At some point during their tenure, Columbus morphed into a “food city.” Terapak says the city’s coming of age parallels restaurateur Cameron Mitchell’s success, especially in the early aughts. “He kind of pushed the envelope a little bit,” Terapak says. “That helped, I think, because people trusted the quality.”
Stover believes the turning point was a bit earlier. “I think Columbus really came into its own when chef [Hartmut] Handke came here [in 1991]. Kent Rigsby opened his restaurant,” Stover says. “And then, in the downturn in 2008 and 2009, things changed. Handke’s closed. And then there was a new generation of chefs. That’s when Cameron Mitchell really came to the fore. Also, you had Columbus Dine Originals … which encouraged supporting local restaurants.”
The two foodies are both concerned that the lingering COVID-19 pandemic—and now the omicron variant—is curtailing the restaurant scene’s momentum, but they remain inspired by the city’s service industry. “What excites me is that people have the gumption to do something like Understory [the new concept from Wolf’s Ridge Brewing] in the middle of [the pandemic],” Terapak says. “We’re conservative old lawyers, you know. We don’t take chances, and these people are still willing to invest in this.”
“Another reason we do this is we really care about restaurants that do the right thing: made-from-scratch quality, not taking shortcuts,” Stover adds. “And we want to support the people that are doing things the right way. I’m really passionate about that.”
At one point during our interview, I sit back and watch Stover and Terapak as they tell stories about judging Ohio State Fair food contests for years. (“One time I got stuck doing the Spam cookoff … Spam stroganoff. It was just awful,” Stover says. “I had better discretion,” Terapak quips.) They interrupt and finish each other’s sentences. This must be how Ann Fisher feels during tapings of “Chefs in the City.” Trying to corral a conversation between these two longtime friends—good luck. It’s probably easier to demonstrate the art of cassoulet in front of a class of hungry students. And that’s why Stover and Terapak’s classes have stayed popular all these years: It’s not so much about the food but the camaraderie. And maybe a little bit about the wine, which is served “at halftime, before the marching band comes out,” Stover says.
I ask them what makes their partnership work. “Our friend Jim Budros [a fellow cooking teacher and co-founder of City Barbeque] has attended a couple of the classes. He says, ‘Go for the show,’” Terapak says. “It’s the repartee. We’ll be doing something—this happens all too frequently—and we’ll get carried away and talking. Then all of a sudden something’s burning.”
“We always say we’ve been teaching together for 40 years, and we haven’t killed each other yet,” Stover adds. “[My wife and I have] been friends with the Terapaks for years and traveled all over the world together. We’re with them, it seems, about two or three days every week.”
“And you aren’t sick of each other?” I ask. They wince and, in perfect comedic timing, both take a sip of wine.
This story is from the January 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.