Industry Insiders: Wolfgang Puck, Resto Wizard

Easily one of the most celebrated celebrity chefs in the world, Wolfgang Puck speaks about food with balls, juggling more restaurants than he has fingers, and still finding time to make love.

Where do you love to eat? In France, Beaumaniere. In Italy, Quattro Passi. And in Los Angeles, Matsuhisa. What is your favorite food? Food with some guts or balls, as we would say in the kitchen— no matter what origin. Where are your secret spots? Sidebar at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and Angelini Osteria for true Italian food.

How did you come to LA? I grew up in Austria where I did my apprenticeship. At 17, I went to France and worked there in some of the best restaurants, like Beaumaniere, Maxim’s, Hôtel de Paris. My first job was in Indianapolis, but my dream was always to go to California, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and I ended up in Los Angeles in 1975 and fell in love with the city, the climate, and the excitement with everything new. I opened Spago in 1982 and Chinois on Main a year later. I think it was the beginning of a new style of cooking in America.

Who do you admire in your industry? The first one, Raymond Thuilier; a true renaissance man who had the passion and love for cooking and who inspired me and taught me many things. Foremost, that great cooking starts with great ingredients. Second, Andre Soltner, because he had the stamina and professionalism to spend every day of his life in his one restaurant, Lutece, in New York. I do not know if he has the perfect wife, but I know he had the perfect restaurant before it closed in 2004.

What is a trend you like in the dining industry these days? I like that many restaurants today have sommeliers who make up many interesting wine lists and serve wine in a professional way. Also, there is a bigger value put on professional service.

Is there anything you dislike in your industry these days? Most young chefs don’t have the patience to learn the basics so they can grow and become chefs with the right foundation.

What is something that we might not know about you? I am involved with many charities from Los Angeles to Cleveland to Las Vegas, and I also love modern art. Robert Rauschenberg and the Los Angeles artist John Baldisarri are two of my favorites.

What’s next? We will open two more restaurants in the first six months of 2009. One is called Five Sixty in Dallas. It will have a great view and Asian-inspired menu. The second one is a Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill in downtown Los Angeles next to the Staples Center at L.A. Live.

And lastly, what are you doing tonight? I will be in my three restaurants in Los Angeles: Spago, Chinois, and Cut. Have dinner with my wife at 11 p.m., then go home, and hopefully we’ll make love.

Photo: Lisa Romerein

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