Wolfgang Puck: What I've Learned
Austrian-born Wolfgang Puck is a bona fide chef to the stars—Tom Cruise, Jay Z, Bruce Willis, Lionel Ritchie, the Beckhams—having trained with the very best until opening his first restaurant, Spago in LA, in 1997. This month, he was even awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
BY Rachel Fellows | Jul 23, 2016 | Food & Drink
I used to be crazy in the kitchen because that's how I learnt from the chefs in Austria, in France. In LA in the Seventies we used to have an English guy called Cat Stevens, and he liked to eat soft-boiled eggs. I said, "Fuck him. Why is he coming to our restaurant? He can make them better in his hotel." I couldn't care. I wasn't going to be impressed by somebody just because they were famous at one thing. So I remember, one day, I screamed so loud he walked out—he got scared, I think.
When I opened Spago in 1982, it was the first restaurant where the whole kitchen was totally in the dining room so we had to be quiet and we couldn't swear. Little by little, I calmed down.
Rare is really my favourite way to eat steak, but I don't like it when the meat is cold inside.
Obama likes his steaks medium-well. So we make it medium-well and he will learn one day to eat it the right way!
Victoria Beckham is probably the fussiest eater. But when you know what she eats, it's easy: vegetables. And I know she likes them steamed, no fat, no this, no that.
If the President comes, it's more impressive than the movie stars in LA—we see them all the time. I've cooked for all the Presidents: Ford, Reagan, Carter, Obama, Clinton.
Japanese Wagyu is delicious but really rich. I mean, I could eat a few slices with salty or vinegary to cut through the fat and that's it. If I ate like 6oz, I wouldn't be able to sleep. I did once in Japan, because you try to be polite, but oh my god, I woke up sweating in my hotel room and couldn't wait to get to four o'clock in the morning when the gym opened; I went down and spent an hour and half on the machines, sweating like crazy.
Whether it's Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise—all the movie people – they come in and say, "I want to go for the same steak as Wolfgang eats."
These days, London is more exciting than Paris for food.
I used to play tennis with Gene Kelly and Sydney Poitier. It was nothing. The only time I was really nervous was when I played John MacEnroe when a friend had him staying at their house. I couldn't hit the ball I got so nervous—I was sweating.
I love tennis. If I was a Muslim, I would go to Mecca. Catholics go to The Vatican. And I think for tennis, it's Wimbledon. There is no other place like it. Wimbledon is history.
Federer loves Wiener Schnitzel. It's so funny. I made him and his wife a whole table full of food at our little café in Houston—appetisers, pastas, a whole roast chicken, a pizza – and at the end he says, "Where's the Wiener Schnitzel?"
Our style of cooking is that we use the best ingredients and then we try not to screw them up.
When I was 14, I wanted to be an architect. But my parents were very poor and the only school was in Vienna. We had no telephone, no television, no running water in the house—nothing. And meat maybe once a week. My mother was a professional chef in a resort hotel so every summer I used to go there. And I helped the pastry chef—I loved sweets.
Mashed potatoes was probably the first thing I learned to cook. You have to do it right—have the right potatoes, cook them right, put salt in them. I remember one time, when I started out and we made big pots—like USD100 of mashed potatoes—I forgot to put water in it.
I am the easiest boss there is—as long as they do it the way I want.
My biggest hero was my mentor, Raymond Thuilier at Oustau de Baumaniere in the South of France. I was almost 19 when I got there and he really made me think differently about food. He had this three star restaurant, grew all his own vegetables, had his olive trees, he would make wine, he wrote cookbooks, he pained—to me, he was the most amazing renaissance man.
My pet peeve is people who don't care, who say, "I don't give a damn." When you walk into a restaurant and they don't greet you in the morning, they don't stop to say hello, to me, that's as important as putting good food on the plate.
Variety is the spice of life. I like sweets a lot but I also like vegetables, fish, meat—moderation is the best thing. If I eat a little bit of steak, it satisfies my appetite, it satisfies my soul. So I don't have to sit there and eat a pound of meat at 10 o'clock at night.
My kids love my wife's Pasta Bolognese better than mine. When I make it they say, 'Oh, it's almost as good as mum's."
Food these days is something everybody can relate to. It brings friends, family, business people together. Most people look at a computer all day long, they very rarely talk to people – they have all these apps and dating services—it’s crazy. So then finally, over dinner, it's the one place where it would be rude to look on your screen.
My vice is chocolate. It has to be at least 65%. I always have my pastry chef's little chocolates in my freezer because I like them really cold, and also the kids don't see them there.
My biggest fear changes. When I came to America, it was getting deported because I had no Green Card—every time I was driving a car and saw the police behind me, I'd say, "Oh my god, here we go, I have to leave tomorrow." Now, my biggest fear is if something happens to the kids. You see so many things, like in the schools in America you have shootings and crazy stuff, and you can't prevent that.
When you are young, you don't have enough experience so you always think, 'My way or the highway.' And life's not like that.
From: Esquire UK.