A Bite with Wolfgang Puck

Published in Gourmet Live 12.15.10
The storied chef and restaurateur on truffles, coffee and dinner with Winston Churchill

Wolfgang Puck has the culinary map covered. With more than twenty-five restaurants spanning sixteen cities, the celebrity chef and mogul dishes up classic takes and creative riffs on everything from fine dining to casual cuisine. In addition to being a storied restaurateur, Puck also commands a catering service, has countless cookbooks and manufactures his own line of cookware. He spoke to Gourmet Live about his least favorite food, his five-year-old’s taste for truffles and how one of his most popular dishes actually began as a joke.

Gourmet Live: What led to you initial interest in becoming a chef?

Wolfgang Puck: My mother was a professional chef. So every summer, when I was eleven, twelve and thirteen years old, I spent at least one month with her at the hotel in Austria where she worked. I started working there by helping the hotel’s pastry chef, so when I was fourteen I quit school, and I couldn’t find a job as a pastry chef so I started as an apprentice to a cook. It was really because of my mother that I became a chef.

Gourmet Live: So this is something that’s been ingrained in you for quite some time?

Wolfgang Puck: Oh yes, absolutely. Some people are married for fifty years, but I’ve cooked for fifty years.

Gourmet Live: If you hadn’t chosen the career path of a chef, what other profession would you have pursued?

Wolfgang Puck: I would love to be an artist, a painter.

Gourmet Live: Do you have a favorite food?

Wolfgang Puck: I love all kinds of food, but I think the most important thing to me is the ingredients. For example, it was my wife’s birthday a month ago, and she’s Ethiopian. And sometimes she brings home Ethiopian food from a restaurant, and generally it’s not that good because the ingredients they use aren’t that good. So for her birthday I bought this great meat and we catered a dinner, and it was the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had. It’s just like at my restaurants. We don’t buy second-class white truffles. We buy the best ones, or we buy nothing.

Gourmet Live: Are there any ingredients you always have on hand in your kitchen at home?

Wolfgang Puck: The most important ingredient in my kitchen is coffee. I use it every day to make espressos or cappuccinos, so that’s the number one ingredient. We go to the farmer’s market every Sunday and buy vegetables and fruits. I have a five-year-old and a four-year-old, so when we go to the farmer’s market we come home and peel carrots together, or peel asparagus. So they play around, and then I steam them with some really good olive oil and sea salt, like Fleur de Sel. The kids love it. I love it. Gelila [my wife] loves it.

Gourmet Live: Do you eat very healthy then when you’re home?

Wolfgang Puck: We try to. But I eat Wienerschnitzel, too, which is a fried food, but if it’s done right and you don’t eat it every day, then that’s OK.

Gourmet Live: The Wienerschnitzel on your menu at Spago in Beaver Creek is actually one of my all-time favorite entrées...

Wolfgang Puck: That’s so funny because obviously I grew up with it [in Austria], so as a child it was one of my favorite things. And when we opened the new Spago [in Beaver Creek] I wanted to change things a bit, so we put Wienerschnitzel on the menu, and it was basically as a joke. I said, “Nobody is ever going to order this!” And it has become the most popular dish [at Spago] in Beverly Hills and in Beaver Creek.

Gourmet Live: Is there anyone you wish you could dine with, living or dead?

Wolfgang Puck: I would’ve loved to have dined with Winston Churchill because he loved champagne, and I love champagne. So we could’ve had not just discussions over politics, but champagne, too.

Gourmet Live: Are there any foods you won’t eat?

Wolfgang Puck: I don’t eat peanut butter. I’ve never liked it. I do like hazelnut butter because in Austria we have Nutella, and as kids we used to love it but it was expensive and my parents didn’t have a lot of money. We don’t have peanut butter in our house now ever.

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