Wolfgang Puck – Celebrity in a Chef Jacket
By Alice Lane
Wolfgang Puck learned cooking from his mother, who was a professional chef, in his native Austria. When he was fourteen years old he began his formal training and worked in a uniform jacket at some of the greatest restaurants in France, including Paris’s Maxim’s, Monaco’s Hotel de Paris, and Provence’s Michelin three-star L’Oustau de Baumaniere. He came to the United States at age twenty-four, and he worked at Indianapolis’ La Tour for two years. In 1975 he moved to Los Angeles where he quickly attracted the attention of Hollywood’s elite as the chef, and eventually the part-owner, of West Hollywood’s Ma Maison. His culinary genius and his dynamic personality bridged tradition and imagination, and made the Ma Maison a popular gathering spot for L.A.’s rich and famous – with Wolfgang as its star attraction.
His innate understanding of California cuisine’s potential was decisive in the rise of California cooking style to national attention in the 1970’s. Wolfgang opened Spago, his flagship enterprise on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, in 1982. From day one it was a tremendous success, featuring signature dishes such as pizzas topped with caviar and smoked salmon, and baby lamb with rosemary and braised greens. Spago put Wolfgang on the culinary map not only in Los Angeles, but world-wide: Wolfgang won the James Beard Foundation Award for the Outstanding Chef of the Year two times – in 1991 and again in 1998 – the only chef to have won Outstanding Chef of the Year twice; and Spago won 1994’s James Beard Foundation Award for the Restaurant of the Year.
Following upon Spago‘s success, Wolfgang put on his chef jacket and opened Santa Monica’s Chinois in 1983. Fusing the Asian products and flavors of L.A.’s Chinatown, Koreatown, and Thaitown with his own French and California based style of cooking, Chinois was the birthplace of Asian fusion cuisine in the United States. Wolfgang opened Postrio, his third restaurant, in 1989 in San Francisco’s Prescott Hotel. Like Chinois, Postrio reflects the multi-ethnic community which surrounds it. Emphasizing local ingredients and contemporary American-style cuisine, Postrio was an immediate success in the competitive culinary climate of Northern California.
Wolfgang moved the original Spago to Beverly Hills in 1997. The new Spago, in its elegant CaÅ^on Drive setting, blazed new culinary trails by updating classical Spago dishes and including newly-invented recipes, together with some of Wolfgang’s Austrian childhood favorites such as Kaiserschmarren and Wienerschnitzel. Beverly Hills’s Spago has won two Michelin stars (only three restaurants in Los Angeles have achieved this distinction). Wolfgang opened CUT, a haute cuisine steakhouse at the Beverly Wilshire, in 2006; and after only a year CUT won its first Michelin star.
Since 1986 when Wolfgang became a regular feature of ABC television’s Good Morning America, he has been a celebrity television chef. In 2000 his Emmy Award winning TV series Wolfgang Puck started on the Food Network, and ran for five years. Besides making guest appearances on many TV talk shows, his biography aired on A&E Network’s Biography series. Wolfgang is also a well-known celebrity in a uniform polo on the Home Shopping Network where he demonstrates his recipes with his Wolfgang Puck-brand cookware.