Food+Travel  

Wolfgang Puck: A Chef every Celebrity Knows

Simple Northern Italian flavors presented with Wolf's tantalizing personality make for award-winning cuisine
 Wolfgang Puck in the Kitchen  Wolfgang at the 2010 Academy Awards  Spago Beverly Hills
 
 

 

Even if you’re not a Food Network kind of guy, you’ve heard of Wolfgang Puck. The man has built an empire around a contagious attitude that combines sheer enthusiasm with the world’s best ingredients. The man is a genius when it comes to his menu – and whether it’s a small dinner party at his James Beard Spago Beverly Hills, or the Academy Awards; Governors Ball –it’s his genuine authority that has kept him afloat in a cutthroat industry. “He considers himself not a celebrity chef, but just someone who loves what he does,” Managing Partner and veteran Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining employee Tom Kaplan says.

Wolfgang Puck offers an aura most restaurateurs only dream about – presenting guests both a mouthwatering plate and a captivating presence, the Austrian born culinary maven has a natural charisma that is evident when meeting him in person, and when tasting his food. His theory is all about simple meals with incredible ingredients; interpreted as: you’ll know what you’re getting into, and it’ll taste like nothing you’ve ever had before.

The man’s fanfare is no joke – and having dedicated his life to the service of good food, Wolfgang Puck has a rabid following that serves culinary critics, celebrity soirees and even the team of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining. Yes, even his staff is a fan.

His relatively simple cooking aesthetic has paved the way to nearly two dozen restaurants around the globe, a cookware line, packaged meals, an Emmy award winning television series, catering company, an array of cookbooks and charity work. But it’s his magnetic appeal that has enabled Wolf to continuously serve simple Northern Italian food with flare. 

 

Puck’s goal, even from the beginning, was to deliver a meal both refined and simple. At Spago in 1982, Wolfgang was serving fresh fish and local vegetables far ahead of the organic trend. His training from the South of France propelled the attitude that connecting with local farmers and ranchers was natural, and in his blood. He knew one thing: it just tasted better.

The flavors can’t be replaced in a signature Wolf dish – everything from the airport meals to frozen pizzas are as succulent as the stuff from the grill, if not with a bit more salt (his chefs will never let him live that down, reveals Tom). Today, the stamina he created with his first menu hasn’t subsided in the least bit. As much as his staff might suggest taking a breather, Managing Partner Tom Kaplan admits, “Wolf never gets complacent.”  

 

Wolfgang Puck is a name you likely recognize, but it isn’t sullied. The personality captured on screen is genuine, and he’s even more personable once he’s mentored you into the Wolfgang Puck system. Constantly pushing innovation, Wolfgang Puck is still only one man despite having a presence from Singapore to London – meaning he must rely heavily on staff. By “fostering an environment of learning,” reveals Tom, Wolf’s staff often stays for years – there’s even a restaurant partner that once started as a gardener at Spago (how’s that for dedication?)

Whether you’re behind the grill or behind a register, Puck’s effervescent presence is everywhere. “Wolf continues to build a natural organization of letting good people, or people he believes in, do their job and allow their creativity to flourish. He’s developed a culture of creativity and commitment,” Kaplan says.

Despite the stigma of being hailed a “celebrity chef,” or one whom everyone knows, the man “has never lost who he was,” says Tom. “Wolf, at 62, is like 26. If anything, he has become more generous and hospitable over the years.” That is a true testament to the strength that is rooted much deeper than that plate of simple northern Italian food Wolf presents to your smiling face.

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