Master chef Wolfgang Puck has been preparing fine cuisine for years. Annually, at the Governor’s Ball for the Academy Awards Dinner, he gets to raise his already high profile – aided by a 1000 person crew. He will be handling big dinner events for the Grammys, as well as the Oscars this year. After all these years, what still gets him excited?
“I have this passion and love for food, wine and people in general. To me, the restaurant business is the perfect business for me. Each season brings you new ingredients and we can change the style the way we cook it. So it’s really to me, cooking is the perfect profession for me. I will continue on to the end.”
To make every one of these events stand out from those before it, Wolfgang says it goes back to what’s on the menu. The trick is to find food you can make for 1600 people at the Academy Awards dinner for example. He says you have to keep it simple, but you have to have really good preparation. The first year the Oscars were held at the Kodak Theatre, he recalls a situation that would make anyone in charge of a major event nervous.
“Next to the [Kodak] Theatre is our ballroom and they never used that much electricity. So all of a sudden, in the middle of the dinner, the electricity went out and the gas went out. I remember we served like short ribs and sliced steak. I still had 800 steaks to cook and all of a sudden there was no more fire. I got pretty nervous. 15 minutes later, we got the electricity again and everything was fine, but we couldn’t find our electrical engineer and the security was so tight that they didn’t let him come up. So he was somewhere downstairs in the building and we had no electricity. So I was a little panicked for 15 minutes and saying, ‘How we gonna finish this.’”
Many celebrities – from Barbra Streisand to John Travolta – are fans of his cooking and look forward to a Chef Puck catered event. He says the biggest compliment he ever received was when Ms. Streisand asked for a second portion.
“From Barbra Streisand to Michael Caine and John Travolta. They all love the food. When I go in the dinning room, they always say, can we have an extra portion? Can we have a little more of this? It’s really an amazing thing to see that the people actually eat and they want more of it…I think the first time I went in the dinning room and I remember Barbra Streisand told me, can I have some more risotto with your braised short ribs? I said, ‘Wow! You know what? She ate already ate an order and she wanted a second order. She must be really hungry or really liking it.’”
Wolfgang says he doesn’t believe there will be any changes in the Academy Awards dinner at the Governor’s Ball this year, even with California’s ugly financial situation. He says people should look at this event as the opportunity for 1000 people to have a job for a week, instead of people thinking a lavish party is being thrown and there isn’t money to cover it, which there is.
“I don’t think the California shortfall. We’re not gonna go and ask Jerry Brown to give us money to do it. They make enough money with the telecast from the Oscars. I don’t think there will be any changes at all. It’s the opposite. It’s a good thing. We employ a lot of people. A lot of people get a job. I think that’s really an important part. People shouldn’t think, oh they’re throwing a big party and other people don’t have the money. I think what people should think, we’re employing 1000 people for a whole week really and they have a job, which maybe some of them wouldn’t have it without it.”
With overweight and obesity something many Americans are facing, the master chef says we need to start with our kids and cut down on the fast food. Cooking vegetables and rice with some other added nutrition will make children healthier in the long run.
“We should go to the grocery store, buy vegetables and cook them simply at home. Buy some good rice, some brown rice and things like that. You have to stop with the kids from the beginning and feed them really well. I think if we would take more care of our body with nutrition, we would need less doctors at the end and less health insurance.”
Though he has served many of the greatest in acting, Wolfgang, himself, has landed various onscreen roles through years. Many might recall his reoccurring role on the NBC show Las Vegas, where his character (he cameoed as himself) had a restaurant inside the show’s casino resort, the Montecito. There were some memorable scenes with James Caan and Molly Simms. He has various recollections of the show. Aside from that, the one person he’d love to act with is Jack Nicholson, but he thinks he would probably be very nervous.
“It is really amazing to see a professional like Jimmy Caan do the work. When I was first there, I said, oh, he’s just rehearsing and he’s going through the scenes like so nonchalantly and everything. You know what? He’s such a good actor that when you see it on screen and say, wow, this is what acting is all about. Not overdo it or under do it, just the right pitch…Probably Jack Nicholson but I think I would get very nervous.”
As far as other show business aspirations go, Mr. Puck tells us that he has been invited every year to participate in Dancing with the Stars. He says, perhaps, when he is 80 he will take to the dance floor and leave gracefully after one performance. For now, however, he is a chef.
“Maybe when I’m 80 years old. I told everybody when I get past someone’s old age, if I’m 80 and I get thrown out of Dancing with the Stars for the first round, I wouldn’t mind. Right now, I think I’m a chef and I’m a cook. That’s my profession. They ask me on Dancing with the Stars every time, every year to be on, but I think, if that would be my talent, I would be a dancer. I would be Gene Kelley, but I am not.”
Given the fact that many food establishments have shut their doors and eliminated franchises in various states and regions of the country, it wouldn’t be an interview with Wolfgang without asking him how his franchises are handling the troubled economy.
“Most of our restaurants did better last year than in 2009, was our toughest year generally speaking. I think it’s improving slowly. We want always to grow it faster, but I think certain places we’re not hurt at all…Some restaurants like in Las Vegas we felt it more because people didn’t come, the conventions they had were only attended by a few people instead of hundreds of thousands…People had an expense account, which was much smaller. Las Vegas was a tough year in 2009, 2010 has been on, 2011 is even better than last.”
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We have been informed there will be a Studio 54 theme for the Grammys, with New York street food as Wolfgang’s inspiration. Here is a partial list of the menu:
“Kung Pao” Organic Chicken with Crushed Peanuts and Scallions
Chinese Chicken Salad with Crispy Wontons, Glazed Cashews and Sesame Honey Dressing
Baked Macaroni and Cheese with White Truffles and Canadian Cheddar
Kobe Beef Meatloaf with Caramelized Brown Sugar Ketchup with Crispy Onions
Taco Bar with Slow-Roasted Short Rib with Sweet Peppers and Onions;
Lamb with Chipotle, Eggplant and Cumin
Miniature White and Dark Chocolate Cream Pie
Crisp Honey-Apple Tart
On February 1st, Wolfgang will announce the winner of his recipe contest in conjunction with the Grammys. Fans can submit their own unique recipes on his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/wolfgangpuck.
Wolfgang Puck’s official website is at http://www.wolfgangpuck.com