Wolfgang Puck’s Secret To Success


May 24, 2018 | BY Dudi Aureus

The celebrated chef, 68, has come a long way since he was a child cooking by his mother's side in his native Austria

Discovering his passion early on, Wolfgang Puck trained in the kitchens of well-known restaurants across Europe such as Maxim’s in Paris and three-Michelin-starred L'Oustau de Baumanière in Provence.

But his biggest break came after he moved to the US at the age of 24. Patrick Terrail, owner of now-defunct Ma Maison in West Hollywood, heard about the young chef through his European contacts and hired him as its chef in 1975. They introduced guests to their uniquely Californian, farm-to-table cuisine, which garnered many fans including the Hollywood celebrities and the elites.

He left in 1982 to open Spago, which offered a similar cuisine, and then opened a few other concepts such as Asian fusion restaurant Chinois and prime steak restaurant Cut. These marked the begining of his restaurant empire, which in 2013 grew to 100 restaurants all over the world with an annual revenue of US450 million dollars.

How did he navigate this cut-throat world? Read on for nuggets of his wisdom.

Spago Singapore offers a refined summer house ambience atop the Marina Bay Sands hotel

Treat customers like guests in your abode

“Whenever I visit my restaurants around the world, it’s important for me to get to know the guests there because I feel like they’re visiting me in my home.”

Wolfgang Puck’s Secret To Success
Big eye tuna tartare cones, chilli aioli, shaved bonito, scallions and masago

Know what your diners want

“It’s a business after all, so I can’t just buy things because I like them. I need to be able to sell them, too. In America, for example, it’s impossible to sell veal kidney because most Americans don’t appreciate it. But they love it in France.”

Crispy scale black sea bass, little neck and bamboo

Innovation is key

“Spago has been in business since 1982 and last year has been our best year so far. I believe it’s because we never fail to change things up and pique our diners’ interests. At Spago in Los Angeles, I have a very talented Japanese chef who put more Japanese inflections in our dishes than what I had originally planned. But it works for us because that’s what the younger generation are craving now.”

(Related: How To Make It In Life According To Chef Mario Batali)

Wolfgang Puck’s Secret To Success
Grilled Marcho farms milk-fed veal chop

Allow chefs the freedom to create

“I’m still involved with the menu planning, but at the same time I want the chefs to make something they would be proud of. In Istanbul, our Turkish chef added Turkish twists to our menu, which was ingenious. In Bahrain, instead of the usual bread and butter, we serve it with tzatziki made with yoghurt, hummus or baba ghanoush with roasted carrots, cumin and orange juice.”

Farfalle with Maine lobster

Don’t follow food trends

“We do what we think is right because if we let food trends dictate what we do, I don’t think we would still be in business. It’s similar to fashion; do you see Giorgio Armani, who has been in the fashion world for decades, follow what other people are doing? No, because he’s a trailblazer. Likewise, we have to be faithful to our style, but we need to keep getting better.”

(Related: Tatler Table: Embracing Sustainable Dining)

Wolfgang Puck’s Secret To Success
White asparagus salad

Be mindful of Mother Earth

“We need to leave the world in a better place than when we found it. I used to go to the Chino Organic Farm and buy vegetables from them. I also went to the ranch where they raised the beef and lamb, so I know where everything comes from. With fish, if something is almost extinct like the bluefin tuna, we won’t go out and buy it just to get people to come to us.”

Pommes Aligot

Plan for succession

“My son Byron is a chef and he will take over soon. I want him to be imaginative and inspired. I have sent him to work with the Roca brothers in Girona (El Celler de Can Roca), Grant Achatz in Chicago (Alinea), and a couple more establishments in Paris.”

Wolfgang Puck’s Secret To Success
Spago team in Singapore (L-R): Joshua Brown (executive chef), Wolfgang Puck and Greg Bess (chef de cuisine)

Cook because you love it

“If you love what you do, then it’s a hobby and you don’t have to worry about dragging yourself to work every day.”

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