He trained in the best restaurants in France, notably Maxim’s and has emerged to be among the best chefs in the world. Wolfgang Johannes Tofschning or simply Wolfgang Puck requires no introduction, more so for the foodies and those who love the finer things in life. This food legend has made an unbreakable name for himself and came to the US at the age of 24. He partnered with a friend to run the legendary Ma Maison restaurant in Los Angeles as the chef and part owner.
Wolfgang Puck is an all around man with lots of skills under his belt. Not only is he a chef, but he has also written lots of books, his first one Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen, shooting him into the limelight in 1981. For a man who can afford to hire the best and even with his name on every lip and being the envy of every aspiring and sitting chef, Wolfgang is down to earth and still prefers to cook for his family each day.
The chef, restaurateur, product licenser, cookbook writer, business and occasional actor and winner of several awards and acclaims, Wolfgang has scaled the heights of success and then some. Even with a life in the limelight, there are some truths that most people are still unaware of and that is why we are here to separate the truth from the rumors.
10. He Opened the First Spago at Age 33
It is said that a person should not build a business after retirement, but rather when he is young and full of vitality. Wolfgang did exactly that by opening his very first Spago in 1982 on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, at the young age of 33 in partnership with Barbara Lazaroff. This was after the huge success of his first cookbook that put him on the lips of many. Wolfgang admitted that in opening the restaurant, he took a very big risk. He had an empty bank account and no idea how he would be able to make payroll.
Wolfgang would find out just how powerful good meals can be and how much prosperity can be gained by the mere stirring of a pot. This restaurant that served unpretentious and scrumptious meals became an instant hit. This is something that amazed him. People lined up to wait for an open table just to have lunch. By the time the restaurant closed its doors in 1997, Wolfgang would have been able to pay not just one week’s salary but hundreds. The number of ventures under his name at this time have multiplied, including frozen meals, making him into a very wealthy man.
9. He’s Inspired by Cuisine from Asia
A good chef is one who cannot only make local cuisine but can make foreign cuisine with equal finesse. Having conquered what is considered primarily American, Puck moved overseas. His meals are influenced heavily by cuisine from Asian countries and he confessed that for the longest time, he has found his inspiration in meals from Indian, Japanese and Chinese meals. When he was interviewed by Billionaire, he confessed that Chinese food is ready for a reinvention and it is time for chefs to look that way or experiment with other foods in order to be truly innovative.
Wolfgang believes that food should be different from what our forefathers were used to 30-years ago and that it should never stand still. He insists what people need is an experience with the food. A meal should be something to savor and should leave an impression. This guru has some advice for chefs and aspiring chefs saying that to be a good chef, one should keep experimenting with various foods from all over the world and reinvent new and interesting recipes to bridge the gap. This great inventor finds white truffles to be the most amazing thing, not for the taste but for the smell.
8. He Dropped Out of School
Formal education is believed to be the only way to go if one wants to become successful in life. It is the person who goes to Harvard and gets herself two or three degrees, an extra year in business school, plus three or so years apprenticeship working under a renowned businessman that is expected to do well in life. This misconception has now been proven wrong because by the time that person has finished all those years of learning, the person who knew exactly what they wanted to be and went for it has already established himself and his business is running quite well.
Puck knew at a young age that he wanted to be a pastry chef and to his dream, he started his apprenticeship straight after his formal education at the age of fourteen in Austria. He later moved to France where he worked in superb restaurants like the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, Maxim’s in Paris and L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence. It is that one single decision to go for the passion that saw him become a world acknowledged chef and even winning his first Daytime Emmy Award for his self-titled 2001 Food Network for outstanding service show.
7. He is An Art Aficionado
Art gladdens the heart and it takes someone with a real talent to paint or draw something that elicits emotion. Art is a lovely way of healing a wounded heart and for those who are into the dollars, what better way of making real money than painting real masterpieces that come with the label “priceless?” Wolfgang is a real artist, not only in the kitchen but it emerges that his prowess does not only lie in the kitchen.
Puck is an art aficionado and he has shown interest in painting. His taste in art is unrivaled with his wife who is a curator, Gelila Assefa, displaying fine artwork in his restaurants. He admitted in an interview that while he has considered making his own art, there is something that has held him back. Having done so well as a chef, Wolfgang says he does not want to be just another guy dribbling on canvas. He feels that his age would somehow curtail his painting and it would not be as good being a perfectionist chef. Wolfgang is a firm believer in learning a skill and perfecting it and it is this knowledge that anything good has to be learned that makes him feel that he may not have enough time to be as good as he aspires to be.
6. His First Cooking Teacher was His Mother
Our mothers are the first people who inspire us and even those of us whose mothers cannot cook, we still learn how to boil water from them. For Puck, he was lucky to get his lessons from his mother who worked professionally as a chef in an Austrian resort. From his mother’s first lessons, Puck finds inspiration for most of his meals, which also borrow a lot from his Austrian heritage.
In an interview, Puck confessed that he first fell in love with food thanks to his mother. Puck believes that what really matters when it comes to cooking are the basics. He pinpoints his disappointment with the contestants he first judged on Top Chef for the lack of basic foundation in cooking even though they were very familiar with the recipes they wanted to deliver. He believes that whenever an apprentice goes to Austria, France or Italy to learn how to cook, what he first learns are the cooking basics before he jumps to the recipe of specific meals. His mother taught him that to make a perfect omelet requires one to learn the basics of cooking. With a mother for a chef, it is no wonder that Wolfgang became such a force in the cooking world as it appears that cooking is in his genes.
5. He Makes Time to Cook for His Family
Being a millionaire several times over, Wolfgang can afford to hire any chef from any part of the world to cook for his family whatever food they desire. But for him, his career is actually his passion and it appears he carries his passion home every night. Being the owner of dozens of restaurants, this guru is certainly a very busy man, but he still considers his family his number one priority.
This legend insists on making his family’s dinner every night, thus ensuring that his kids get to eat a healthy balanced meal. In an interview, Wolfgang said that his kids love vegetables, something he insists on getting fresh from the farmers market. Having a chef for a father and more so, one who loves to cook has a lot of perks and his family seems to get the best part of his passion. His family’s favorite vegetable meal he said was steamed vegetables in a little olive oil with a little truffle salt on top. When it comes to broccoli, beans, and asparagus, he prefers to cook them. His family also loves fish, pasta, and risotto. His family meals sound more like fine dining in the best restaurant and it is with the best chef in the world making the meals.
4. He Runs More than 50 Restaurants
For a man who could not afford his first Spago, Wolfgang Puck has done quite well for himself. From the first Spago that was located in West Hollywood and served his signature cuisine, the haute cuisine, pizzas with salmon and caviar toppings, Sonoma baby lamb served with braised greens and rosemary. He then moved on to open Chinois in Santa Monica where he served cuisine inspired by Asian flavors in a fine dining setting. His third restaurant was Postrio, which was opened in 1989. He later opened CUT in 2006, which is a contemporary steakhouse located in Beverly Wilshire.
Wolfgang has opened a lot more restaurants. Six just on Las Vegas, which include Postrio Bar and Grill, opened in 1999 at the Venetian; Trattoria del Lupo at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in 1999; CUT at The Palazzo in 2008; Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand in 2004; Cucina by Wolfgang Puck, in The Shops at Crystals in 2010, plus his off-strip restaurant in Summerlin, Nevada, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. Wolfgang, a member of the Fine Dining Group has opened numerous restaurants all around the US from Maui to Atlantic City and Washington and many more are in development all across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
3. A Restaurant Empire and then Harvard
They say knowledge has no end and it is never too late to go back to school. At 68-years old, Puck has accumulated all the wealth he requires and then some and he has now turned his mind to other forms of wealth. Puck has now enrolled in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Program. For a man who never graduated from high school, this is quite an achievement.
He says that in the program, he has learned a lot. From negotiation techniques to marketing and how to sell his vision to others and is now in the process of reorganizing many of the companies in his business empire. Even with the numerous wins he had before he went to Harvard and has opened many of his restaurants prior to the training, he credits Havard for instilling in him the skill of better negotiation. Wolfgang confesses that prior to is training, it was his way or the highway and if anyone did not like it they could forget it. He is now better at negotiating and can clinch a good deal for the lease of any building he wants to set up a restaurant in, something that helps raise his profit margin.
2. Television Bores Him
Some of us cannot go a day without television and we wouldn’t even know what to do with ourselves without our daily dose of Netflix. Even though Puck is a TV personality, what he loves most is running his restaurant empire, which is what he calls his “passion.” Puck says that television is quite boring to him and even though he watches it once in a while, he is not hooked on it. He would have gone for Top Chef if it had been on the air some years earlier and he believes he would have been a force to reckon with.
He may not like TV, but he has made several cooking shows that are quite popular and had a huge following. Through them, he has won several awards. Wolfgang has also been featured in roles where he played himself in plenty of television shows which include CSI Las Vegas, Frasier, The Simpsons, and even Tales from the Crypt. Wolfgang has also made appearances in films like the Weather Man, The Smurfs, and The Muse. Coupled with his prowess as a restaurateur and chef, it is his television appearances that have given him even more exposure and an even great following from fans.
1. He is a Simple Man
For a man who is worth millions and has given over $15 million to charity through his Puck Lazaroff Charitable foundation, he has managed to raise even more. Wolfgang, a gourmet chef, says his favorite meal is a simple pizza. He insists on keeping pizza dough ready to make fresh pies for his family as he finds the exercise of stretching the dough with his kids quite satisfying. Like most busy people Wolfgang does not consider breakfast important as he does not like eating in the morning. Wolfgang survives on a double espresso cappuccino but never food. He may have refined tastes, as a chef able to create unheard of masterpieces, but he also enjoys the simple side of life.
Wolfgang enjoys breakfast foods at other times of the day and will be seen having an omelette at midnight, at lunchtime or any other time of the day. Wolfgang may own millions and he may be richer than most people in the world, but he is still a simple man inside of him. He is able to enjoy the simple things in life the same way he could when he was still an apprentice in his mother’s kitchen in Austria.