Put "legendary," "chef," and "Los Angeles" into a sentence and ask anyone to name the first person to come to mind, and most people are likely to give you the same answer: Wolfgang Puck.
Puck, whose name is synonymous with "California Cuisine," is one of America's most successful chefs — indeed, perhaps one of the most successful in the world. As noted before, the chef can boast 21 fine dining restaurants around the nation; numerous cookbooks; a TV career that has included appearances on Frasier, The Simpsons, and a cooking-show Emmy; and lines of food products, cookware, and appliances. He has even made forays into fast(ish) food with more than 50 Wolfgang Puck Express locations in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. One of his enterprises, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which oversees his casual dining restaurants and food products, is estimated to be worth more than $400 million, and some estimates of the total annual income generated by his various concerns reach more than twice that.
So it's a coup that the nascent Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival scored this headliner for the event's inaugural year. We caught up with the storied chef recently to get his take on the new festival.
Which LAFW events are you most excited about attending?
Naturally, the Saturday night "Live on the Plaza" event downtown with all my favorite chefs and wineries; Sherry Yard and her friends making desserts; and then Train to rock us into the night.
What, if anything about L.A. do you hope the festival will shed light on?
I would like L.A. to become known as the premier city for food, wine, and restaurants.
What's the restaurant in Los Angeles that you haven't gone to that you're most excited to visit?
We are busy opening our own restaurant at the Hotel Bel Air, so we are very excited to bring back this L.A. institution and make it even better than before.
What was your favorite celeb spotting in L.A. or any celebrity visit to one of your restaurants that you were most excited about?
You can see many great celebrities at Spago or Cut, from Tom Cruise and Piers Morgan to Mary J. Blige and Sidney Poitier.
When you eat out, which section of the menu are you most likely to order from the most, and why: appetizers, entrées, desserts?
When I eat out, I always leave some room for desserts. So generally, I'll order a few appetizers, share the entrée with my wife, then wait for the main event: dessert.
What's the music you most like to cook to if any?
When I cook I like it to be quiet so that I can totally concentrate on my food. But when I dine in a restaurant, I like good rock 'n' roll like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, etc.
You're on the record as saying that your favorite food is macarons. The times have caught up to you — macarons are very trendy these days. But what's so great about them and what do you think of this fad catching on?
I love macarons since I spent my days in Paris many decades ago. Finally, they're catching up in America, which is not a good thing, because I tend to eat a lot of them.
Why did you decide to give up the American Food and Wine Festival after running it for so many years, and opt to fold its activities into this even larger event? You're not considering retiring, are you (wink)?
We did not give up the American Wine and Food Festival, we just renamed it the Los Angeles Food & Wine and made it even bigger and better than before. So instead of only having three events, we now have more than 50. And no, I don't even know how to spell the word retirement — I do what I love to do — so if I were to retire, I would have to find a job.