Wolfgang Puck was a superstar chef before superstar chefs existed. Nowadays just about any chef who’s appeared on television calls themselves a "celebrity chef," but the Austrian-born Puck, with his world-famous Spago restaurant and additional restaurants all over the world (along with a massive line of Puck-branded products and foods), is a true titan of the industry. He’s also a world-class chef, and is in the kitchen at his original Hollywood Spago location more often than not.
He’s currently promoting a new low-pressure oven that’s available through the Home Shopping Network, and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his background, how he keeps it fresh, and his least favorite foods.
The Daily Meal: What was your first restaurant industry job?
Wolfgang Puck: I started in the restaurant business when I was 14 years old. I left school and then I started my apprenticeship in Austria. Then, I went to France and worked at great restaurants like Maxim's in Paris, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and L'Oustau de Baumanière in Provence.
When I was 24 years old, I went to the United States. I first went to Indianapolis and I’ve been in Los Angeles since 1975. My first restaurant was Spago. We opened in January 1982, so we have been in business for 31 years. So many restaurants open and close, but longevity is really what I’m proud of. I started to make pots and pans 16 years ago and we still do well with them. We always make new appliances like our oven here, which you can get on HSN. I always live for something new and something exciting.
I closed Spago for three months and remodeled it completely. There are new plates and chairs. Everything’s brand-new, so it’s an exciting thing.
How do you keep it fresh?
I think for me, life is an evolution. We keep on moving forward. I don’t want to stop. I want to go into the hotel business. I want to create small luxury hotels. We’ll see if it’ll happen, but I’m working on it. There’s always something new. We make new restaurants. We just opened a steakhouse in London, which is very successful. Our next venture will be in Dubai, so we keep on moving slowly. The most important thing is to have enough talent. If we don’t have enough talent in the kitchen and in the dining room, we can’t open restaurants.
Is there anything that you personally really don’t like cooking?
I love good ingredients, you know? A lot of people think cooking is all just about technique. I think it’s all about getting the best ingredients. If you’re the best chef in the world and you buy old fish, it’s going to be smelly and nobody will like it. I go to the farmers' market and the fish market. I like to get the best ingredients and try not to mess them up.
Are there any foods that you personally will never eat or don’t enjoy eating?
I don’t eat peanut butter! I don’t know why I have no taste for peanut butter, but we have Nutella, which is a chocolate hazelnut paste.
Can you tell me a little bit about this NovoPro oven?
Two-and-a-half years ago, we started to develop this low-pressure oven. When you cook turkey at home, it takes too long. With this oven, especially when you have a bigger roast, you save so much time.
It is amazing because the oven seals in the heat and seals in the moisture, so you get more flavor and more moisture in your roast. Instead of cooking it for three-and-a-half hours, you can cook it in less than one hour. It’s all about the flavor. If you taste the roast, especially turkey, out of my oven, it’s amazing.
The oven is easy to operate. It has a built-in motor and rotisserie. We have such great heating elements in there so you can really brown your food. I like my food really nicely roasted. If I get this gray-yellow meat, I don’t really like it. It has to have beautiful color.
With the roasted chicken, all you do is put it on a skewer and then you put it right into your oven without preheating it. Put it under pressure, and 45 minutes later, you get a great crispy chicken.