Behind swank velour curtains, surrounded by a genius staff, is a mastermind, an artist, but most prominently, an innovator.
Chef Wolfgang Puck stands across from me in his domain. We’re separated via the greatest spread of food I have ever seen, a stunning and glowing preview of what the legendary chef has cooked up for this past year’s Oscars dinner.
It isn’t surprising that every article or interview with Wolfgang Puck revolves around his repertoire, seeing as he’s the seminal celebrity chef of modern American cuisine; his reputation radiates and draws attention like the proverbial moths to a flame .
However, I was pleasantly surprised to be joined in this interview by Wolfgang Puck’s son, Byron Puck, which led to some rather not-so-formal chit chat that revealed some illuminating facts of Wolfgang’s past.
Wolfgang came from incredibly meager means. At the age of 14, he worked in a kitchen for a hotel in Austria. After days of being berated by his stepfather, telling him he was good for nothing, he decided to leave the house for good. So Wolfgang left to go to the only place he found any comfort — the kitchen.
Unfortunately, the kitchen wasn’t having it this fateful day, and his boss, who chose Wolfgang as his punching bag, told him that he was fired and to never come back. After this, a dejected Wolfgang decided to go to a bridge to drown himself. After hours of sitting on the bridge, he decided that the only real option, the one that he felt his bones dragging him to, was to go back to the kitchen.
It’s in this kitchen that Hollywood can find some of its glitz and glamor, not the facades like in the backlots of studios, but the stuff called passion and culinary artistry. It’s a fitting choice to have the one and only Wolfgang Puck as the chef to feed Tinseltown on their biggest night.
It’s with the values and morals Wolfgang walked away with through his tough time coming up that he has instilled in Byron, which are reflected in his form and methodology when cooking.
Though Byron has somewhat followed in his father’s footsteps, he is also still trying to find his own culinary voice and style.
Byron cooks at an LA restaurant/incubator, called Rogue, helmed by his father, which features a crew of young artists searching for their own narratives through food. While Byron has the option to train under and obviously mirror one of the greatest chefs on the planet in his father, he instead discovered a way to tread his own path with the tools his father gave him.
Ultimately, that’s what every parent wants, to afford their children the ability to fend for themselves. With Byron, that faculty is palpable and palatable.
Through seemingly simple dishes like steak and carrots, Rogue and Byron Puck are showing the culinary world that traditions don’t need to be ditched in order to innovate. Instead of simply fine tuning a classic dish until it’s reached perfection, Byron flips what the general public might view the dish as and create something entirely new while still respecting tradition.
It’s refreshing, too, to see that Wolfgang posits the same ideals when recounting the reason for Spago’s — his seminal restaurant — success.
“It’s really interesting because Spago has been there for over 30 years, and all the other restaurants that were open around that time have closed. Why? Because there was no change. I think change is really important, but we also cannot forget where we came from. So you have to have a good mixture of tradition and innovation,” Wolfgang posits.
“One thing I didn’t like was when people would be kept to doing small things, like dishwashing then chopping potatoes and beans, like I did for three years. I said no, I’d rather have someone who’s innovative,” he asserts.
Especially being surrounded by remakes all over Tinseltown, it’s important that there is some originality being strewn into the mix, and what better way to start than with the gut.
Rogue is doing just that, with Wolfgang allowing young chefs to experiment without worrying about economic constraints.
Now, this can very easily be painted as some elite, privileged restaurant and these young chefs are being given an advantage. But anyone who truly looks at what this restaurant means can see that it is essentially a brick and mortar of the American Dream.
With Wolfgang, he’s got both hands on the wheel, his flagship restaurant Spago is still as iconic as ever in fine dining and Rogue is showing the culinary scene what’s what in terms of pushing the envelope of culinary ingenuity.
Wolfgang Puck is synonymous with modern cuisine, and with the help of his son and the chefs of similar mind at Rogue, he can become the father of contemporary cuisine and immortalize what it truly means to be a modern chef in a performance that should be deemed Oscar worthy.