To mark the 35th anniversary of his iconic Santa Monica restaurant Chinois on Main, Wolfgang Puck will be bringing his Asian and French fusion menu to London later this month, hosting a 3-day pop-up from June 27th to 30th.
The pop-up will be take place at Puck’s first restaurant in Europe, located at 45 Park Lane, Dorchester Collection’s contemporary Mayfair Hotel. Here he and executive chef David McIntyre will be offering diners a contemporary take on the most popular dishes from the restaurant’s original menu.
To find out more about what inspires his culinary creations, and his tips for how we can all create something special at home, StyleNest took 5 minutes to catch up with Puck before he begins his exclusive pop-up on June 27th.
You began cooking with your mother as a child when growing up in Austria. What is your earliest memory of food, and do you have any dishes from childhood that you still love to eat now?
I still remember the smell of the kitchen and the whole house when my mother used to make wienerschnitzel on Sunday. For us, that was really the biggest treat because we ate meat only once a week. Today at Spago, or even at CUT, we have wienerschnitzel and I still love to eat it. I believe it’s in our DNA because my young children also love it.
Can you tell us a bit more about how you came to be where you are today, and what inspired you to follow a career in gastronomy?
I grew up watching my mother cook at the resort hotel in Austria. I saw restaurant food from an early age on and I was always fascinated by it so it’s no wonder I started my career as a cook and left school when I was 14, only to find out cooking is not always fun. Cleaning the kitchen, peeling potatoes and onions is not inspiring for a 14-year-old but I had no choice since I did not want to go back home. So I hung in there for 3 years with my apprenticeship and then moved to France where I really got inspired by their style of cooking.
You’ve had an illustrious career working at some of the world’s greatest restaurants, including Maxim’s in Paris and the Michelin 3-starred L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence. Any particular career highlights that you can tell us about or any moments that have stood out for you?
I started in France at the restaurant in Dijon and then I found out there was a guide Michelin and then there were 2 and 3 star restaurants, so I wrote to Paul Bocuse and many others and I got the first positive reply from a restaurant in Provence called Baumaniere in Les Baux. There, the chef and owner Raymond Thuillier really became my mentor and I dreamed to be just like him, owning my own restaurant. He really inspired me to take chances and risks and cook from your heart, instead of following recipes out of a cookbook. Mr. Thullier changed my life and I still remember how passionate he was about getting the best ingredients from his own farm or finding the best purveyors who had the best cheese, meats and fish.
You will shortly be bringing your iconic Chinois on Main menu to 45 Park Lane in London for a three-day pop, which combines an unusual fusion of French and Chinese flavours. Can you tell us a little bit more about the creative process behind your menus and what inspires your cuisine?
In 1982, we opened Spago in Los Angeles and in 1983, Chinois on Main. Living in Los Angeles I was really interested in all the Asian flavors and on my days off I went to Chinatown, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo to get inspired by all the flavors they used in their cooking. It was then that I decided to create my own version of Asian cuisine. I used ingredients and techniques from Japan, Korea, Thailand, India etc. yet I prepared them all with the techniques I learned in France. With that, the first fusion restaurant in America was born. For me, it was a necessity because I never learned to make traditional Chinese food and since there were already many restaurants like that already in Los Angeles, I wanted it to be different. And different it was. We have a few outposts of Chinois in Dallas, Washington and Bahrain and now we are very excited to bring the flavors of Chinois to our restaurant CUT in London mainly because many people from England come to Los Angeles and they always remember the flavor and dishes we cooked at Chinois like our Shanghai lobster risotto, our sizzling fish, or Mongolian lamb chops; they have truly become classics.
With all of your knowledge and experience, can you share any secrets with our readers for cooking at home? Maybe tips on something most of us get wrong, or something that you have learnt working in the industry which is also great advice for home cooks?
Cooking at home should be fun and exciting. Don’t be scared to innovate or try out new things. If you perfect a recipe, then you can add your own flavors and preferences to make it your own. The most important for the home cook or restaurant chef is to start with great, seasonal ingredients, whatever is freshest. I always tell the chefs in our restaurant to buy the ingredients and then don’t screw them up. At home, if you cook for people that are important such as your boss, or someone you are trying to impress, don’t make something you’ve never made before. Make something you’re comfortable cooking. That way you won’t be nervous of maybe having a failure or that the recipe won’t turn out right.
You have catered for the Oscars for an impressive 24 years. For entertaining guests at home, how can our readers elevate a meal from every day to something special?
I really believe when you cook at home for a party or just for your family, it’s not just what you cook but it’s also important how you serve it. Special china or serving dishes will elevate any meal. You can make a simple dish, put it on a beautiful plate and it will look great.
Would would be your perfect meal?
I have never had a perfect meal and I’m still looking for it!
I get up in the morning, make breakfast for my family and take my two boys Alexander and Oliver to school. A few times a week I have my trainer come and I exercise or play tennis. Then it’s off to what I like the best, being in the restaurant. In the evening, I try to have dinner with my family then often by 8 o’ clock I go back and be at Spago or my restaurant at the Bel Air Hotel. Being at the restaurant gives me energy and always makes me feel good because of the reaction of the guests. Not only do I like to be in the kitchen, but I like to spend time in the dining room with our guests.
How would you spend your perfect day off?
Waking up late, having breakfast in bed with my wife and then hang out around the pool. I would have a delicious simple lunch around the pool with a glass of rose, play a game of tennis in the afternoon, then at night go to a new restaurant where I can experience food I’ve never tried before.
You now have restaurants all over the world including the United States, Turkey, and Singapore. What are your favourite travel destinations and what would you recommend our readers do there?
I’m lucky to have restaurants in many interesting places like London, Istanbul, Singapore, Maui, and New York, to name a few. I love Istanbul because of its rich tradition, history and great restaurants. At Spago Maui, I can sit outside on the terrace and see the beautiful sunset overlooking the beach. I love art and I think London is one of the best places for museums and galleries, so I love to go to London and also culinary-wise, London is second to none.
And finally, what is your life motto?
Live, love, eat, and drink good wine!