- Quick Facts: Wolfgang Puck
- Early Life
- Culinary Career
- Wolfgang Puck Today
- Media Appearances
- Charity Work
- Personality: What’s He Like?
- Follow Wolfgang Puck On Social Media
- Fun Facts About Wolfgang Puck
Wolfgang Puck was arguably the first celebrity chef, ever. He marked a clear milestone in the role that renowned chefs played in pop culture. Today, this Austrian/American Chef is the head of a huge gastronomic empire. But today let’s start at the beginning: How did Wolfgang Puck become Wolfgang Puck?
1. Quick Facts: Wolfgang Puck
- Name: Wolfgang Johannes Puck
- Date of birth: July 8, 1949
- Birthplace: Sankt Veit an der Glan, Austria
- Partner: Gelila Assefa (Previous: Marie France Trouillot, Barbara Lazaroff)
- Restaurants: +100 around the world including Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air Los Angeles, Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill at MGM Grand Las Vegas, and Cucina Las Vegas.
2. Early Life
Until recently, all we knew about Wolfgang Puck’s childhood is that 1) He was born in Austria 2) he probably inherited the love and talent for food from his mother, who was a pastry chef in their hometown. As it happens with many chefs; he heard his calling early in his life.
However, Puck revealed more details in a documentary about him released in 2021. He grew up in a rural, rather austere environment. He never knew his biological father and his relationship with his stepfather was a bit dark.
But all these situations, instead of discouraging him, gave him enough motivation to build a better future for himself. “As a kid, the kitchen was the only place where I felt safe”, he said. And so he built his entire life around the comfort of a kitchen.
3. Culinary Career
At the age of 14, his mother got him a job as a kitchen apprentice in a small hotel in the city of Villach; near the border between Austria and Italy. It was there when, with her mother’s encouragement; he officially started his path in the culinary arts.
When he was 17, even though he had very little French skills, he moved to Dijon to work in the restaurant Aux Trois Faisans; and as he worked there, the restaurant was granted a Michelin star. Something inside him must have been awakened; because he decided he was ready to move up.
And he moved up, alright: He got a job at none other than L'Oustau de Baumanière, a restaurant in Les Baux-de-Provence with three Michelin stars, where the famous chef Raymond Thullier became Puck’s most important mentor.
Things escalated quickly after L'Oustau de Baumanière. He worked at Hôtel de París in Monaco and then in Maxim’s in Paris (one of the city’s most renowned restaurants until today), where he worked until the day he moved to North America in 1973.
- The American Dream
Going to America was always Wolfgang's dream. He was 24 years old when, after a friend’s advice, he landed in Indianapolis to work at La Tour as the executive chef. It was a strange transition for him, and, after 2 years, he was ready to take a shot in “La-La-Land''.
It was 1975 when he arrived in Los Angeles to be the chef at Ma Maison. He was starting to get a lot of attention in Hollywood. Celebrities would have dinner at the private dining restaurant looking for Puck as the main attraction, and many say he put California cuisine high on the country’s gourmet map.
- The Spago Phenomenon
After Ma Maison, the natural next step for Wolfgang Puck was having his own place; and so he created Spago in 1982, which instantly became a culinary phenomenon with overwhelming success.
Spago was the first restaurant at that time to have an open kitchen counter concept. Clients loved to see Puck himself working the menu; and Puck also enjoyed participating somehow in the buzz and movement of the restaurant’s dining room.
It was during this time that Wolfgang created what would become his signature dish: Spago’s house-smoked salmon pizza, topped with caviar. Creating a pizza with no cheese and no tomato sauce was ground-breaking at the time. He is also known for his “Chinois Chicken Salad” and the Sonoma raised lamb served at Spago.
Spago was eventually moved from its original location on the Sunset Strip (West Hollywood) to Beverly Hills. The restaurant was awarded two Michelin Stars (only two other restaurants in Los Angeles have achieved this) and year after year has been considered one of the top restaurants in the United States.
4. Wolfgang Puck Today
Wolfgang Puck is known for adapting the fine, classic French cuisine to the American taste. He is celebrated for doing fusion cuisine extremely well. His cooking style has been associated with French chefs like Paul Bocuse or Michel Guerard; but with one significant twist: he is using American fresh ingredients and he’s courting the American palates.
Another one of his restaurants, CUT, was also awarded a Michelin Star and “Restaurant of the Year” by Esquire Magazine. CUT is located in Washington DC and is a gourmet steak house “offering only the finest selections of beef, cooked simply and presented beautifully”.
Today, there’s a CUT in Dubai, London and Bahrain, as well as a Spago in Maui, Istanbul and Singapore (in addition to multiple locations in the US, that is). More Puck’s projects are being developed in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
- The Puck Empire
Today, The “Puck Empire” includes an extensive list of restaurants (more than 20 fine gourmet locations among the top 40 in the U.S.) services (in many locations from airports to hospitals); and merchandise (books, cookware like the Wolfgang Puck portable Grill, canned foods, coffee-related items…)
His companies include the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc. and Wolfgang Puck Catering.
The Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group includes his high-end restaurants such as Spago Las Vegas, CUT, Re Asian Cuisine, Chinois in Santa Monica, Fifty Sixty, Trattoria del Lupo, Red Seven, Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill in Las Vegas, and Pendry West Hollywood.
Other notable restaurants include Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air Los Angeles, Wolfgang Puck American Grille in Atlantic City, among others. Wolfgang Puck catering handles events and catering services (for example, the Academy Awards Governors Ball).
Wolfgang Puck Worldwide is the company operating Puck’s multiple franchises, including coffee shops, bars, as well as locations in airports and supermarkets.
One of the featured franchises is located in the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Kitchen & The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck specialize in Wolfgang’s interpretation of global comfort fare.
As one of the newest casual concepts in the Wolfgang Puck dining collection, The Kitchen & The Kitchen Counter promise a welcoming and relaxed dining environment, perfect for your next business meeting, leisurely lunch, family dinner or meal on the go.
Wolfgang Puck has also moved into retail locations. Gelson’s supermarkets now make a generous selection of Wolfgang Puck’s most popular casual cuisine widely available to shoppers at Wolfgang Puck Express locations located within.
- Personal Life
The chef married Gelila Assefa (an Ethiopian fashion designer and philanthropist) in 2007 and they have been together since. He has four sons: Alexander, Byron, Cameron, and Oliver. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
His first wife was Marie France Trouillot, who he married in 1975 and divorced five years later. He then married Barbara Lazaroff in 1983 (she’s the mother of his first two sons, Cameron and Byron).
Even though they divorced in 2003, Barbara continues to be part of Puck’s life. She designed and co-created Spago Hollywood, the first of many projects they would embark on together. She is listed as the co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck Brand.
Wolfgang Puck has been honored with these awards:
- 1985: Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement
- 1993: Nation's Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame (Spago Hollywood)
- 1994: James Beard Restaurant of the Year Award (Spago Hollywood)
- 2002: Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Service Show (Wolfgang Pucks Kitchen)
- 2005: James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Service (Spago Beverly Hills)
- 2007: Michelin Star (CUT Beverly Hills)
- 2008: Michelin Star (Spago Beverly Hills)
- 2009: Michelin Star (Spago Beverly Hills)
- 2013: Culinary Hall of Fame.
- 2016: Michelin Star (CUT Singapore)
- 2017: Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 2017: Gold Plate Winner by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association
5. Media Appearances
Besides his tremendous success as a chef; Puck has also made a name for himself in the entertainment industry. He even had his own television show called “Wolfgang Puck'', which aired for five seasons and won an Emmy Award.
Some of his TV/Movie credits include Wheel of Fortune, Las Vegas, Frasier, The Weather Man, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Simpsons, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Shark and What’s My Line, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
He also appeared on Iron Chef America (Battle of the Masters), American Idol, Tales from the Crypt and Master Chef.
He produced several cooking shows including “Spago Cooking with Wolfgang Puck” and “Cooking Class with Wolfgang Puck”. He can be seen regularly on Home Shopping Network sharing some of his recipes.
He’s also an active writer. He’s written seven books sharing his favorite easy recipes to try at home, from mashed potatoes to pasta and fresh salad dressings . His first cookbook was called “Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen” and was based on the dishes served at Ma Maison.
He even has a newspaper column called “Wolfgang Pucks Kitchen”, printed in 30 newspapers across the United States and Canada.
6. Charity Work
Puck is an active philanthropist. He was named “Philanthropist of the Year” in 2017 at the 17th Annual Governor’s Black Tie Reception.
Together with his ex-wife Barbara Lazaroff, he co-founded the Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation in 1982, raising more than 15 million dollars for the American Cancer Society and 30 million dollars for Meals-on-Wheels.
Every two years, he is the honorary chef for the Five Star Sensation benefit, which raises funds to support the Ireland Cancer Foundation of University Hospitals. Spago Istanbul & Spago Las Vegas also hosted benefit events for Mazon (hunger relief).
Other causes supported by Puck include the Special Olympics, Children's Diabetes Foundation, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Alzheimer's Association. Wolfgang’s wife, Gelila, is the founder of the Dream for Future Africa Foundation.
7. Personality: What’s He Like?
As we can see in his multiple public appearances, Wolfgang is very charismatic and has a very warm personality. His dishes are the perfect reflection of his character: lively, fresh, charming and delightful. He is also quite restless, “too much for his own good” as he has expressed in a few interviews. Always looking for the next best thing, new adventures, new challenges.
When he is not on camera; it’s the little, simple things in life that make him happy. Spending time with the family. Waking up to a big espresso in the morning and driving the kids to school. Good food. Good wine. Dinner with friends. He’s also very empathetic with the people around him: “Making people happy is my purpose in life”.
8. Follow Wolfgang Puck On Social Media
9. Fun Facts
- He is the only chef who has been awarded “Outstanding Chef of the Year” several times.
- Puck’ restaurant Spago created the concept of the open kitchen.
- For more than 20 years, he’s been the chef in charge of serving celebrities a special banquet after the Academy Awards ceremony.
- Favorite food: macarons.
- His corporate group generates approximately $500 million in annual revenue.
- Life motto: “Live, love, eat”
- He is very ambitious when it comes to hotels. He has several hotel restaurants, such as the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at the MGM Grand. His MGM Grand restaurants are part of MGM Resorts International.
- When he was little, he actually wanted to become an architect when he grew up.
- Giorgio Moroder, an influential Italian musician, was the one who came up with the name “Spago”, Puck’s flagship private dining restaurant. Moroder was going to be an investor, but the alliance didn’t come through.
- The chef appeared in a TV commercial with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jack Nicholson promoting the state of California.
- In 2021, a documentary about Puck called “Wolfgang'' premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film was produced by David Gelb (Chef’s Table, Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and portrays both the past and present of the chef’s life.
- Fine dining in Disney? You can now have dinner at the prestigious Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill located in Disney’s famous shopping complex.
- Forbes called him "the world's most recognizable chef".
- He has restaurants across the world, including Costa Mesa, CA, Lupo, Las Vegas, Spago Maui, Atlantic City, San Francisco, Spago Istanbul, and a variety of MGM resorts.
Written by Eva ContrerasFood & travel writer based in Buenos Aires. Superpowers include relentless curiosity and high tolerance to spicy foods.