Hi reddit, I’m Chef Wolfgang Puck. I grew up in Austria but I now consider Los Angeles my home, where I have lived for close to 40 years. I have 23 fine dining restaurants around the world, more than 80 fast-casual restaurants like the ones you may see when you’re traveling through airports and also a catering business for events and corporate dining. My team and I are in the kitchen now putting the finishing touches on the menu for this year’s Governors Ball, the official Oscars® party, which we have created for the past 21 years.
Last year I wrote a new cookbook called “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy” which gives you the most important recipe for the way I live my life today with healthier eating habits and a new workout regimen. I also recently launched my new Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven which is the first and only pressurized countertop oven that cooks everything in 1/3 of the time it would normally take. Up next, we are opening new fine dining restaurants in Bahrain and Istanbul and always looking for new, exciting parts of the world to bring our restaurants to you.
If I’m not in the kitchen in Los Angeles working with our team of chefs or greeting guests in our dining rooms, I am on the go, traveling the world, looking for what’s next – but for now, I’m here and thrilled to talk to you! Live, Love, Eat!
Victoria is assisting me today via phone, ask me anything…!
retweet for proof: https://twitter.com/reddit_AMA/status/567809618328707073
I’m always curious how professional chefs do the munchies. What’s your go-to when you get a late-night craving? Do you make it yourself?
Chefs late night have sex, they don’t eat.
How close are the canned products labeled under your name to your handmade food? I.e. How are they modified for mass sale and do you think this detracts from the quality?
You know, if you have to pasteurize the soup (which is the law), which means you keep it 15 minutes on high temperature, I think it detracts from the flavor. It is not the same as the restaurant, or what i would cook at home. Fresh is always best. But when you are hungry, it is always a good thing to have a good bowl of soup. Or i use my tomato soup for my pasta dishes. Like I saute some onions with a little chili flakes and garlic in olive oil, add the tomato soup, reduce it to the consistency of a sauce, and then toss my pasta cooked al dente in there. So it’s very good, you don’t just have to use it as a soup. If you use it as a soup, heat it up properly, maybe put a swirl of cream on top, maybe sour cream, or a little julienne of basil, or a little drizzle of olive oil.
And all of a sudden, people are going to say “oh you made a good soup!”
If you had the pumpkin soup – one of our best selling ones – if you finish it with a little cranberry relish, or some caramelized chopped apples, all of a sudden you’ve finished it and it gives you a much, much more interesting product.
So what i tell people is: use the soup as a base. And then be inventive.
If you had to give one tip on how to make someone a better cook, what would it be?
You know, there is only one thing in life: practice makes better.
I think if you cook for one person at home, or if you cook for ten, you know, you have to practice, and just holding a knife, whipping the cream, whatever it is, it takes time. People who think they want to get good at everything overnight, it takes time.
I thought the same thing about golf – how can you not hit a little ball sitting on the grass? And then I did it myself, and found out how hard it was. The same thing with cooking: if you do it ten times, you’re doing ten times better than the first time.
I am a college student who feeds from his crock pot. Any great recipes or ways to cook with that? Also do you like soccer?
Well, I laf soccer and my son is a big soccer player, he wants to be a professional in Manchester United, he actually went to summer camp there!
And then, talking about the crock pot – I am not THAT patient, to cook something for 8 hours. So for me a pressure cooker is really a great tool, or a great appliance, especially the electric ones, because you can make a great soup in 10 minutes. Or cook a stew in no time. So I think once you want to upgrade from the crock pot to the pressure cooker, and today they are totally safe.
What is one recipe you think everyone should master?
One recipe everyone should master is how to cook perfect eggs.
At least if they want to invite me to their house!
If you were transported back to college and had to make a meal with Ramen noodles & only 3 other ingredients, what would they be?
Virst of all, I can’t go back to college, I didn’t go to high school yet, so… Well, first of all, I would spice it up with a little chili oil. I would add a slice of fresh ginger for flavor. And maybe some scallions.
Is there ever a situation for cucumbers to be served hot?
You know, we used to serve at Maxime’s in Paris a cucumber sauce where we had little things of cucumbers where we sautéed and served them in a paprika sauce with chicken? Roasted chicken with cucumber paprika sauce, very famous. Not my favorite thing, I like them cold. I like to salt them then drain them then serve them cold with a little sour cream and some fresh herbs, a little vinegar – goes very well with Weiner-Schnitzel, you serve that hot and cucumber salad cold.
And a little bit of caraway seed, too! Ground.
I would love to come to your restaurant in the Los Angeles (bar and grill) this fall what would you recommend I have for supper? Also do you ever make Rice Krispie treats with m&m’s?
Oh my god, it’s so far ahead, we don’t know! I tell everybody this story: we don’t know what we are going to cook in September or October, just the same way we don’t know how we will make love in September or October! There might be fresh salmon from Alaska, some wonderful lamb from Virginia – but if you come for the restaurant, if you don’t see me, ask for the chef, and what they recommend – what is the best that day. That is the best way. Obviously our menu is always printed every day, so everything is fresh from the market, but there might be something really special that day. If you come to Spago not knowing, I would definitely try some of our traditional dishes, like smoked salmon pizza, or the spicy tuna tartare in miso-sesame cones, maybe our agnolotti with white truffles, and then maybe if you want some meat, our lamb chops or Peking duck. But make sure to save room for dessert!
Is that English?
I only like really good chocolate, so M&Ms is not one of them.
But you know, what is so funny, my kids used to love Rice Krispies for breakfast.
My sister, I remember when she had young kids, she came to visit us in America the first time, and she had one luggage filled with boxes of Rice Krispies.
And I said “What are you going to do with them?”
And she said “That is what my kids eat for breakfast”
And I said “Look at the box!”
And she was scared that they didn’t have Rice Krispies in America, that they were only in Austria!
What is your favorite junk food? or guilty pleasure food?
You know, I laf chocolate.
But it has to be really good chocolate. And it has come to a point now that my 9 year old son Oliver, when I get chocolate, he asks me “Papa, is that 75% or 65%?”
So it’s the percentage of cocoa in it.
We make our own cocoa at the restaurant, so I always have it ready in the freezer. We have a dark chocolate with espresso, it is probably my favorite, but I also like it with flavored almond paste in it.
What is something you like to cook at home that no one would ever suspect you enjoy?
Oof you know, I am so lucky, because I get all ze best ingredients, all the time! So for me, my favorite thing is going to the farmer’s market, picking out fresh vegetables, and cooking them at home with my kids.
If there was one ingredient used in modern cuisine that you could wipe off of Earth’s surface, what would it be? Also, what’s with truffle oil?
That I would wipe out fast. I think truffle oil you can smell it from far away. It looks like people tried to impress somebody without the real thing. It smells synthetic and tastes synthetic. It’s like somebody bringing you a fake Warhol – you want a Warhol, or no Warhol, not something that looks made up by somebody.
How do you handle dinner parties where the cook is… let’s say not at your level? Do you politely smile and shovel down bland, tasteless food, or do you offer some interesting tips on how to improve that tuna casserole? Would anyone ever dare serve you a tuna casserole?
Listen, I tell you one good story about that.
One time, a long time ago, I went to Billy and Audrey Wilder’s house – Billy is a famous movie director, you know, he did SUNSET BOULEVARD and god only knows how many more. And were like 6 people, 7 people for dinner, and Audrey was cooking. And then I went into the kitchen to look what she was doing, and the other couple who was there too came in there too. And then the other guest, she looked at Audrey and said “Aren’t you worried to cook or nervous cooking for Wolfgang, the chef?” and Audrey said “I don’t give a shit, he can flush it down the toilet if he does not like it!”
She probably had a few vodkas before that, so…
What is your favorite recipe? Also, what’s your favorite comfort food?
You know, at my age, I have a lot of favorite recipes.
But the favorite comfort food – we are asked all the time about – is our chicken pot pie. Barbra Streisand told me 2 weeks ago that she is coming to the Oscars, so you better make that chicken pot pie!
First of all, you know, the way we make it with black truffle, in the puff pastry crust, so when you open the crust, the steam of the black truffle comes out, it is really, really amazing. The whole room smells like black truffles.
I think we have a recipe. Here is the link.
I love salmon but what vegtables work well with Salmon?
You know, I laf green vegetables – whether it’s broccolini sautéed with a little bit of garlic, or chili flake? Not only it will taste good, but it will offset with color. Now if you’re a meat & potato eater, make mashed potatoes and put a little pesto in it. And then maybe serve with a little tomato sauce, because the color is important.
Have you ever smelled what The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) was cooking?
You know, I laf boxing and not wrestling, so I don’t know. I know the Japanese cook a lot on the rocks.
What is the most common mistake you see in a bad cook? Over-seasoning? Not cooking to temperature?
I think I don’t like when people don’t heat up the pan. I like my fish or meat really well-seared, and more so with home cooks, where they are scared of the heat. When I don’t like is when people over-salt things, because you can always add a little salt, but you cannot take it out. And people make the mistake – they over-power the dish, so you don’t know anymore what you are eating, with spices or too many ingredients. If you buy really good fish, if you putthis or that on it, you don’t know by the end what you are eating! It is better to grill or saute it, keep it simple, so you know what you are eating.
Is there anything you refuse to eat?
You know, I eat any type of cuisines, as long as I know they have good ingredients. If i go into a restaurant, and it doesn’t smell good, I will walk out, I don’t care who it is if the ingredients are bad. And I remember i went once to a restaurant once somewhere, it was so dark inside, and I ordered fish, and I remember it just smelled so bad. Even worse! I had the worst with my wife, we were in a restaurant in Capri, called JK Place, very fancy, we sit outside on abeautiful terrace overlooking the harbor in Capri, and there was a little beach overview – I had fish every day, so I ordered some gnocchi, and my wife ordered fish. The fish came out so smelly and then I tried my gnocchi – I think the guy just blanched it, so it was like eating raw potato dough! So I didn’t want to send it back, and wait another hour to get something – I said “If someone serves you bad fish on an island, that’s a bad omen.” So I took my napkin, I wrapped the food up in there, and threw it off the terrace on the beach! And someone looked up when it fell through the trees.
So I think that’s probably one of the only times I can remember that I really was disgusted.
And naturally, the waiter comes back and asks how everything was and I say “Delicious! Can’t you see the plates are empty?!”
What would you recommend as an easy to prepare meal (I have limited kitchen space) for two that’s visually stunning that you would use to impress someone?
Well, that is many things. Obviously presentation – go out and buy some small fresh herbs, edible flowers, and you can sprinkle them around, even if it’s a simple salad or vegetables, some fresh flowers or tiny herbs, it makes it colorful. We eat with our eyes first.
And then it is important to find interesting plates.
You know, some people have these white clunky plates – nothing looks good on it. But if you have interesting plates – we have people who make interesting plates for us in Japan, in Seattle – we have beautiful white plates too, but I think first impressions are the most important.
Do you pick the recipes for all the soups and frozen pizzas that have your name on them in the grocery store?
You know, all of our recipes started in our restaurants, where we make maybe 20 orders at once. Now making it for the grocery store, obviously, is different. We cook in huge batches. And we are actually developing a new soup and a new pizza, as we speak! New packaging, everything is going to be brand new. But ingredients – everything has to be followed step-by-step, with fresh herbs, just the way we do it at the restaurant.
What is the most money you will spend on a meal?
You know, some women buy Louboutin shoes, and they cost $1000 a pair! You can buy simple sneakers and walk with them better. But if you love great food and you have somebody to share it with, maybe that is a great experience. I think food has to be shared. You don’t want to just enjoy it by yourself. So if you have the money – you might not spend all that money every month, but maybe once for a special occasion. Or if not – you can always go to another restaurant you are familiar with, and ask the chef “Can you make me a tasting menu?”
Why do I need to buy your pressure oven? Is it really that awesome?
You don’t need to buy the pressure oven. I won’t force you to buy. But if you want to make a good roasted chicken, it does VERY well for that, and in no time. In fact, I made the other day at home, and I forgot my glasses so I set the timer wrong, and in 50 minutes, it was overcooked and still juicy! So if you cook it 40 minutes – that was a 5 pound chicken, so normally you cook 1.5 hours. What happens is it seals all the moisture in the oven, so it’s only normal that the food is juicy. I do everything in it. I roast vegetables in it, and they taste so much better roasted than boiled or steamed. It caramelizes the sugar, so you get much better flavor.
What is the most amazing thing that your celebrity has given you that was not something you purchased?
I think one of the great things about being a chef is you are assured to get a table and a great meal in many restaurants for free!
That is a good positive thing. And if a chef comes to our restaurant, and we know them, they will get the same treatment.
What are some good healthy dishes for someone who wants to gain a lot of muscle? And do you exercise or lift weights?
Oh! You know what? There is a new cookbook coming out, called WOLFING PUCKS MAKES IT HEALTHY. So about 6 or 8 years ago now, I started to exercise more regularly with a trainer, and out came this book, too, so now you have recipes and all wholesome ingredients like we use whole-wheat pasta or pizza, so still enjoying what we like, just in a healthier way. More vegetables than meat – the vegetables take center stage, smaller portions of red meat, especially, things like that. And also exercise. And soups, great soups – so if you want to eat healthy, watching calories, when you make a salad dressing, often you eat 2-3 tablespoons of oil and that has a lot of calories, so if you want to lose weight, it’s not a good thing to eat too much fat. Also, I have great omelettes and egg dishes there that use 3 egg whites and one whole leg – you get the color and it tastes good but less cholesterol an more protein.
What is the secret to YOUR omelette? And what is your favourite way to eat eggs?
You know, to me an omelet – obviously you have to temper the eggs. Get some good eggs, you know, and then put a little salt & pepper in it – add cheese, some parmesan cheese – a little drop of cream or milk. Then heat up the pan with a little olive oil. When it’s hot, add a little touch of butter, and cook the eggs really fast by moving them constantly with a spatula and shaking the pan with your left hand. So then let it sit for a second – I like mine REALLY soft in the middle, and cooked on the outside. And then fold it, put it on a plate, serve it – the preference with white truffles or caviar.
If you can’t get that, just bacon and sausage will do too!
If you were given complete control of the Food Network, what kind of changes would you make?
If I were given – I think I would have a better mix of entertainment and real cooking. I think they have to make it fun, but I would like to learn something too. So I think that is probably to me- even though I don’t watch it lately enough, it seems like a lot of competition shows, where people make things up that normal people at home cannot do.
But I think it would be good to have Saturday morning, Sunday mornings of instruction, to help get people inspired, or even do things for kids. But they don’t have to listen to my advice because they are very successful at what they do, I guess! Ha Ha!
Any advice for people who want to learn how to cook?
It depends on what they want to do, you know?
If you want to make cooking your profession, or if you want to become a good home cook, you know.
If you want to become a professional chef, I would suggest to start in a small restaurant, a good one, obviously, but not a big one.
And I think for a home cook, go to a local cooking school, almost every city has some cooking school, look on ze internet, and maybe soon we will have an online cooking school, I’m working on it, which will help everyone out for sure.
Which culture’s food would you say is the most underrated?
I think a lot of people know very little about Vietnamese food. But also, my wife is from Ethiopia, and very few people know about Ethiopian food, and they have a lot of flavor in their food. And the thing is also, nobody has done a more modern version of it, yet. But I will do it my next lifetime!
What’s your favorite sandwich?
My FAVORITE SANDWICH?!
I would only have one. I like a good pastrami sandwich.
But one of my all-time favorite is our lobster club sandwich at Spago. It is amazing. Because we cook the lobster, and then put it in a little butter, warm it up, then grill thin slices of walnut bread, a few slices of crispy bacon, a little arugula and some sliced tomatoes. So you know, you can eat it and feel the juices running down to your elbow – then you know you have a good sandwich. So don’t wear your expensive blouse to eat that sandwich!
What makes the ability to cook food make you comfortable?
Makes ME comfortable?
To me, cooking is relaxing.
And when I cook, I don’t think about anything else, except what I am doing. So if I had a bad day at work, I go home and I cook and I forget about it.
How did you get into cooking in the first place? What was it that attracted you to the restaurant business?
Well it started really young. My mother was a chef also, a professional chef.
And every summer, I stayed a month with her, and I was in a kitchen every evening, helping the pastry chefs mainly. And then when I was 14 years old, I had to decide what to do. I thought maybe I could become an architect, and then I found out there was only one school in Vienna, but my mom found me a job as an apprentice in the kitchen at a hotel restaurant in Austria.
And I did my 3 years of apprenticeship there. Then I moved to France. And it’s really when I went to work in a 3 star restaurant called Beaumaniere, there really the owner Mr. Thuilier become my mentor. And I said I wanna be like him someday – owning a restaurant, writing books, being the mayor of the village.
And I laf the way he cooked. He didn’t cook from recipes per se, he cooked from the heart. So his recipes changed all the time, but mainly he had a big garden, and had 6 gardeners, and they grew all the vegetables and fruits and everything for the restaurant. So that’s the first time I learned what perfection means in cooking.
Marry excellent technique with the best ingredients.
So I worked there for 3 years. After that I worked in Paris at Maxime’s, and somebody offered me a job in New York, so I went to New York. I didn’t like New York.
Then I went to see Charles Mason, who owned Grenouille at the time, and he found me a job in Indianapolis. And since I love auto racing, I went to Indianapolis. But I didn’t know the race is only one day a year!
And then the rest is history.
What is your favorite kind of ice cream?
Oh, I know, it’s so easy! Coffee! I dream of coffee. Shiro made the movie I DREAM OF SUSHI and I dream of coffee. I even married a woman from Ethiopia because of it, the birthplace of coffee – just kidding, haha!
What separates average cooks from some of the highest level chefs and what makes their dishes of higher quality?
Well, first of all, it starts with the ingredients, you know?
It’s like if you want a nice jacket or suit – if you have a cashmere jacket, it looks better and you feel better. Same thing with food. If you go to the farmer’s market or fish market, that’s a good beginning.
And then I always tell people to keep it simple.
Don’t make it too complicated. To me, it’s always BUY THE BEST INGREDIENTS – that is where it starts, you know? If you use smoked salmon, buy the best smoked salmon. It’s better to have smaller portions, but better quality. I always tell our people – it’s quality not quantity.
How do you go about making a new recipe? Where do you start?
Well, you get inspiration from the markets. If you go to the fish market, and I see an Alaskan King Crab, I get the inspiration mainly from the ingredients first, and then traveling around the world, you see all different kinds of foods and preparations, so that’s a good way too, you marry together whatever you feel like – a Thai flavor or Chinese flavor or Italian flavor. But you have to get inspired with the right ingredients.
AND sometimes it takes me a long time to do it right, you know? I make it, and I make it – the first time it’s okay, and then after the third time I make it, I feel it’s not so good. So sometimes it takes time to make it right. Right now, we just built an experimental kitchen, where we will have 3 chefs cooking there to make up new recipes.
What do you find hardest about selling products on live TV?
You know, when I started it out, I really didn’t like it and I really didn’t know it. So you have to learn how to find the right balance of showing the people, empowering the people to be better cooks, and be able to afford the appliances or pots & pans or things like that. It is easy to make good pots & pans, and charge $1,000 for 4 pans. But you know, we want to give people quality and value. And that’s why people come back. There are so many customers who say “We own your food processor, your blender, your walk, your griddle” – but MORE IMPORTANTLY, I use the stuff myself.
I remember a year ago, I came out with a pressure oven. And one of the first ones I gave to my son Cameron, who lives in Boston. And he made a good looking chicken. I didn’t taste it, but he said everybody loved it. He sent me a picture, it looked good. And he’s not a chef. So today, I really get a lot of compliments about our stuff, and most of it, we use it also at home, and some of the appliances, like the Grill Griddle, we use it in all of our restaurants and catering. And I make a panini sandwich for my son Oliver to take to school, always on the panini grill!
If I wouldn’t use it myself, I would not go out and set it. If I would not feel comfortable using it, I would not sell it. And I don’t endorse other people’s products, we develop it ourselves. And for the pressure oven, it took us 2 and a half years to get the right amount of heat and pressure to develop the oven.
And often, I get good suggestions from the people who call in! They tell me and say “You know, Wolfgang, it would be nice if you could put a cover on the Grill Griddle so it doesn’t splatter” or “Make it deeper so I can cook more on it” so we develop based on people’s suggestions. When I did my first panini grill, I liked it a lot, I though it heated well, but we heard from people that they wanted to remove the plates and put them in the dishwasher, so now we make them all like that.
What would you say is one of the most underrated skills that every chef should learn?
I think one of the most underrated skills this day is patience.
Everybody wants to be a chef overnight. Everybody wants to open a restaurant after spending 6 months in the kitchen. So before doing that, you have to learn your craft, and that takes time.
I don’t know who said it, but they said it takes at least 10,000 hours to get good at something.
Practice makes better, yeah!
How much value do you think there is in getting drink pairings with your food? I know that food can help make a drink much better, but do you think the reverse is usually true as well?
FOR SURE. I think having a great glass of wine with certain foods, it will make the food and wine both better. It’s like a marriage, you know? You marry 2 things together to make them really amazing. But you have to start with 2 great things.
Great wine will not make a smelly fish better. It will detract from the good wine.
What are your kitchen tool essentials? If you could debunk the tools down to a minimal kitchen what would you recommend?
Well, you know, obviously if you have a stove already, get a few good pans, invest in some good pots & pans. You don’t need a lot, but buy good ones, they ensure better cooking. Same thing with knives. You don’t need 20 knives, you just need a few, plus a peeler and a grater, so you have some quality ingredients, some quality tools. And then naturally, a few appliances – it helps if you have a good food processor or a good blender.
If you start on a low budget, that is a good thing to start out with. And a few spatulas, and a whisk. You don’t have to buy everything at once.
I love your soups. What is your all time favorite?
My all-time favorite soup, you know… it’s not what we have in the can, but what my mother used to make, it’s called Liver Dumpling Soup. I know it sounds weird for the Americans, but in Austria, it’s very famous. So we made dumplings out of finely chopped ground liver with marjoram, sautéed onions, bread, and with a little flour and egg, and then cooked them in the soup. Used to be my all-time favorite.
In fact, I think I will make them next week, after the Oscars.
The last time you cooked breakfast, what did you make?
You know, my son Oliver goes to school early in the morning, and he lafs to cook eggs. Eggs with sausage, with cheese, with ham, an omelet. So we cook mostly eggs for breakfast, or porridge, you know, oatmeal. But my son Oliver likes eggs, so I like eggs. And he always helps me to cook them. I myself was never a big breakfast eater. For me, the most important thing is to have a good espresso in the morning. And maybe a croissant or pain au chocolat. Which might not be the most nutritious things to eat, but they taste good.