It's a Friday morning in November at the MGM Grand Detroit and Wolfgang Puck has just arrived on the casino floor. He's not here for the slots, but rather for his annual check-in at his two branded restaurants in the resort: Wolfgang Puck Steak and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina. His itinerary is tight, filled with interviews, book signings, and a special dinner.
As a fixture in the restaurant world since the 1980s, Puck is now much more than a chef: he's a savvy businessman with properties around the world, franchises, a catering business, publishing, and even an app. Earlier this year, he released Wolfgang Puck Makes it Healthy — a cookbook paired with exercise advice that reflects Puck's own journey to lose weight without losing flavor. The chef says having kids at 55 years old was a wake-up call that he needed to eat better and exercise. Eater sat down with Puck to discuss his cookbook, growing up in Austria, and why he used to pretend he was a racecar driver.
You've undertaken some major lifestyle changes.
So I started to change my diet a little bit, like instead of eating white rice, I eat brown rice. At the beginning I didn't really care for it, but now I actually like it better.
I can play tennis now. I don't get tired like I used to where after 10 minutes hitting with a coach I had to sit down. Now I can hit it and I don't sit down. So it wasn't a need to do it to just lose weight. Sure, everybody wants to lose weight all the time. You look better, clothes fit better. It's better us. Not just for vanity, but also for our health.
How has that affected the way you run your restaurants?
I said, "How can we make the people understand it's about quality not quantity?" America was so geared towards big portions. But it's really not necessary to eat a 16 ounce steak, especially at 10 o'clock at night, unless you're really a bicyclist and you go bicycle riding three hours later. Then you need all this energy. It's not necessary.
A few years ago you closed your Grille in the MGM Grand Detroit and these two new concepts: Wolfgang Puck Steak and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina. How successful has this move been so far?
We have done very good with [Wolfgang Puck Steak]. We still have to redo the trattoria next door. So we have to remodel it to give it the feel more like a trattoria instead of this big white cube. Because I think it's very important. If it doesn't feel very comfortable...think about an Italian trattoria — you don't think about this big massive room. So we're going to redo it hopefully sooner rather than later.
With such a busy schedule, how to do manage your time? How do you fit into the restaurants?
Well I cook with my head all the time. And now the next thing, we're almost finished building it. We're building an experimental kitchen. It has nothing to do with the restaurants... I have one chef to supervise it. I have some young chefs who are into molecular gastronomy and they do all that stuff, and we're going to have someone like that work, and we're going to have different equipment from old style wood burning things to centrifuges to see how we can cook everything better.
Being a chef, like what I do, is like being a basketball coach. You don't go on the ice and play hockey. And I don't want to stay behind the grill and cook all night long. I cook for a special dinner. I do things all the time, but not on a regular basis that I have to be in the kitchen so much. I love to cook. I mean I cook at home all the time too so it's not like something where I say, "Oh my god, I have to go in the kitchen."
What is your next move?
I'm not going to do books anymore. The next thing is I'm going to do an online cooking school, because I know the young people, they're always on the computer, always playing on the computer, doing everything on the computer. I think with the recipes, it might actually be better because you can actually see too. You know some people are more visual and it's easier once you see how to do it instead of explaining it for people who aren't really that adept in the kitchen.
What is your opinion on the American food scene today?
I think it has gone so much for the better. One thing is because of television it got young people interested in food. It got people interested in experimenting. It got people interested in trying new things all the time. Food has become one of the number one topics. It used to be sports maybe. Now food is more important than anything... It's really amazing to see where it has gone. And because of that it's brought in so much more talent into our profession.
Like 30 years ago, if you told somebody you wanted to be a cook they would be like they would be like, "A cook?" Now these days it's like a good thing.
I remember when I was in LA, I was friends with a race car driver and he was racing out there in Long Beach and we went to a club and I was 26 years old [maybe] 27 years old. I asked a girl to dance and then she asked me, "What do you do?" And I said, "I'm a cook." The song was over, she left. So, then I had to say, "I'm a race car driver." Today it's the opposite...
All of a sudden we get good ingredients. We get people who are passionate about and love what they do so we get better food and the customers to go where they're willing to experiment and try new things so really I think America has grown up so fast and it's more exciting here now than anywhere. I think America has some of the best restaurants in the world... It's a good time to be in America. To cook and to be a customer.
- Wolfgang Puck signs a copy of his cookbook, "Wolfgang Puck Makes it Healthy."
- Puck says he first developed a taste for healthy, home cooked meals growing up. His mother mainly used vegetables from the family garden.
- Wolfgang Puck Steak is located in Detroit's MGM Grand Casino.
- Steak now offers a host of aged cocktails.