Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and director David Gelb talk about their new documentary ‘Wolfgang’
In this interview with Made in Hollywood, Wolfgang Puck talks about his early life and what success means to him, while director David Gelb offers his own take on the world-famous chef.
Read on for the more from Wolfgang Puck and David Gelb.
Made in Hollywood: What does food mean to you?
Wolfgang Puck: Well, food is life, to me, it means my whole life. Food is love. So, that too, food is love is enough.
MIH: What was it like looking back at your early life for this film? Because there were some difficult times.
Puck: Well, even in my early life, even with my difficulties with my stepfather, who was totally crazy, but in the countryside, people don't get diagnosed of being bipolar, or if they are drunk, they don't send them to AA or whatever.
So they just live their life and be abusive and everything, but still love, the love, I think about it was my mother and the food associated with her. So it's still, food is love. And even my best childhood memories are about food and my mother.
MIH: David Gelb, there are many ways to make a documentary. What specific choices did you make for this one?
David Gelb: Well, we really wanted to tell an origin story of someone who become a hero for the culinary world and for so many people. And so that's why we chose to start it showing people Wolfgang comes from very humble beginnings, from a very difficult situation.
And in his story, he starts out fleeing his home, looking for anything else. And it becomes, instead of running away from something, he starts to pursue something that he really loves, which is to cook and to make people happy.
MIH: And while you were preparing to make this film, what was the most surprising thing you learned about Wolfgang Puck?
Gelb: Well, I think that a big part of it is how familial he is with this whole organization. He has all of these wonderful cooks servers, bus boys. He knows all of their names. He's so loving and caring with his teams. I thought that was a really, really beautiful thing. And it's the same way that he treats all the guests in his restaurants.
Whenever he's in town, he goes out from the kitchen, he visits, he introduces himself to every single person and makes them all feel so special. And so he's just a very generous, warm and caring person in addition to being one of the greatest talents in food that we've known.
MIH: I, in fact, have been at Spago, and Wolfgang, you did come up to my table and say, hello and chat and speak with us. Numerous times, more than once. So thank you!
Puck: No, I'm always happy, I'm so lucky in a way. I say, people there, I feel the restaurant is my home, my house, just as much as my real home. So I said, I'm so lucky people are coming to my home, and they pay. How much better can life be?
MIH: What would you say was the thing that contributed mostly to your success?
Puck: I think being successful, or getting there, is constantly trying to improve. And I think that's what success means to me in the long run. They have a Japanese word called kaizen, continuous improvement, and that's really for me, the most important part. We make wiener schnitzel now for 15 years or something at Spago, and it's been popular.
Why did I think six months ago to make a special plate for wiener schnitzel? Because I thought, you know what? I want it to really look special because it's my childhood favorite. So now all of a sudden, I did that. Or how to serve a duck the right way or the way I want it served. So I think it's continuing to improve and move forward, but not to forget tradition. So I think tradition and innovation will keep us successful.
MIH: What advice would you have for young people who want to become a chef?
Puck: Well, I think it's really, if you are passionate about it, if you're passionate about food, then you want to have the chance maybe to become really good because you spent many hours in the kitchen, and you love the ingredients.
You go to the farmer's market, you go to the fish market, whatever it is to get the best ingredients and then cook them. But I think passion is an important part. And then learning the skills, that doesn't come overnight. If you're a basketball player it looks easy the way these basketball players shoot the ball and train, it goes through the basket.
I tried it and I said, s---, my basketball goes like that far off the basket. It's not that easy. And then cooking is the same. Obviously, people look at me doing something. Let's say, if it's on TV, and they think they can do it the same way the first time, now practice makes better.
'Wolfgang' is now streaming on Disney+.