We recently sat down with Wolfgang Puck to know more about his philosophy and cuisine culture, but there were a few interesting anecdotes that we learned about his life growing up. From the stories of the kaiserschmarrn to his interactions with Roger Federer, here are 7 interesting facts you probably didn’t know about the Austrian-American chef.
1. Raymond Thuillier inspired Wolfgang Puck to become a chef
Wolfgang Puck has served kings, celebrities and as many presidents and prime ministers you can count including the Clintons and the Obamas, but what inspired him to become a chef was training under Chef Raymond Thuillier at L’Oustau de Baumanière.
“When I was 19, I was working at Baumanière. I wanted to be like the owner was also the chef. He brought into the kitchen Picasso, Elizabeth Taylor and famous French singer Jonny Hallyday and some other celebrities, and somehow, I said I wanted to be like this guy, I was 19 and from then on I said I’m gonna do that.”
Image courtesy of Tasty
2. The kaiserschmarrn is one of his favourite childhood dishes
Wolfgang Puck came from humble beginnings and was raised in a small town in Austria, and that’s why the kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian fluffy shredded pancake, is one of his favourite things to make and eat.
“In childhood we had that for dinner, we did not have fish or meat or anything like that, but we had eggs and cows so we had these ingredients. My mother was a very good cook and she made it a little sturdier and heavier back then, so I lightened it up. I also started to serve it 20 years ago at the restaurant and it became popular. I then took it off the menu. People kept saying, “I don’t care, I want the kaiserschmarrn”, and my new waiter came into the kitchen saying, “I don’t know what these people want, some schmarnn or whatever it was”, and I said, “I know what they want”, I went up to them and said, “you like the kaiserschmarrn, it’s not on the menu”, so I had to put it back on the menu.”
Spago at Marina Bay Sands
3. His first James Beard Award is sitting somewhere on a wall in a New York restaurant
For all the accolades he has, he doesn’t really keep count on where they are, with some littered all over the country.
“The first time I got the James Beard Award, after that we went to celebrate at my friend’s restaurant in New York, so I had the big medal and I said Larry, get me a nail and hang it on your wall at your restaurant, it was an American place in New York, and I still have no idea where that award is today.”
4. He isn’t fazed by awards but wished he had saved more memories of them
He was won many awards including the first Emmy Award for the Food Network, but is not attached to material things.
“I don’t look to the past a lot. I won the first Emmy for the Food Network in 2002, and when I got the award I had some stuff from my ex-wife who sent it to me below books in a box and it was completely flat. It was a bubble with a lady holding the world. I don’t think I’m into that really. With food now, I’m more into the past, but I also wished I had saved some of these things like pictures. I think it would have been nice to have some pictures from my childhood, from when I was at Baumanière or Maxim’s in Paris but I let everything go. Menus I collected from all over the world, I don’t know where they went. So generally, for me, 5% of my time I might look back, the rest of the time it may be today or tomorrow. I think a little more history would’ve been good but I think its better to look forward, do new things, learn new things.
Image courtesy of Timeout
5. Roger Federer helped put the wiener schnitzel back on the menu
He initially put his renown wiener schnitzel on his menu at Spago and removed it consequently, but because of a request from his good friend Roger Federer he decided that it had to be a permanent feature on the menu.
“Roger Federer the tennis player was in Houston for a tournament, so I said come over for dinner. He comes for dinner but it wasn’t a restaurant like Spago or CUT, it was more like a café and so I gave him some salad, pizza, pasta, and roasted chicken and then he says, “where’s my wiener schnitzel?!” I didn’t have the meat, so I had to send one of my chefs to Whole Foods to get the veal, pound it to make wiener schnitzel and he was happy.”
CUT by Wolfgang Puck at Marina Bay Sands
6. The Wall Street Journal caused him to have a degree from Harvard Business School
He ended up having his dreams fulfilled when he got a call from the Dean of Harvard Business School because of an interview in the Wall Street Journal.
“3 years ago the Wall Street Journal did a big article and asked me what was my dream, and I said I want to go to Harvard and almost as a joke a week later the Dean of Harvard Business School called and said “When you wanna come to school?”, and I said, “I don’t know, I never went to college”, and he said, “Doesn’t matter”, and I said, “I never went to high school”, and he said, “it’s okay!”, and so I enrolled in the programme called the Owner President Management where its 3 times a month over 2 years. I had no options, I had to go. I don’t use a computer and he said you can take notes by hand. And I like to take notes by hand anyway because I remember them better, so I spent three months in school, I was the oldest student there but I learned a lot.”
7. His biography will be made available on Disney+ in 2020
After years and years being on television, he will finally get his biography made about his life and his childhood.
“They’re doing my biography now, the gentlemen who did Chef’s Table for Netflix is doing my biography. We’ve filmed already in LA and it’s going to be on Disney+. We’re going to go Austria in January to film where I grew up. I went to this tiny school with 2 classrooms from the first to eight grade. It’s totally different to what people see today. We had meat once a week, ate a lot of noodles and rice, and in the summer had lots of vegetables. We had a vegetable garden so we got all fresh vegetables and salads; and in the winter we ate potatoes.”