When it comes to culinary giants, there are few who have a reputation as Wolfgang Puck. By winning countless awards from the James Beard to the Golden Globe, very few chefs have come anywhere close to the celebrity that he has gained. We sit with him at the Epicurean Market 2019 at Marina Bay Sands for an up close and personal on his philosophy to cooking and gastronomic journey so far.
What is your philosophy when it comes to cooking your cuisine?
My philosophy is that we buy the best ingredients and we try not to screw them up. We want to enhance them without making it too complicated. You know with a lot of chefs, they put the dots and the dots and the points and everything. I tell chefs we’re not in the dot com business, we are in the cooking business. The food just has to be delicious and taste good.
It’s like for women, you don’t need too much makeup, a little is good, but to overdo it, you lose personality. It’s like food, you shouldn’t put too many sauces or too many things, you keep it simple, it’s much better if you have good ingredients.
We always try to buy the best ingredients, we always do, it’s in our DNA, it’s in our culture, I tell every chef never cheat on the ingredients. And then we have to teach people the right techniques, the right way, I think it’s not complicated. We try to complicate our lives sometimes.
Any thoughts on Michelin starred hawker street food?
I really think is for me, it doesn’t matter as long as it tastes delicious. Though I must say I like the comfort of a table because I like wine with my food. So, to me to have something really simple but you can also sit down to have wine is also a good thing. But I love to go to the hawker stalls because you really see the way the people eat in a country, if you go to a fancy restaurant is not the same.
I like all kinds of food, as long as the ingredients are good you can taste it right away. There are some where the food is just okay, but there are some where the people really care, the food is really delicious and tasty.
So hopefully I learn more about the culture, because food and culture are one. They have the saying, “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” and that’s really true. It doesn’t have to be upscale. My mother was a great cook, I could never cook like she does, she makes great food for no money, like me I like using expensive ingredients, so it’s different.
Leberknödelsuppe, Austrian beef soup with liver dumplings
For an Austrian chef, and also someone whose familiar with Asian food culture, what is your idea of a dumpling?
There are many ideas of what’s a dumpling. As a child growing up my favourite soup was a beef soup with a liver dumpling (Leberknödelsuppe) where you grind the liver, soak bread and put a little marjoram, salt, pepper some egg and you form a dumpling. I used to love it. I made it for my children they didn’t like it at all.
Now going to Hong Kong dim sum restaurants where they have amazing dumplings, I think different parts of the world have different dumplings.
In Austria the most famous dumpling is Spinatknödel (spinach dumplings), where you make bread, cut it into cubes, you put eggs and milk together, salt, pepper, sautéed onions and a little touch of flour to hold it altogether and you form these baseballs then you boil them. You can have the leftovers the next day, sliced thinly and sautéed with onion and egg, and eaten like scrambled eggs dumplings.
Spinatknödel, Austrian spinach dumplings
What advice do you have for young chefs who want to enter into the culinary industry?
I think today because we get everything so fast patience is an important part to learn and study before you become a chef. Today every young person wants to own their own restaurant, they want to be on television, they want to do all that before they learn the techniques on how to do things.
When I think back when I lived in France for 7 years and worked at Baumanière, Maxim’s and Hôtel de Paris in Monaco to learn their techniques, it gave me really good foundation. If I didn’t have a good foundation I wouldn’t have opened Chinois, my version of Chinese food, so I use French techniques with Asian ingredients and flavours, but I didn’t make sauces like they did in China. I made them like I made it in France but it had the flavours of Asia.
So, I think patience, learning, keeping and your eyes open. If you are young, starts working at good restaurants because it’s at good upscale restaurants where you learn the right techniques. The cheap restaurants they just throw things around, they don’t know about the best ingredients, upscale restaurants know and always have best ingredients, so you will start with the top level from ingredients to preparations.