GRILLED: Chefs Talk Business:
Wolfgang Puck: Chattin’ up the original celebrity chef
Wolfgang Puck is the original celebrity chef. The restaurateur and businessman is recognized worldwide as someone who not only knows how to cook, but how to sell his own, unique brand.
Describe your brand in a sentence.
Whatever we do, we stand for quality.
What’s different about having a restaurant in Las Vegas than in other cities?
I always said, even when we opened Spago in 1992, we have to appeal to the local clientele in Las Vegas. If the locals will go, the tourist will follow. Other than convention business, which is huge, at the end, it’s still the same as any other cities.
Is it strange to be thinking about Spago at one moment, then working on products to sell at supermarkets the next?
We’re just an innovative company. We try to have something for everyone. People can get good products when they buy soup at the supermarket, or at my cafés, just like they can get great food at my restaurants. My dream was always to create an integrated restaurant company.
If you could start over, what would you do differently in creating your brand?
I would have maybe kept it a little more concentrated, not as stretched. But when you’re young, you think anything is possible. You don’t mind the challenge. All in all, I’m pretty happy.
What do you think of Las Vegas?
Vegas really is a brand. We’re really happy to be there. When we opened there, we were one of the few restaurants with a celebrity brand. Now, every chef has a place there.
If you could create a concept for a completely new Wolfgang Puck TV show, what would it be?
I would do a cooking competition, but we would do it so that the chefs travel around the world—to Morocco or Vietnam—and cook there. We’d make street food, traditional food of that country. I don’t know what it would be called, but it would be global cuisine.
Do you separate Wolfgang Puck, the man, from the brand?
Not really. I am who I am and the brand reflects that.
How much time do you spend in your kitchen cooking these days?
I never spend enough time in the kitchen. I spend too much time on the phone with accountants and bankers.
What made you originally decide to open a restaurant in Las Vegas?
I love fights. That’s what drew me there first. I don’t care for the Lakers or football, but I love watching fights. One day, Sheldon Gordon said, you should open a restaurant in Las Vegas. And in the end, we opened.
Part 1 of your life was as a chef. Part 2 is as a businessman. What’s part 3?
Hopefully, a family man. Each one of those is number one, but at different times.
Other famous Europeans have moved to the US to seek fame and fortune to then run for political office. Would you ever consider entering the world of politics?
No. I have enough problems. Never in California, but maybe in Nevada. It’s smaller. Smaller state, smaller problems.