19 Oct 2011

Brummell Blog: Wolfgang Puck

THE celebrated Austrian-born American chef has just opened his first British venture The Cut at the 5-star hotel, 45 Park Lane. Here he talks about cruelty, inspiration, benevolence and rock and roll... (for Brummell magazine)
'My father saw cooking as a women’s profession and always said I was good for nothing. I’d been fired from my apprenticeship at Romantik Hotel Post, Villach after three weeks. I stood on the bridge for an hour. Then suddenly I thought I’ll go back. The apprentice a year ahead was happy to see me, hiding me in the vegetable cellar to do his work. But a fortnight later the chef found out. “I’ll kill myself if I go home” I said. He called the owner who somehow found a little heart and sent me to his sister hotel where women chefs were a little nicer. When I returned from compulsory catering school I’d earned the highest grades the owner had seen.

'My father’s behaviour was exactly the opposite when I became well-known. He urged “we need to arrange a statue for Wolfgang.” He also said if he hadn’t been as tough I would’ve been “the same as all the other kids.” My mum was an angel to have lived with him so long. Regardless, I wiped the slate and sent my parents tickets to America. I’d secretly arranged lunch at The White House and my mother was speechless when Nancy Reagan came by to say hi. Then we went to Texas to Dallas’ Southfork ranch. “There’s JR!” exclaimed my father of my friend, Larry Hagman.

'My mentor was Raymond Thullier of Oustau de Baumanière, Provence. He married my first wife and I in 1984 after running for mayor at 73. “I’m in the middle of my life” he’d say. He cooked the way he felt using lobster, sole, turbot, baby lamb and vegetables from six gardeners including the tiniest green beans. If we had vegetable soup you knew it’d taste of vegetables. He was owner, chef, patron and painter. A renaissance man who’d go into the dining room and talk with Queen Elizabeth or Picasso. Amazingly, he didn’t cook professionally until 50.

'To give something back feels right. In 1982 I organised an event to raise money to feed the elderly and sick neglected by the state including a friend whose parents threw him out because he was dying of HIV. 600 guests came to a parking lot catered by seven restaurants and 60 wineries. This led to ‘Meals on Wheels’, a service which delivers 4,000 meals daily to those who need them most.

'Despite an empire of 20 fine dining restaurants with others at Disneyworld and airports, I still wake up thinking “what if nobody shows up?” A restaurant’s a whole experience. Lighting’s important because ladies must look good, as is music. I love Floyd and Zeppelin as well as opera. Tenor, Vittorio Grigolo sang at my wedding. My wife recently took me to Lady Gaga (our son, Alexander loves ‘Alejandro’). To my surprise I enjoyed it!

'Michael Caine said it’d be fantastic if I opened in London. My grandmother worked in fields and my father was a coalminer. London has the world’s most exciting restaurants and opening Cut on Park Lane makes me very proud.'
45 Park Lane, Mayfair, London. W1K 1PN / 020 7493 4545 / www.45parklane.com