The Disney+ documentary is a candid and inspiring look at Wolfgang Puck’s journey from a little town in Austria to running a vast culinary empire
Ten years after David Gelb’s meditative Jiro Dreams of Sushi, comes the more straightforward Wolfgang, documenting super chef Wolfgang Puck’s journey from a little town in Austria to running a vast culinary empire.
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The documentary starts with Puck visiting his sister, Christine, in Austria. Puck’s troubled relationship with his abusive step-father is one of the reasons he found safety and comfort in the kitchen. At the age of 14, Puck’s mother, a pastry chef, gets him a job in a restaurant. His step-father’s ridicule is enough to spur the boy. Puck peels potatoes and cleans the kitchen. One day in the middle of lunch, the mashed potatoes run out, and the chef yells at Puck, asks him to leave, telling him he is no good. Crushed, Puck nevertheless returns the next day and though the chef tells him to go away, the owner of the restaurant gives him a job in another restaurant.
“I learnt that nothing comes easy, but giving up was not an option,” Puck says. With a fascination for French cooking, 19-year-old Puck heads for France where he gets a job at L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence. After Chef Raymond Thuilier takes Puck’s suggestion on a sauce, he becomes Puck’s mentor.
- Director: David Gelb
- Duration: 78 minutes
- Storyline: Tracing the chef’s journey from a little town in Austria to the pinnacle of culinary success
At the ripe old age of 24, Puck moves to the United States in 1973. Two years later, he is working at Patrick Terrail’s Ma Maison in California. Puck turns the restaurant’s fortunes around by cooking simple food with the freshest ingredients—serving California on a plate. Even though Terrail reluctantly makes Puck a partner, he did not believe Puck had anything to do with the success of the restaurant.
There is a parting of ways and Terrail saying Puck will be back begging for a job in three months, goads the young chef to make a success of Spago, the restaurant he opened on the Sunset Strip in 1982. Puck’s ex-wife and business partner, Barbara Lazaroff, remembers the adrenaline rush of those days. The electricity did not come in till 4 in the afternoon on opening night and stuff was still being nailed in place. Nothing of course mattered and Spaga was an unqualified success, causing an article to talk of the “Spago-isation of Manhattan” a year later.
Lazaroff speaks of the inspiration behind Spago’s open kitchen, which brought the chef into the limelight. Working off her theatre experience, she made Spago the stage and Wolfgang its star. Spago was the place to see and be seen. Always innovative, a visit by actor Joan Collins led to the creation of the smoked salmon pizza, and television host Johnny Carson packing a dozen pizzas gave Puck the idea to sell frozen foods.
Puck is the official caterer for the Academy Awards Governors Ball, which prompted Billy Crystal’s quip while hosting the Oscars, “the good news is that they have found Nemo, the bad news is he in one of Wolfgang Puck’s puff pastries!” Puck’s son, Byron, also a chef started out like his father peeling potatoes at the age of 13.
The documentary, featuring interviews with friends, family and food commentators, is a linear tale. There are no surprises, but that does not mean it is not thrilling, with all that archival footage of the food scene in America in the ‘70s and ‘80s adding the right flavour.
Wolfgang is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
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