To call preparing a meal for Alisters like Hugh Jackman, Ben Affleck, Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway an undertaking is an understatement: the aforementioned celebrities were just four of the 1,6000 mouths celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck cooked for at this year’s Governors Ball, his 19th consecutive year creating gastronomic delights for the haute post-Oscars crowd. Yet, the 63-year-old Austrian- born restaurateur makes serving haute Hollywood, re-vamping his signature Beverly Hills eatery, Spago, starring on “Top Chef: Seattle” and planning to open a new beachside restaurant with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison look easy. Just how does he do it?
What is the hardest part of preparing for the Governors Ball?
The hardest part is to organize everything so that it’s ready to go by 6 p.m. It’s like preparing a racecar and getting ready for a race. Preparation is everything. You train, you eat right and do everything as if you’re getting ready for a marathon. We want our Governors Ball guests to receive the same experience as they would in a restaurant.
I’m talking to Larry Ellison about opening a restaurant on the beach in Malibu. We would serve great seafood simply prepared, really simple, but of high quality.
How do you select the menu?
The great part is that I’m allowed to do what I want to do. I sit down with Marc [Friedland] and Sherry [Yard] and say, ‘Let’s try this out.’ Generally we try to do party-friendly small portions. We’re cooking 200 things at a time so that something is always out there. Do you ever get special requests from celebrities? Four years ago we made a chicken pot pie with black truffles, and one of the Academy Award board members came up to me and said, ‘I don’t care what you cook as long as I get that chicken pot pie!’
How extreme are the costs of putting on the Governors Ball?
We use expensive ingredients like truffles and caviar and we spend a lot on the décor decorating the ballroom. We always try to make it as great as possible. Money is no object. There is a budget, but we still have our Dom Pérignon — no problem.
Do you get to enjoy yourself or are you working all night?
I’m very happy…at the end of the day, when we can say that we’ve done a great job and thank God it’s over.
Tell us about the recent renovations you’ve made at Spago. What did you change?
The menu is one thing. It’s going to keep evolving. There’s a completely new menu; one of the only things we actually kept was the smoked salmon pizza. What I think is really exciting is the décor. My wife [Gelila] curated all the artwork, so we have all LA artists like Doug Aitken. It’s younger and hipper and modern, but still comfortable. I wanted it to be a restaurant with great food, but fun, just like the Oscars. I want people to have a great time.
Do you have any plans on creating a Puck hotel like Nobu did in Las Vegas?
If the situation is right we would do it, but I don’t know yet. It’s come up a few times, but I don’t want to do anything until we come up with a new concept, which is difficult. When you look back at the hotel industry, you have a few fancy places but nothing really different. If I could figure out something new and exciting, I would do it for sure. I’d do it in New York or Miami or LA for a young and affluent crowd.
How are you finding Top Chef ? Any plans to return for another season?
I like it, but I haven’t watched the show yet. I’m going to wait until the whole thing is over and watch the entire series at once. I don’t know about next year yet, the timing really has to work out. If they want to shoot in July and we go to Europe in July, I won’t do it. It’s not my priority.
Do you have any plans to open another Wolfgang Puck location in LA?
I’m actually planning one right now. I’m talking to Larry Ellison about opening a restaurant on the beach in Malibu. We would serve great seafood simply prepared, really simple, but of high quality. We just started to talk about it. I was supposed to do the restaurant a year ago and then I backed out, but we’re talking again. We’re in the early stages.
Tell us about your style
I always link fashion to food. Much in the same way every chef puts a stamp on his or her food, every designer put a stamp on his or her clothing. I have a friend in London named Ozwald Boateng who makes me clothes. Once you get something made for you, it’s hard to buy off the rack. You can easily fall into luxury.