It was one of those occasions where you didn’t, scratch that, couldn’t be late. Yet a room full of blank expressions stared back at me in response to the question, “is this where the Wolfgang Puck interviews are taking place?”
The ACE Conference Center in Lafayette Hill had announced the completion of their renovation project which included refurbishment of 120 guest rooms and suites, a newly designed lobby, front desk and lounge. To mark the occasion, a preview event took place with Wolfgang Puck in attendance to mingle with the guests while preparing his celebrated signature menu favorites. Prior to the main stage reveal, Town Dish was invited to sit down with the celebrity chef, who shares an exclusive catering agreement with ACE Conference Center, for a one-on-one interview.
He burst out of the kitchen with enthusiasm and was quickly directed to my table. There was no time to review my questions but it didn’t matter. I sat down with Wolfgang Puck for the quickest ten minutes of my life. We casually discussed why the ACE Conference Center is a unique venue, how he spoils his kids, his secret to longevity, and what he’s feeding his cows.
What makes the ACE Conference Center so special?
I think it might become a special location if people want to have meetings here and things like that. You know people like to come for a few days and have meetings. They can enjoy it because it’s completely quiet and self contained. They have all the amenities. The great golf course…but I ask them “where are the cows?” I’m from Austria. We have cows. We don’t have golf courses.
Throughout your career there are so many accomplishments. Too many to count. Is there one in particular that you’re more proud of? Something that stands out among the rest?
What I’m the most proud of is longevity. We opened Spago 30 years ago and we are still here. It’s still in business. In the end, a business starts to go down because you don’t change. You have to keep evolving and keep changing all the time and to do that you always have to have young people who are trying new things.
Communication has changed. Food has changed. It’s important to have an evolution. We are remodeling Spago this summer and it’s going to be brand new with a brand new menu and a lot of people aren’t going to like it. They’re going to say “ahhh why did they change?” but if we want to go to the next level, keep people interested, we have to change.
What type of changes are going to take place?
We’re going to have a brand new menu and we’re spending 4 million on a new kitchen and new dining room. It won’t be stuffy because the younger people today don’t want to be in too serious of a restaurant. The food can be serious. It has to be good but they [young people] want to have a good time too. People want to spend the money but the only thing serious should be on the plate. Not to say the service shouldn’t be friendly. The service should be good and the staff should be knowledgeable.
You are in kitchens cooking all over the world. What do you make when you’re at home with your family. Do they have a favorite dish?
My little boys, wienerschnitzel is one of their favorite meals. They like it with chicken or with veal and then we always go to the farmer’s market and buy vegetables and fruits. We always make fresh vegetables, like four or five different ones. We just started to get the first corn in so we have corn, carrots, broccoli, bok choy, beans…so it’s always a great platter. I simply steam them with a little sea salt and olive oil. They like it. The cows even like it fresh and chopped up. I give them 2 or 3 raw carrots, it’s easy. Then for dessert, a sorbet or something like that. Generally something light because I want them [kids] to go to sleep sooner or later.
Those kids love vegetables. I read Jerry Seinfeld’s cookbook for kids that you have to hide broccoli into a cookie and I think it’s a silly thing because if you really teach the kids that you eat the same way, they are going to eat the vegetables sooner or later.
We always make fresh orange juice every morning because we have them all year round. Really good ones. My kids are really spoiled now. We were in NY in a hotel and they brought orange juice in the morning and Byron said, “Papa, the orange juice is no good.”
(We’re informed there is only time for one more question)
That’s okay. Make it two!
As a celebrity chef, the public recognized the moment when you “hit it big” but was it a different time from your perspective and did you know when it happened. Can you look back and say, “Oh, wow. That was it!”?
It’s just like if you’re an actor on stage. Every show is a new show. For me, if we don’t serve good food tonight, tomorrow might not be another day. We are only as good as our last meal. Hitting it big or not big, it’s just because we get better known. The routine is still the same. We go to the fish market or we go to the farm, I say hello to the guests. I’ve been doing the same for 30 years.
Lastly, as we head into summer, what’ a fun, easy dish our readers can make for their guests while entertaining this season?
I just made one. I’ll show you a picture (pulls out iPhone). It’s going to be on our iPhone app. We haven’t made it but we practiced it and our PR lady who was there with us filming said “I’m going to make that” and I said, “Ya, ya, you just talk a lot.” She said, “No. I’m going to make that for Memorial Day weekend.” She did and sent me a picture to prove it. This is barbeque shrimp in lettuce cups with guacamole , shredded salad from the outer part of the lettuce, and a little salsa. Easy for the summer. You can eat it like a taco if you want to. You hold it together and eat it like that.
(time is up)
Well I’m here all night! We’ll see you around. We have a lot of food.
As a last remark he shouts a joyous, “Okay!” and moves on to the next interview with as much enthusiasm as he started, despite the fact that he will be answering questions, signing books, and entertaining all night. He is a genuinely kind person who respects his fans and what they represent: his shot at another enjoyable meal.
Photography credited to Erin Duffy Photography.