Puck off, Wolfgang 

Anybody with more than 13 TV channels (excludes me) knows the new breed of television chefs are the supermodels of the new millennium.

Beefy, brash and bawdy, folks like Jamie Oliver, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck are wooing the bonbons off America's steadily plumping middle class. On TV, salacious talk of sexy sweet-pepper sauce prevails, while husbands hobble to the minimart for beer and cheese.

Me, I miss not eating Alice's meat loaf on "The Brady Bunch."

But with Wolfgang Puck poaching my eardrum all the way from his Spago emporium in L.A., I feel obliged to nibble on a cracker and pretend I like to eat.

Puck's coming to the Wolfgang Puck Cafe (4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4) to promote his new book, "Live, Love, Eat!" (I can't!) and will be serving a special dinner for those who want to drop $100 for a parsley-bordered plate. And with his thick Austrian accent and the authoritative way he orders people around, I'm prepared to drop more than that. Pass the butter!

"Why does everybody like you?"

"I don't know. HA HA HA!" he explodes.

Try again, food whore.

"Well, when you're in the hospitality business, like I am," he sells, "I love to feed people, and I like people."

And people who like people are the most bothersome people in the world.

"In turn, you get feedback, you know, from the people," he peoples. "So for me I think it's really a wonderful experience to be in the restaurant and have all these people, you know -- I can cook for them, and they pay me. I mean how much better can life be?"

Save the rhetoric, Wolfie. I haven't had a bite to eat.

"What's your secret ingredient anyway. You must have a secret ingredient. Don't you? Don't you?"

"I don't have one secret ingredient," he deflates into earth-toned psychobabble. "You know what is great? The way Mother Nature made food! That not everything is at the same time. You get great cherries in the spring, you get wonderful mushrooms in the fall. My secret ingredient is really Mother Nature."

Mine's a splash of hooch in my Froot Loops. But don't tell anyone.

Anyway, Puck's been dreaming of chefhood since his early days in Austria, it turns out, pulling on apron strings and licking pudding off egg beaters. But it wasn't until he turned 19 that Puck got on the road to epicurean superstardom.

"I worked in a restaurant in the south of France. And that's where, like all of the sudden, a flame lit up inside of me."

My flame didn't come until 20, if I recall. I shouldn't recall. He never called.

"A guy who was 72 years old, he was really my mentor, to really cook from the heart. He had such passion. Now this passion sometimes overboiled and he was crazy in the kitchen -- screaming, throwing things -- things you can't do anymore."

"Unless you're Emeril. He screams," I remind.

"Yeah, but not in a mean way. HA HA HA!"

"Are you a screamer, old man?"

"I yell. I don't like to call it screaming. I yell sometimes," he yells. "It's just like with kids. You know, you don't want to yell at them. You want to explain and teach them right way. It's not a good way if you have to yell at somebody. You work yourself into an upset stage, and then it's very hard to cook and go and see customers and smile."

Sometimes it's hard for me to smile, too (sniffle, sniffle). Like now.

"Do you ever do anything exciting? Different? Experimental? Um, gay?"

"We always try new things," he tries. "And there's always somebody who changes things and thinks they can do better. Like just a week ago, I was in Los Angeles, and we were making a Peking Duck, and I know we are not hanging them long enough."

Excuse me?

"We are doing it for 15 years, and all of the sudden this one man comes along and says, 'I will not order the duck a day ahead, I will order it the same day.' He was not doing it right, and I said, 'The ducks are not really right! What's going on?' And so I checked out what was wrong. I'm like a guardian of them, also, to make sure they're doing things right."

Another story about a chef who blasphemed Wolfgang's frozen pizzas with an added layer of cheddar cheese follows.

"I just looked at him and didn't say anything. I thought, 'Ohh, nooooo.'"

So let's talk about the Chelsea Clinton-social-climb peculiar to your Spago haunt. Any recent celeb sightings?

"Sydney Poitier comes like four times a week!"

Ew. Awkward "come" usage to follow; watch for "consistency," too.

"You know what, he comes alone. He comes for lunch like four times a week, because he's busy doing things. He reads the paper, he knows what he likes. So I ask him, 'Why you come here for lunch so much?' He says, 'You know what? The food quality here is excellent. You cannot get better anywhere. But the consistency is what is the most amazing thing."

One whole cracker and I'm ready to throw up. As usual.

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