Chef’s Table: Wolfgang Puck on Oscars menu, British cuisine and his childhood favourites

The Tempus Chef’s Table series meets legendary chef and CUT founder Wolfgang Puck to chat favourite dishes and awards season signatures

Wolfgang PuckSuperstar chef Wolfgang Puck needs no introduction. The Austrian-American chef and restaurateur is the founder of more than a dozen restaurants — including international fine dining staples Spago and CUT. He is also a regular fixture of awards season, having catered for glamorous Oscar winners at the Academy Awards Governor’s Ball for 30 years.

Yet, the chef’s love for comfort cooking might come as a surprise to some. This year, the famed chef collaborated with his colleague Elliot Grover, executive chef of CUT at 45 Park Lane, introducing four classic British dishes to the Oscars menu.

But away from the hustle and bustle of Michelin-star dining, Wolfgang’s tastes are firmly rooted in family — from the Austrian delicacies created by his mother, pastry chef Maria Topfschnig, to his wife Gelila’s Italian favourites. 

Here, Wolfgang takes us behind the scenes of his Oscars menu, and back to his roots with some favourite dishes.

Wolfgang, this year marks your 30th anniversary of cooking at the Oscars. What stands out most about your longstanding collaboration with the awards ceremony?
The Oscars is the premiere event, not only in Los Angeles but worldwide. The entire city of Los Angeles is buzzing during the Oscars, which makes it the most exciting time here. Everyone loves our food and hospitality, and after doing it for so many years, it only gets better and more exciting with both new dishes and some traditional ones — a few include the beef wellington, fish and chips, chicken pot pie, and agnolotti with truffles. Elliott Grover Wolfgang PuckThis year you have collaborated with chef Elliot Grover on four British dishes for the Governor’s Ball. What can you tell us about these dishes?
The four British dishes from Elliot were such a smash hit last year that the Academy wanted to have him back this year at the Governor’s Ball, because of the amazing response. I always love to collaborate with chefs that are passionate about what they do, and always try to reinvent old standards.  

Your restaurant CUT reinvented the traditional steakhouse to become one of the highest-rated steak restaurants in the world. What is the secret to elevating these dishes to fine dining level?
It always comes down to using the best ingredients; we always buy the best, natural beef from Japan, Idaho, Australia. Then we add talent to it in the kitchen and presentation in the dining room. This all makes a perfect recipe for success.

What inspired your style as a chef?
I learned my craft in France and then came to Los Angeles. When I was 19, I went to work in a restaurant called Baumanière with the chef Raymond Thuilier, who became my mentor. Spending 2.5 years there changed my life as a chef. Here, I found such a multicultural city and learned about all types of Asian cuisines and flavours — and about bringing different flavours together. I am multicultural in the kitchen when I cook and, to me, fusion style is much more exciting than cooking one type of cuisine.Oscars menuWhat is your ultimate comfort food?
I love when my wife makes a pasta bolognese or lasagne at home, it is better than any Italian restaurant. You will have to ask her for the recipe — she keeps it a secret!  

Where did your passion for food come from?
My mother [Maria Topfschnig] was a chef, and she had an amazing vegetable garden; I remember the vegetable soup she cooked for us was delicious. My earliest memory is my mother’s wiener schnitzel with mash potatoes and a green salad, followed by a Viennese chocolate cake. We had an apple tree in the yard, and she would make apple strudel for us. 

Everything was farm to table from our garden, and this was how I grew up.

What makes a meal exceptional for you?
To me, a meal is an experience. It’s the company, the wine, the food and the hospitality all combined. Then the details, like the china, the wine glasses, the lighting and the music, are all the ingredients that go into creating the perfect meal.

I still love to go to restaurants and try new places, even if they are in the countryside or in rural areas. This year I went to Noma in Copenhagen which I had been excited to try. I enjoyed every aspect; it was such an amazing experience.

To know more about Chef’s Table, subscribe to our weekly newsletter, the Tempus Edit, here. And read our first Chef’s Table interview with Amaury Bouhours here.

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