If you want to work for Wolfgang Puck you’ll have to make a perfect omelet first, which isn’t easy, the Austrian-born chef and prolific American restaurateur told the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference crowd today.
“I think the labor environment today has gotten more difficult worldwide,” he said in response to a question by interviewer Nicole Miller Regan of Piper Sandler. “I’m always looking for people with passion. It’s always easy to find out. I take them to the farmers’ market in Santa Monica,” California, and looks to see their reaction when they see perfect strawberries or onions or mushrooms.
“If they come into the restaurant, I have them make an omelet. To make a perfect omelet you have to know how to do it,” he said, and the same goes for scrambled eggs. As a young apprentice under a renowned chef in France, “I made scrambled eggs, and he took it and threw it in the garbage.”
When he was 24 he was lured by images of big American cars like Chevrolet and Cadillac. “I said, I want to get a big car like that some day.” He moved to New York but didn’t like it. “I was always a big fan of auto racing. I took the Greyhound bus to Indianapolis, because they had the famous 500 there. And I thought Indianapolis might be like Monte Carlo,” he said, drawing big laughs from the crowd. “And I arrived there and said shit,” because it wasn’t.
The plus side: Indiana’s immigration office was usually empty. “I got my green card and moved out to Los Angeles.”
Miller Regan noted Puck has “fine dining, casual dining, you have your brands in airports” along with branded consumer goods for sale. “How do you know when to make that leap” into new channels, she asked.
“I’m interested in so many different things. We produce wine and sell it in our restaurants. We are looking at doing a tequila brand. Doing new things is what excites me. People say, why don’t you retire. I say, retire from what?” Puck replied.
Asked for his outlook for the upcoming holiday season, Puck said, “All of us in the restaurant business had a terrible ’20, part of ’21, and I think we are out of that now. As you might have read, Las Vegas is totally on fire. The last two years in Las Vegas we did better than any year we did before, and we’ve been in Spago for 20 years” in Las Vegas, since 1992. “We had last night a party for 500 people” there.
“People want to go out. People want to enjoy life, and going through this pandemic has made us look at our life. The only problem with that was, people examined their lives and said what do I really want to do? Do I really want to work Friday, Saturday and holidays? We lost a lot of people. The labor market is still tight; it’s getting better slowly,” he said.
To close, Miller Regan asked a handful of “lightning round” questions, including his favorite music. “My music passion is so different and so versatile really. I love opera,” Puck said, citing a favorite aria from Turandot. “But I love Drake, I love The Weeknd, especially the song by Ariana Grande, ‘Save Your Tears.’ The only thing I don’t like from the hip-hop guys is the lyrics. Music is like a menu, why stay with one?”
Miller Regan then asked: “If it’s true that you don’t like peanut butter, what’s your own favorite thing that you cook?
Puck answered immediately: “I have one favorite wife and many favorite dishes. I don’t think I can have one favorite dish. Great wine, great food—variety is the spice of life.”
The Restaurant Finance & Development Conference continues through tomorrow at the Wynn in Las Vegas.