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A Cut Above the Rest

Bahrain Confidential explored the mind of culinary master and world-renowned restaurateur, Wolfgang Puck.

Why Bahrain?

We decided 7 or 8 years ago to expand internationally and the opportunity finally came – the first two restaurants were in London and Singapore, then came along Dubai and Bahrain. We opened first in Dubai because it was situated in a pre-existing hotel. It took a while before we opened up one in Bahrain, but I have found out over the last two years since we opened that it actually was a great decision.

How involved are you with the staff as far as Wolfgang Puck is concerned?

Certain things are standardised but I want the chef to be creative as well. It doesn’t have to be exactly like what I show but I want people to be creative and really figure out something on their own. I also think it is important that they are not getting bored in what they’re doing.

Do you have a particular favourite dish that you just could not ‘not have’ on your menu?

I like change a lot. I like evolution. One of the reasons why we’re still in business and still doing well after 35 years is that we change. Our business is a little bit like fashion – if someone does the same thing they did three years ago; nobody will buy what they are selling. In food, we try to retain a part of it – comfort. As long as we change and have something different and interesting, people will love it. I think we always try to be both: innovative whilst having a great sense of comfort.

Certain things are standardised but I want the chef to be creative as well.It doesn’t have to be exactly like what I show but I want people to be creative.

Do you think people from Bahrain have different taste buds per se as opposed to others?

It’s always a gradual educational phase – in art, fashion, music or whatever it is, we learn as we go along. My taste buds changed over the years, I eat spicier food now than I used to. I grew up in Austria where we used salt, pepper and a few herbs, but, when I moved to LA, different restaurants use chilli and spices. My palate is used to that stuff now. I think everybody’s taste buds change.

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Where did your love for cooking come from?

My mother. She was a chef at a hotel during the summertime and she cooked at home in the wintertime too. She was a very good cook; we grew up poor but she could make a lot of dishes with way little money. When I was 12 or 13, I always went in the hotel to visit her and when I was 14, she got me an apprenticeship as a cook. I didn’t really like it at first. It is when I went to L’Oustau de Baumanière in France that cooking sparked my interest. I met the owner who was aged 72 and was still really passionate about food. I was in awe of his passion and I then realised that I wanted to be like him.

What’s your comfort food? Something you can wrap up in 5-10 minutes max?

I have way too little stock in my refrigerator. I don’t like things to be wasted but we always have vegetables. I bring some food from the restaurant to my home and then I cook it. It might be a simple fish or something which I butterfly, remove the bones and parch with some olive oil. I then season it with salt, pepper and mix it with a lot of fresh herbs. I chop the herbs finely, mix it with breadcrumbs, put that on top and just put it underneath the broiler. In 5 minutes, I have a delicious fish; just a little lemon to finish it up and that’s it. For me, food in a way is something sacred. I don’t really eat junk or cheap food because I know most of it is not good for my body.

Does your wife cook at home?

Sometimes. She’s in fashion which she doesn’t do often now, especially when we had kids. For the last three to four years, she had been working with me. She really rearranged all of our things. She’s like a creative brand director.

If you had your last dinner, what would it be?

Anything with truffles and some really good wine… and maybe some good chocolate afterwards.

What can you say is the biggest challenge that you have faced in your career?

The biggest challenge for me was when I was young. I was 14 when I left home and my stepfather always told me that I was good for nothing. When I left home, the chef I worked for in a small hotel also told me I was good for nothing after three weeks and fired me but I didn’t take no for an answer so I just went back the next day. I was hiding at the vegetable cellar and the chef came down two weeks later and saw me. He reiterated that he had already fired me, but, I told him that I’m not leaving which pushed him to call the owner of the hotel. They had sent me to another hotel and there it started to get better. That was really the hardest thing for me but after that, it just started to get better and better so today, I can’t complain anymore. There’s always challenges but I love challenges.

What has been your biggest achievement?

It is the fact that we opened in 1982 and we are still successful until now. Last year, Spago had its best year ever. Normally, restaurants come and go but we are still here and I think that’s really a great experience.

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