From his humble and difficult childhood in a small Austrian town to his reinvention of celebrity chef stardom in California’s Beverly Hills, chef Wolfgang Puck represents the ultimate fulfillment of the American dream for U.S. immigrants. Well before the flashing cameras, TV shows and Academy Award feasts, Puck took a chance on himself and proved that he belonged in the world’s best restaurants.
Wolfgang, a new Disney+ film directed by David Gelb (Chef's Table, Jiro Dreams of Sushi) explores the chef's life in intimate detail, including his start at L'Oustau de Baumanière in Provence, immigrating to L.A. at age 24 and in 1982 opening Spago, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 2010. The film debuts today, June 25.
For Gelb, working with Puck was a dream come true. The American film director, whose parents come from culinary backgrounds, visited Spago when he was 14 and remembers being starstruck when Puck visited his table (Puck is known for mingling with diners during service). Years later, Gelb wanted to come full circle and make a movie about his childhood hero.
"In telling a story of the rise of Wolfgang, you tell the story of the elevation of the chef to being a star, a true celebrity," says Gelb, who completed the film before the pandemic and spent lockdown in the editing room. "Perhaps had it not been for Wolfgang, there wouldn't be an audience for Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Chef's Table, because he's the one who made the chef a person of interest in our minds and hearts."
Some scenes from the film were difficult shoots for Puck, whose normally cheerful and affable personality are a major part of his popularity and success. "I want to show that adversity can be overcome," Puck told Wine Spectator of shooting scenes in his Austrian hometown of Sankt Veit an der Glan to talk about his disadvantaged childhood living with an abusive stepfather. "You always have to think the glass is half-full, not half-empty, and I want to show people I wasn't born and opened Spago six months later. I took steps before I opened Spago, and some were not easy."
Puck’s restaurants have always been praised for their excellent wine programs, and he says his favorite Austrian producers are Knoll and F.X. Pichler, and that he also loves wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a region he explored as a young chef with an appetite for success (and the world’s best wines).
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