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24 July 2014

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Starter for 10: interview with Wolfgang Puck

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Wolfgang_Puck_Credit_Amanda_Marsalis_SMALL.jpgCUT (pictured below) opens today at 45 Park Lane, The Dorchester Collection’s boutique hotel. Square Meal caught up with Wolfgang Puck, the brains behind the high-end steak restaurant (which has branches in Las Vegas and Beverley Hills), to find out more about the new branch in London. He talked celebrities, serving steak at the Oscars party, and why he can’t carry macaroons in his hand luggage.

You’ve opened Cut in a hotel. Do you expect Londoners to visit the restaurant, and how will you tempt them away from other steak restaurants such as Hawksmoor?

When we open a restaurant in a hotel, we expect it to be a restaurant for the locals, because hotel guests want to go where locals go. We want to attract local people.

I went to Hawksmoor and some of my people went to the other steak restaurants in town. I think it’s good to see the competition, but at the end of the day we know what we do [here at Cut] and we just have to do that really well. We have to be ourselves regardless of the competition. There is competition here in London, but I’d rather be here than somewhere where they don’t have any good steak restaurants and there’s no competition. There’s a lot of competition in LA and we’ve managed to be there for 30 years. I think longevity is the measure of success.

Spice Market came over from America earlier this year and hasn’t been very well received. Were you worried about bringing another glitzy American export to London?

Not all chefs have a tough time: Daniel Boulud [of Bar Boulud] has been very well received. We are serious about the food, whereas Spice Market is not a serious restaurant; it’s more of a club or bar with food. If I was in America, I wouldn’t go to Spice Market for dinner. I went to Spice Market in New York for a drink once and they had the ropes up outside [like in a club]. A customer in the line was trying to get in for dinner saying, ‘I have a reservation’.

cut interior - CUT_at_45_Park_Lane_(HIGH_RES_-_LANDSCAPE_-_CGI).jpgDid you ask any chefs for advice on how to ‘break’ London?

I know Gordon Ramsay very well; he’s a very good customer. He told me, ‘If you execute here like you execute there, then there’s no way you can’t be successful.’ There will always be some things you need to work out at the start, but most of them will be kinks – growing pains.

What advice would you give to a young chef just starting out who wants to get to your position?

If you want to be successful, go out and work – that’s the most important thing. I find that chefs in America nowadays don’t have the patience to learn their craft well. They all want to have their own TV show and open their own restaurant straightaway. To run a restaurant, you have to become a good manager and a good businessperson first – and the cooking automatically has to be great. You have to learn and experience the profession first – it’s not something you can buy in school. TV has glamorised it too much; people forget there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress.

Would you be happy for your children to become chefs?CUT at 45 Park Lane - Salt-Beef-Hash-Cakes-with-Sauce-B_Rarnaise_small.jpg

My second son Byron is 16 and he wants to become a chef. He cooks with me when we do big parties; he helps me. This year he cooked 600 Dover soles with a friend of mine for the Oscars party. I’m happy for him to go into it if he really wants to. You can’t force your kids because it’s too much. It’s like being an actor – you perform seven times a week and you have to be good every day. You are only as good as your last performance.

What’s been your biggest kitchen disaster?

We did the Oscars party a few years ago and part of the main dish was steak, which I like to cook at the last minute. I still had to cook steaks for 800 and all of a sudden the electricity went out. We called in an engineer but security was so tight they wouldn’t let him in the building. It only took us 15 minutes to find him and sort everything out, so people in the dining room didn’t know what had happened - but it was the longest 15 minutes of my life.

If you hadn’t have become a chef, what would you have done?

When I was young I wanted to become an architect. I saw some pictures of the Empire State Building in New York and I wanted to build a building like that in my little village. I would have had to have gone to school in Vienna and we hadn’t got the money. But my mother was a chef and she got me an apprenticeship, so I quit school and did that – against the will of my father.

CUT at 45 Park Lane - Roasted_Baby_Beet_Salad.jpgWhat’s your earliest food memory?

When I was a kid in Austria, my mother’s Wiener Schnitzel with mash was my favourite meal. I ate it so slowly [to make it last]. We only had meat once a week, so I ate half of it for lunch and kept half of it for dinner.

What’s your guilty food pleasure?

Macaroons are one of my favourite foods. When I’m in Paris I go to Hermé or Ladurée and I buy some to take home with me as presents. But if I forget to check them in, then I’ll eat half the box on the plane.

Who would play you in a film about your life?

Jack Nicholson, if I had the choice – he’s a very good actor. I think he’s witty and fun. I wouldn’t want someone who is too serious to play me; you need someone who is a little cynical.

Interview by Nicky Evans, August 2011
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