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June/July 2005

From Wolfgang's Home to Yours
Chef Wolfgang Puck Dishes on His Newest Cookbook
by Lisa Strickland

Wolfgang Puck relaxes at his Express restaurant.
Wolfgang Puck is synonymous with many things glamorous-his famous L.A. eaterie, Spago, his celebrated catering to Hollywood elite at the Academy Awards, and his popular books and television appearances. These days, however, the Austrian-born über-chef brings his culinary prowess to everyday cuisine with his quick-casual Wolfgang Puck Express restaurants and his newest cookbook Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy (Rutledge Hill Press, $34.99, October 2004). Recently he visited Atlanta to greet diners at his south Buckhead restaurant and talk about his new book.

You are obviously a very busy person-operating 59 restaurants, catering, hosting a show on Food Network, releasing this new book, your family-was your own busy life an inspiration for developing a book based on simplifying gourmet cooking?

Wolfgang Puck: I think the way I cook at home is so different from the way we cook at the restaurant. At the restaurant we have all these people working-you know, you tell somebody 'chop me this, do this, make that, clean this.' Also, we have big refrigerators. We store so much stuff, which at home you couldn't do-you may use one thing and not anymore for two weeks. I really simplified this book so if you want to make something elegant like the pepper steak, for example, you don't have to make veal stock like most of the recipes will tell you. You just use a little hoisin sauce or a little bit of barbecue sauce and it will taste just as good.

Are the "easy" recipes in the book pared-down versions of more complicated recipes from your restaurants or did you create them specifically for this book?

WP: A lot of them are simpler versions of complicated recipes. Or, for example, the presentation wouldn't be exactly the same in the book as we would do in the restaurant. Also, [in the book] I use ingredients you could find in the supermarket-not something fancy.

Your book seems to emphasize the use of fresh herbs and ingredients.

WP: The important thing is the quality of the ingredients and the quality of your cooking utensils. If you have good pots and pans it's easy to cook. First, I think you have to go out and buy good pots and pans. Then you buy good ingredients and keep it simple. A lot of people try to overcomplicate things, especially when they are young and not too experienced. I know for myself the more experienced I am or the more I cook, the simpler I make the food. It's not that I don't like complex things. But I really believe for the home cook you want to have good flavor and you want to be able to do it in a short amount of time. You don't want to spend all day cooking one or two dishes.

Along the same lines of quicker, easier gourmet is your new Express restaurant here in Atlanta. What made you choose Atlanta as a location?

WP: [One of my business partners] lives in Atlanta and Nashville. That was one of the main reasons. But I always like to come to Atlanta, I think it's a very interesting city and I always like Southern food. Each time I come here I go and look for fried chicken, because when I grew up in southern Austria we were famous for our fried chicken also. So it's interesting, the parallel. We make it differently. It's not that one is better than the other; it's just what you're used to.

What is your overall impression of the Atlanta dining scene?

WP: I think people know about restaurants. They know they want to be treated well and they want quality. I think people are sophisticated here. You can't fool them. You have to do the right thing.

Atlantans can all relate to a busy lifestyle that leaves little time for enjoying gourmet cooking. It's easy enough to stay home and cook a gourmet meal from Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy or head out to his casual dining restaurant at 1745 Peachtree Street in the Borders shopping center just north of Midtown (404-815-1500).

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