George Christy 10-02-2009
This weekend celebrates the 27th year for the American Wine and Food Festival. Organized tirelessly and hosted through the years by Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff with their charitable foundation, the festival at the Universal Studios Back Lot, supports the Meals on Wheels program, which home-delivers hot food to the hungry and the homebound. From its humble beginning in 1982 at the parking space of the former Spago location on Horn Avenue in West Hollywood, the foundation’s raised multimillions. Chefs such as Nobu Matsuhisa participate, as do other local and national invitees, along with vintners, donors and sponsors.
If we could only partake of Wolfgang’s superman energy, and Barbara’s extraordinary talent of design and event planning! Undeniably the most famous chef in America, Wolfgang remains youthfully indefatigable, traveling weekly across country for his television shows, opening 17 upscale restaurants, along with 50 Wolfgang Puck Cafes and Expresses. Always jovially greeting and being photographed with the local and regular diners at Spago, Chinois (both designed by Barbara), and at his latest Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, which must not be missed by those visiting the Nokia LA LIVE downtown, where it’s located. A welcome addition with brother Klaus Puck as partner and manager, the restaurant is masterfully designed by Tony Chu, serving excellent food from chefs John Lechleidner and Dustin Lewandowski.
Last week, Wolfgang reminisced with us about his “ideal holiday” abroad. “Three weeks was perfect,” he says. “I’ve never done this before … it was time, I wanted to get away with the family. We went to Paris, then Austria where I was born, Barcelona and Capri, where Gelila and I were married on July 7, 2007 – that’s 7-7-7.”
Europe inspired him, but please don’t mention Air France. “Service? Strange. Not helpful. Even with our asking for very little, and we were in business class, a family of four. Gelila and our two sons, Olivier and Alexandre.” He praises Virgin Australia as the “best airline” after his recent trip to Sydney, and plans to fly Virgin on his next visit to London. In the States, he prefers American Airlines.
Arriving in Paris, the family enjoyed the touristy trip to the Eiffel Tower, where the acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse has taken over the Jules Verne dining room and improved the food immeasurably. “Not a luxury restaurant, but good food, and the views are spectacular,” says Wolfgang. “Another day, we loved our dinner at the Hotel Ritz Bar hosted by Gelila for Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harpers Bazaar.” When I mentioned that an order of fries at the Ritz is $30, Wolfgang smiled, “I let Gelila take care of the bill.
“We couldn’t resist going to the Tour D’Argent, and what do you order there? The duck, what else? Our favorite bistro was Cameleon on the rue Chevreuse in the Montparnasse district. Comfortably traditional, with the best foie de veau I’ve had – an amazing texture. Great salads, especially the warm leeks vinaigrette. Don’t miss the leg of lamb with flageolets, or the Dover sole meuniere with lemon butter and capers. And the tart au pomme with the tissue-paper crust.
“Owner Jean-Paul Arabian has a fine red wine list, with good Bordeaux wines by the glass. He’s very friendly, and located across the street from La Coupole. The Prudlow Restaurant Guide rates Cameleon as the best bistro in Paris. Prices are fair, you’ll eat well for 40 euros, about $50. After I recommended Cameleon to my Spago customers, one couple returned with thanks – they ate there every day! Another bistro we liked is La Fontaine de Mars on the rue St. Dominique for its traditional French dishes. On a higher level, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is outstanding. Expensive, but worth it.
“Entering Maxim’s on the rue Royale is walking into another world. It dates back to 1893, Pierre Cardin bought it in 1981, and later sold it. I have many memories of cooking there, when I lived in a maid’s room without running water or a toilet, and would shower at Maxim’s. Friday nights were black-tie, the women wearing jewels and fancy dresses. Dancing were swells like the Kennedys, Gaia and Salvador Dalis, Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas, along with the always-chic Parisians coming and going.
“After Paris, Gelila and I brought our sons to my sisters in Austria, and flew to Barcelona, where we’d never been. Gaudi architecture, the Miro Museum, and a great food market with more than a hundred stalls. And there’s elBulli (cq), two hours north in the seaside Catalonia village of Roses, where chef Ferran Adria, creates a unique menu of little tastes. One day, a fried crispy rabbit ear, a tiny lamb kidney, a flower blossom filled with whatever inspires him, an oyster on a leaf with a drop of vinegar – 37 courses in all.” I asked if Wolfgang had pity on the dishwashers, and then he revealed Ferran Adria receives 2,000,000 reservations requests a year, and accepts 8,000.
“Capri was next,” continued Wolfgang. “We stayed at the Quisisana, ran into Vicky and Murray Pepler, Clive Davis, and the visit brought back memories of our wedding, with Betty and Fred Hayman, Jerry Perenchio, Norman Lear, Paul Marciano, Peter Weller flying in to be with us.
“Tonino was wonderful, we drank the Ca’ del Bosco sparkling wine, as good as any you’ll find in France. I decided to go through the Blue Grotto, which is pitch-black, but when you come out the water sparkles like a blue diamond. Da Paolino is typically Italian, a cooking family famous for its antipasti of dozens of tastes, from squid to shrimp to eggplant. The langoustines and the branzino baked with a salt crust are exceptional. And my only dessert everywhere we went were those irresistible perfumed frais de bois with vanilla ice cream.
“We stopped at Aurora for its great pizza, and shopped at 100% Capri in the center of town. I ordered two white linen suits, and Antonino the owner promised he’d have them ready ‘by tomorrow!’ Unbelievable. We stocked up on shirts of the most elegant linen, bed linens and party accessories.
“Our vacation was unforgettable, but coming home we were disappointed by the attitude of the attendants on Air France. Midway through our flight, I was hungry, asked what was available, and they served me a piece of cheese that was hard as a brick. Could the attendant warm it up in the oven, please? He refused, insisting the plane might catch fire. Go figure.”
For our BH Courier readers planning holidays abroad, this may be a column to clip and save about Wolfgang’s favorites.