It’s a rare thing to have a restaurant thrive for decades. It’s an even rarer feat for a restaurant to remain enduringly popular among Hollywood’s power players. Yet that’s just what Wolfgang Puck has done with his iconic Beverly Hills restaurant, Spago. The recent subject of a Disney+ documentary (simply titled, “Wolfgang”), he opened Spago in 1982 and it has remained the place to see and be seen in L.A. ever since (If you haven’t tried his signature Pizza with House Cured Smoked Scottish Salmon, can you even call yourself an Angeleno?). Of course, he went on to open an empire of restaurants around the world, including his signature CUT steakhouses, with locations from Beverly Hills to Bahrain, from Doha to D.C. And, most recently, Wolfgang made it a family affair, when he opened Merois and Ospero at the Pendry Hotel in West Hollywood. One of his son’s, Byron Puck, is the general manager at Merois.
The pair like to go to the beach at Santa Monica when they have free time, says Puck. “We go and walk and talk about the business. It always goes back to the business because [my son] is very passionate about food and restaurants. And then we can go across the street to Chinois and have a few dumplings.”
Given his Hollywood pedigree, when you get the chance to sit down for a conversation with the celebrity chef, it’s tempting to jump right into asking him about his coolest celebrity stories (and there are many). But, the Austrian-turned-Angeleno’s tastes go far beyond the city’s celeb scene. Ask him what he loves about L.A. and he’ll name everything from the city’s world-class opera to Santa Monica Beach to downtown L.A.’s burgeoning art gallery scene.
Puck has been the consummate host at his Los Angeles restaurants for more than four decades, so who better to tell us where to go the next time we’re in town? Here, he shares what he loves about L.A.
You travel globally quite a bit, tell us, what is it that makes Los Angeles feel like home to you?
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a long time. I’ve been here since 1975. I love L.A. because I’ve seen its growth. Before, we only had the movie and television industry and maybe some restaurants, but now we have great opera, great museums, amazing artists. We have Frank Gehry here, who built Disney Hall, which is the most beautiful center for listening to music. I think L.A. has become a grown-up city in fine arts, in music. Plus, it is a great sports town. You look at the Dodgers, the Lakers. They are amazing teams year-in, year-out. Another great thing to do is to go to The Hollywood Bowl. And we are so lucky with the weather. It never rains in the summer or in the fall, so you go to the Hollywood Bowl and you listen to classical music or a rock concert.
Aside from your own restaurants, are you a regular anywhere in town?
I still love to go to the original Matsuhisa. Nobu has been a friend of mine since the late ’80s and we are the same age. There is also an Italian trattoria, like the ones they have in Italy, that I like to go to called Angelini’s.
You’re an art collector, what are your go-to art galleries in Los Angeles?
There are so many. We have one for example, Jeffrey Deitch, that’s become a famous art gallery here. Regen Projets is another great art gallery where I like to go. Hauser & Wirth downtown is really a big gallery now, too. But my wife gets all the art opening invitations, so I follow her.
Where do you like to go to have a glass of wine?
One of the great places to drink wine is right up the street from Spago. It’s called Wally’s. They have great wines by the glass.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
You know it’s so funny, I was just in Austria on a detox stay. And over there I got up early in the morning and walked around the lake, which took about an hour and a half. Now I’ve actually started to like the morning. I get up around 6:30 or 7 a.m. and take my dogs for a walk in the hills. But I’m still a night person, too. If you tell me to go out at night, I’m all for it. I’ll go see my son at the Pendry Hotel because they have a nice bar with a fireplace. It’s nice to hang out there and have a good cocktail. The vegan sushi is also great.
What else can we find you doing around L.A.?
I love to play tennis. And, I love to walk a lot. I exercise because I really believe I have to stay in shape. I also love to go to the opera. I knew Placido Domingo for many years, and now [I like to see] Vittoria Grigolo perform. It’s an amazing thing, when you look at these opera singers, how talented they are. I like operas that are a little more light-hearted. There are some really good ones, like Carmen and Nochia Figaro. I don’t go that often, but I like it. I tell everybody my musical tastes are wide. I like the opera, but I also like The Weeknd.
What do you say to friends who say New York is better than Los Angeles?
I love New York and I love to visit, but L.A. is my home. We have great weather, great galleries, diverse restaurants. You can get really great Latin-Mexican food, Korean food, Indian food and Ethiopian food in L.A. We have so many neighborhoods in L.A. where you can get authentic ethnic food.
Where do you go for great Mexican food?
My favorite place to go for Mexican food is Tacos 1986. It’s downtown. I call the chef, and I ask, “Can you make me some food from where you come from in Mexico?” and he does, and I always think, “Wow, this kid is so talented.”
You’re the chef for the official post-Oscars party, The Governors Ball. But where is the best celeb spotting if you don’t have an invite?
They get into their limousines and go from party to party, [so it’s hard to spot celebrities]. I’m usually so tired [after the Governors Ball], I go home. But we have been to Madonna’s house for a [post-Oscars party]. Another year we went to Jay-Z’s party.
But [if you’re interested in the behind the scenes of Hollywood], people should go to the Academy Museum on Wilshire Boulevard. It’s a really great new museum. People come to Hollywood, they want to see Hollywood. The Academy Museum is the best place to go.
If someone is new to L.A., what must they see?
I think the whole area of Sunset Boulevard is a must-visit. Sunset Boulevard used to be not so great for years. Now it has new hotels, like Edition Hotel, Pendry Hotel. Merois in Pendry is really great because it has the best view of L.A. It’s on top of the building and you can see from downtown all the way to the ocean. It’s great at lunchtime, but it’s always beautiful at dinnertime with all the lights on [in the city].
After 40 years in Los Angeles, what’s your favorite celebrity story of all time?
It would be very difficult to pull out just one. But some of my favorites are people like Gene Kelly. Growing up and seeing his movies like Singin’ in the Rain and then, you know, I got to play tennis with him [as an adult]. Sidney Poitier, who is one of the most famous actors, I got very friendly with him over the years. I was having lunch with him and he knew my wife was pregnant and he said, “Wolfgang, it would be an honor for me if I could be the godfather of your children.” I started to cry, I was so emotional. I said, “yes” [and then I told him] “Sidney, I look up to you, all I want is for one day when I die, you speak at my funeral.” Very few of the new movie stars can compare to the glamour of the old movie stars.