On a hazy sunday morning in beverly Hills, Wolfgang Puck, dressed in expensive jeans and a souvenir T-shirt from St. Tropez, finds himself in a couple of places where he does not spend much time these days: at home and at the stove. Two white-smocked nannies are tending to his young boys, 21-month-old Oliver and four-month-old Alexander. His Ethiopian-born soon-to-be wife, handbag designer Gelila Assefa, is upstairs getting dressed. Having promised a simple family lunch with a nod to the Spago playbook, one of the world's most famous chefs uncorks a bottle of Mangiacane olive oil, pressed by a friend in Tuscany, and drizzles it with a flourish over a Wolfgang Puck Bistro collection electric grill. The oil hits the metal with a sizzle—and splatters all over his shirt.
"Now I'm cooking, for sure," Puck says merrily in his familiar Austrian accent. After a quick change of clothes, he dips a finger into a pot of simmering soup made with corn from nearby Chino Farms and diced bacon—and drips across his shirt again. Puck heads back to the closet one more time, but not before pronouncing the chowder, sweet and smoky and ready to be topped with a jalapeño-cilantro cream, fit for consumption. "I would eat it," he says, with characteristic understatement.
As he marks the 25th anniversary of Spago, the dining revolution he launched on a hillside above the Sunset Strip, the wunderkind of California cuisine is now the patriarch of America's first epicurean empire. Puck, or simply WP, has become a master of what marketers call "brand extension." He controls 14 restaurants, including four Spago locations (Californian), two Chinoises (Cal-Asian), two Postrios (contemporary American) and one Cut (steak house). He has more than 80 Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express locations in 23 states and produces frozen pizza, canned soup and estate-grown coffee. He hawks his own line of cookware and appliances on the Home Shopping Network and runs catering venues from Los Angeles's Staples Center to the Georgia Aquarium. He employs some 4,500 workers, and last year, he fed an estimated 10 million people.