F&W talks to Wolfgang Puck, host of Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class on Food Network.
What was your first big break on TV? How were you discovered?
"The first big thing was Hour Magazine, a long, long time ago, with Gary Collins. It was probably in the early ’80s. Then I did A.M. Los Angeles quite a bit. When my second cookbook came out, in ’86 or ’87, I gave a book to Michael and Judy Ovitz—you know, he was running [Hollywood talent agency] CAA—and he asked me, ’Where do you promote it?’ I said, ’Well, A.M. Los Angeles and stuff like that,’ and he said, ’No, you cannot do it with A.M. Los Angeles. You have to do it on Good Morning America, the Today Show, some national shows.’ Sure enough, he called ABC New York, and they came out to see me and had me on a week later. I still remember when I did Good Morning America for the first time. Oof, they made me so scared. I had David Hartman, who is six-foot-five, next to me with his deep voice; he was doing the cooking with me. I made a chocolate soufflé, and you know, you only have four minutes on the show. You have to make your dish and then have another one in the oven perfectly ready to take out. It was a very scary moment. But it came out fine."
What are some of the best recipes you’ve made on-air, and why?
"People seemed to like my braised beef a lot. The most important thing for that recipe is to take your time. Don’t be in a hurry and try to boil it too fast, because it’s really slow cooking at its best. This is a good dish if it’s cold outside. It’s easy to reheat, and you can still serve it the next day. It’s really a good recipe for home cooks. You can cut leftovers into small pieces and mix it into a pasta dish if you want to, or you can make sandwiches with it with a little bit of the sauce."
What is the worst experience you’ve had on TV? Any disasters?
"A few times it was scary. I remember once I made an apple pie or something with a griddle pastry on top, and by the time I was ready to put it on, it had gotten so warm underneath the light that I touched it and thought, Oh sh*t, I’m not going to be able to put it on. So I used the cutting board to flip it on top, and it worked, but everybody said, ’Wow, you’re like Siegfried & Roy.’ They thought I made a big flip on purpose, but I was really nervous that it was going to fall apart.
"And one time during a segment, they hadn’t turned the electricity on for my food processor. I threw everything in, but thank God, I already had the other stages ready. I think it was Charlie Gibson who turned on the food processor and nothing happened, and he said, ’How do you turn it on?’ I just said, ’It’s on already, vroom, vroom’—I just made the noise of the food processor. You have to be fast and think fast so you don’t get nervous. A lot of people, when something goes wrong, they get really nervous and can’t continue. Then the show has to go to a break and come back. I don’t remember ever doing something really messed up. I’ve cut myself, I’ve burnt myself, but I wrap a towel around my finger and it’s not a problem, really. Nobody knows out there."