Why Wolfgang Puck Says the L.A. Food Scene Is Unparalleled
"We’re so lucky because we have these great products all year round. We use the best and then send the rest to New York and Chicago."
Wolfgang Puck, one of the most significant players in the restaurant world for several decades, runs a restaurant empire that spans the globe. The iconic L.A. chef, however, is committed to the place he began—and he still insists it's the absolute best food city in America, without any hesitation.
"There's only one place, and that's Los Angeles," says Puck, who opened his flagship restaurant Spago in 1982 on the Sunset Strip. "You know why? We have the best farmers. We have the most diverse restaurants. We have great Chinese food. We have Little Tokyo. We have Koreatown. We have all these different cities within the city, with their own culture."
The Austrian-born chef, who spoke with us at Savor Borgata in Atlantic City, says L.A.’s greatness is nothing new, noting that the city has been the leader of several top restaurant trends from the past four decades, even more so than New York or San Francisco.
“It always was the beginning of new trends and new things coming,” he says. “A lot of things really started with us. And we’re so lucky because we have these great products all year round, so we use the best and then send the rest to New York and Chicago.”
Puck cites his own restaurant Spago, as the first to have an open kitchen, and Chinois on Main (again, his own) as a pioneer of fusion food. Then there’s Nobu Los Angeles, opened in the late ‘80s, that Puck says was the first restaurant to really play around with Peruvian-Japanese fusion. Yet despite all this culinary splendor, the chef says he doesn’t go out to eat that much. With a ten-year-old and twelve-year-old at home, his evenings end early.
“I’m a creature of habit,” he says. “If I do go out, I’ll go to Nobu Matsuhisa, still my favorite Japanese place. There are so many chefs in Culver City and downtown, but then I say, ‘Oh no, I have to go downtown,' so I don’t go. Even to our own restaurants downtown, I don’t go.”
Yet, it’s worth mentioning that even L.A. hasn’t always been so cutting-edge. Puck recalls grilling medium-rare tuna with a tomato-basil vinaigrette in the ‘90s, and many customers refused to eat it, insisting it was raw and inedible.
“I can’t tell you how many people sent it back,” he says. “A tuna ‘well done’ is like canned tuna, basically. So I would say, ‘Trust me,’ and they would say, ‘Get that out of here! Take it away.’”