By Mr. Will Wong
David Gelb (Hiro Dreams of Sushi, Chef’s Table) directs and produces WOLFGANG, a Documentary about the life of America’s first ever Celebrity Chef, Wolfgang Puck. The Film recounts Puck‘s legendary ascent in the ’70s reviving a flailing Ma Maison in Hollywood, to launching celebrity hotspot Spago, where he revolutionized the way we look at American Cuisine today.
Told in a concise 78 minutes, Gelb traces Puck’s journey as a boy who grew-up impoverished in Austria, recounting his relationship with his abusive stepfather growing-up. Using that as his motivation for never having to return home, he poured his soul into learning his craft finding himself in America. He would by chance land a gig in Hollywood at poorly-reviewed Ma Maison where he took his knowledge of fresh, simple ingredients, transforming its reputation rather quickly. However, it wasn’t until his own first restaurant Spago became a hit with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Michael Caine, Sidney Poitier and several more, that he would become a household name in America, appearing on talk shows, launching his own at-home products and of course, feeding the stars at the Oscars. We got a thrill learning how he invented Smoked Salmon and Caviar Pizza using his smarts substituting pizza dough in after running out of bread, for Joan Collins. Puck was one of the first to introduce the idea of serving Pizza at finer restaurants, just one of of several ingenious ideas of his, including Chinese Chicken Salad.
Success didn’t come without great cost for Puck, and Gelb briefly goes into his fruitful relationship with Barbara Lazaroff which ultimately led to divorce as she played the role of the supportive wife in the background, while contributing greatly with little acknowledgment. We also see how Puck wasn’t present also for his own children with her, although it is just as quick to show how things were settled and fine now. We would’ve like to see just a bit more on the obstacles Puck overcame, including his biggest critics and opposition. While flattering, at times the Film admittedly feels as though aspects of Puck‘s life were off-limits, and while so many stars have been fed by Puck, the amount of testimonials to attest to his legacy, felt light.
The Film goes full circle bringing Puck back to his Austrian roots. While finding success re-inventing American and Asian cuisines, among others, dishes truly close to his heart like Schnitzel were never something he’s served on his menus. Until recently. Now content, re-married with younger children and one son aspiring to follow his footsteps, we find Puck pondering the rest of his life with a renewed sense of priorities now that he is content.
The Documentary is an easy watch and essential viewing for anyone who identifies as a Foodie, in that so many trends in how we consume and are entertained by food can be traced back to this legend.
WOLFGANG arrives on Disney+ June 25, 2021.