Culinary Mogul Wolfgang Puck Continues His Vegas Reign, Talks New Healthy Cookbook
Award-winning chef and restaurant mogul Wolfgang Puck spearheaded the celebrity dining scene in Las Vegas with the opening of Spago at Caesars Palace’s Forum Shops way back in 1992. His mega success here spurred five more Puck restaurants dotted among the Strip, all featuring his California-influenced cuisine and world-famous gourmet take on pizzas. (We recommend the popular salmon and caviar one.) In a rare personal appearance, Puck stopped by his Spago institution for a signing of his brand new cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy: Light, Delicious Recipes and Easy Exercises for a Better Life.”
Once careless how much he ate, Puck recently underwent a lifestyle and diet change that served as his inspiration for his new release. He cut down his portion sizes, added more vegetables to his diet and lost about 30 pounds. Puck is now presenting more than 100 health-conscious recipes (many of which he personally cooks at home for his family) to his loyal legion of foodies and fans.
In the book you say you never dreamed you’d write a healthy cookbook. How did this come about?
Well I also had other dreams I said I would never do, like for example make frozen food and canned soup. And why did I change my mind? A lot of the time it’s because of the customer. Frozen pizzas started because Johnny Carson used to take home the pizzas and one day I asked him “why do you take home 10 pizzas?” And he said he put them in the freezer, and I thought “I’m going to try that out….”
With this book, if you would have told me 10 years ago I was going to do that, I would have said “what are you talking about?” But also 10 years ago I went skiing with my Austrian friends and I couldn’t get out of bed the next day. My muscles were hurting like crazy. On the way downhill, I had to stop just couldn’t breathe. I was so out of shape. Then I had two more kids, in 2005 and 2006. I said if I continue like this I am never going to get to go skiing with them or play tennis with them. I’m going to have to change. I didn’t change overnight, it took time.
What did you change?
I started to exercise, watch a little bit more of what I eat, and I also started to cook at home for us and changed the way we ate at home. Already six months later I feel so much better. I lost 15 pounds, then 15 more. I’m not a fanatic about it but what we have to do is change our lifestyle to eat less, smaller portions and eat more vegetables and salads. Now if I go to Cut with my wife I order three or four appetizers and we share one steak, and I have five ounces at the most. I don’t feel deprived at all, I feel good and better than eating one portion.
What is the key to cooking healthy?
I think it’s about flavor and taste. If you don’t put salt, lemon juice, wine, some onions, thyme or rosemary or whatever in your water, it will have very little flavor. You don’t want to just put something like potatoes over water, because it will taste like water.
You can make a risotto with brown rice really well. You don’t have to add a pound of butter to it. You can make a mushroom puree, pea puree or asparagus puree, and you blend them and fold it into your rice. You will have great flavor and it’s good for you. At the end, you shave a little Parmesan on top.
Do you have one favorite recipe?
It would be very hard to say. I like the Baked Alaska for dessert a lot because it’s egg whites and doesn’t have a lot of butter. I also love soup. For me to make a simple soup, if it’s a carrot soup or whatever, if you have good carrots and it stays pure, you add a little bit of cinnamon and ginger, a little touch of honey, use some vegetable stock and cook them and puree them with a little salt and pepper. If you want to make it more Thai, you can add some lemongrass and ginger. All of the sudden you eat it and it is so tasty that you won’t miss cream or butter. It feels good when it goes down into your stomach because it’s so pure.
When you think of summer dishes what comes to mind?
I eat a little more fish. You can do so many different things like the shrimp with vinegar or the chicken salad with less oil in it—just lighter dishes with more salad and more vegetables. We are lucky in the summer we have great tomatoes, corn and all these great vegetables already.
Have you been getting a lot of customer response over the years to create a book of healthier tips or more vegetarian options like this?
We have more people now who are vegan than 20 years ago for sure. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a great menu. We made 10 vegan dishes for the Oscars, including pad Thai where we didn’t use fish sauce.
Another example of how easy it is, is asparagus. If you just simply grill them they taste so much better than when you boil them. It’s really not that complicated to actually make something really good, and obviously all the soups are easy, plus you can served them cold or warm.
Back in the early ’90s, you virtually kicked off the entire Las Vegas dining and celebrity scene here. What do you think of it today?
When we started out in 1992, we were the only restaurant from any known chef, and today I think every hotel has some well-known restaurants and chefs. It has definitely has changed for the better for the whole of the city. I used to come here in the ’80s for the fights and you never knew where to go to eat. Today there are a lot of restaurants, but we at Spago always will be the first one.
You have a varying portfolio here in Vegas, so how do you differentiate having so many restaurants in a couple of miles from each other. Do you actively try to make each restaurant experience different or do you have a common thread?
The common thread should be great food and great service. The bar and grill at MGM is different than Lupo, for example. Then you go to Cut and it’s different—it’s expensive and it’s fine dining. Spago here you have both, the restaurant in the back and the café out front. The Forum still has the best numbers here, and there are more people going through here than any other hotel in Vegas.
Do you have a favorite ingredient to cook with?
I think variety is the spice of life!