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Wolfgang Puck - The Next Chef Boyardee


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In today's Houston Press, Robb Walsh reviews Wolfgang Puck Express . As usual Mr. walsh does not write a run of the mill review, instead he does his homework and research. He argues that Mr. Puck sold his name and is basically peddling chain restaurant food.

The reason this article was so interesting to me is because I had no idea how much Puck is actually moving from the fine dining business to the chain restaurant business. I have a lot of respect for Puck and for his talent as a chef (I loved his appearance on Iron chef America), but this trend is alarming.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I remember the first Puck Express that opened up in Santa Monica ten -- or was it TWELVE -- years ago???

When I lived in SoCal, I loved Pucks Express outlets (they did multiply to where there were a few nearby where I lived). They were good for quick roasted chicken and amazing french fries.

Duck Sausage Pizzas? Those were discontinued years and years ago -- I remember because it was about the same time that California Pizza Kitchen discontinued THEIR Duck Sausage Pizza, both claiming it didn't sell well. I recall them both fondly.

I hadn't realized the chain had grown to be so large outside of California. When I used to go, I was a 'frequent diner member' and had a card that entitled me to "Pucks Perks." Basically, every $200 I spent got me a $20 gift card. It was great when I used to have to entertain clients and would have to have 12 or 14 people out to lunch. Great returns for me!

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Egad.

This is so much worse than I had thought when I had only heard "he" was selling frozen pizzas.

Still, Wolfie, if getting down to your lonesome and rolling in cash makes your dough rise then go on, lad. It's yours to do with as they'll let you.

Sad, though.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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The first WP "Express" that I ever encountered was in one of the terminals at LAX - in fact, it was out by the gates. It was somewhere around the early 1990's. And the food was great. I remember the Caesar salad - the lettuce was crisp, and the dressing was garlicky and vibrant. We used to have the pizzas, the salad, and the sandwiches, and they were good eating for sure.

Fast forward to 2003... and a Wolfgang Puck Express opens in a large, prime location in Hoboken, right on the waterfront, in the ground-floor space of a brand-new office building on the banks of the Hudson River with specacular views of the New York City skyline. Most restaurants in the world would kill for such a setting.

And amid much hype and a visit from WP himself, the restaurant opens.

And the food is as sad, as dull, as sorry, and as lackluster as what you get on a no-frills airline on a flight that is delayed many hours, or the food you remember badly from your school cafeteria. Not believing it the first time, we ate here on three separate occasions several months apart, having several of the "signature" pizzas, the "signature" Chicken Bolognese pasta, the Caesar Salad, and the roast chicken on various occasions.

It all tastes like something you get from a can and reheat in a microwave.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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He's a long-since sold-out commodity.

Question: instead of looking back at Chef Boyardee in making comparisons, perhaps it's time to look forward and think of Wolfgang Puck as the precursor, the prototype, of various other sell-out "chefs" that people in this forum blindly and uncritically accept as Talents Worth Masturbating Over?

I'd probably do Britney Spears (if she had her makeup on), but that doesn't make her a good musician.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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The really disturbing thing here is that it seems Puck is actually closing down his restaurants in favor of expanding his fast-food/processed food empire, while other "sell-out "chefs"" seem to be opening great restaurants all over the place, not soulless McPucks. Whether these chefs make money from a seasoning mix or a toothpaste commercial is besides the point.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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If markk's experience from the early 90s had been duplicated, I would applaud. Oh, how I wish I could find such fare in any airport in the land. I have no problem with any chef going to do his thing and make some bucks in the process. Selling toothpaste or not, Emeril's in New Orleans is still a killer restaurant. And I will betcha that Emeril hasn't lost control of anything. What I find disturbing is the possible fact that Wolfgang has lost control a la Boyardee. And, if he gives up an outlet for his first love and claim to fame, that would be a shame. We would be deprived of his talent.

The kids and I had dinner in a WP restaurant in Seattle a few years ago and it was a very good experience. From the service to the food, the touch of the master was there. Later we found out that it had just opened and was still in "shake down" mode. It was still impressive.

But, maybe this is the way he wants to go with his life. Maybe he just wants to cash in, get out of the kitchen and lay on the beach. If so, more power to him. But it would be a shame to lose the talent. If he could raise his head from the sand just so often so that I could get good pizza in airports, I would be happy.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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The really disturbing thing here is that it seems Puck is actually closing down his restaurants in favor of expanding his fast-food/processed food empire, while other "sell-out "chefs"" seem to be opening great restaurants all over the place, not soulless McPucks.

let me repeat: puck is not closing down restaurants ... at least not many of them. robb left a wrong impression (how's that for diplomatic?). Spago is up and running and is probably better and busier than it has ever been.

for various reasons, i'm probably the last person in the world wolf would expect to come to his defense (well, after ms. lazaroff). but i do think it's important to understand what he is trying to do, because it may well be a model (or at least a lesson) for the star chef industry.

The puck empire is a pyramid with Spago at the top, followed by the various Spago-ettes (including Chinois). Below that are the Wolfgang Puck cafes, which are designed to serve puck cuisine on a bistro level. Then come the Expresses, which are designed to serve puck cuisine on a fast food level.

Supporting all of this is his commercial ubiquity: the home shopping network, the cooking shows, the cookbooks, the printed underwear of whatever.

this is all about the establishment of a brand name, using great cuisine as a driver (well, i don't like spago, but most of my friends do). Each of the parts builds on the other. Without Spago, Puck would (eventually) lose food credibility. Without the merchandising, he would lose much of his national presence.

i'm not advocating this as a model for restaurateurs, just pointing out the theory behind it.

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I understand the concept, Russ. I guess that my selfish interest is getting better pizza in airports since I can't get to his "real" restaurants often enough. :biggrin: That is what I am hoping he doesn't lose control of.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Still, Wolfie, if getting down to your lonesome and rolling in cash makes your dough rise then go on, lad. It's yours to do with as they'll let you.

Sad, though.

Exactly.

It may be sad, pathetic, disgracefull, etc. in our eyes, but it's his choice. I'm quite sure the decisisions he makes have to do with $$$$. After all, isn't the USA the "land of opportunity"?

A.

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Russ-

You need to fill AP in on this pyramid thing. They got the same memo I did. Puck Cafes are out, McPucks owned by franchisees are the future:

September 2003

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) - The 8-year-old Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the Irvine Spectrum Center has closed amid reorganization of the Beverly Hills-based restaurant chain... The restructuring will focus on two concepts: the Express restaurants and high-end eateries in Los Angeles and Las Vegas....At least 300 new Express restaurants - all of them franchised - will open in the next three years...

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I realized that something was not right when I tried to eat the can of Wolfgang Puck's clam chowder I accidentally purchased. The stuff was terrible... even by canned soup standards. I couldn't imagine that he would just put his name on crappy soup and that something had to be wrong... so I tried the noodle soup. It's no joke... he really is selling crappy, sub-standard canned soups...

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I realized that something was not right when I tried to eat the can of Wolfgang Puck's clam chowder I accidentally purchased. The stuff was terrible... even by canned soup standards. I couldn't imagine that he would just put his name on crappy soup and that something had to be wrong... so I tried the noodle soup. It's no joke... he really is selling crappy, sub-standard canned soups...

Speaking of putting his name on crap. I just remembered that he actually wrote the intro to Sandra Lees wonderful "cook"-book :wacko: .

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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The Express that Robb Walsh reviewed is about 2 miles from my office, and I have gone 3-4 times. I have to admit, I like it as lunch hour options go. I had the very pizza reviewed in the article last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The crust was crisp from the wood-firing, but tender beneath the golden exterior, the flavor from the garlic-y mushrooms and spinach was complimented well by the pesto. The only thing I didn't care for on the pizza were the sorry looking tomato slices, but we're in a tomato shortage! No one has good tomatoes!

The Chinois chicken salad is a truly original fast-ish food offering, and while I make similar Thai Peanut Noodle salads at home, not many restaurants do.

I wonder what folks' opinion of this place would be if it didn't have the Puck name attached to it? I'll bet it would be very well-received as a great addition to the lunch-time choices available in an area thick with office buildings and Chinese buffets. It's no Spago, but it's good.

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Ahem: !Ca-ching!

Wolfgangpuck Worldwide, Inc.

Contact Information

Address: 100 N. Crescent Dr., Ste. 100

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Phone: 310-432-1500

Fax: 310-432-1630

Financial Highlights

Fiscal Year End: December

Revenue (2003): 239.00 Million

Revenue Growth (1 yr): 9.00%

Employees (2002): 5,100

Employee Growth (1 yr): 3.00%

Key People

• President and CEO: Wolfgang Puck

• EVP; Managing Partner, Operations, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining: Joe Essa

• Director of Finance and Accounting: Jim Stigall

Subsidiaries & Affiliates

• Wolfgang Puck Catering & Events

• Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group

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But on a brighter note, Russ & Robb, if Wolfgang Puck keeps this up, pundits like you will have a much easier time describing the process of selling out one's culinary soul to crass commercialization.

I mean, we all noticed Robb struggling with "Chef Boyardee-ization."

How much simpler and more descriptive it will be to say, "Wolf-gangPucked."

:biggrin:

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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But on a brighter note, Russ & Robb, if Wolfgang Puck keeps this up, pundits like you will have a much easier time describing the process of selling out one's culinary soul to crass commercialization.

as someone who likes to get paid as much as possible for everything that i write(well, most, i'm still waiting on a check from fat guy), i'm not so quick to jump on the crass commercialization bandwagon. i'm happy to be out of my garret (or, rather, toiling in a nicer one than i had when i started), and i don't expect anyone else to feel different.

everybody has their own idea of how to succeed (and indeed, what success means), and i think what we're hearing from this thread is that though the puck cafes are not statements of art, they do often offer good food at a good value in places where that might not be the norm. what's wrong with that? how is a wolfgang puck cafe different in theory from a bouchon?

the practice is different, though and i think the real lesson to be learned is the importance of keeping everything under your own control. agood reputation is too valuable to be risked by licensing it to entities who might not place the same value on it that you do.

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the practice is different, though and i think the real lesson to be learned is the importance of keeping everything under your own control. agood reputation is too valuable to be risked by licensing it to entities who might not place the same value on it that you do.

Russ, I think the problem is two fold. One, the public sees the name Wolfgang Puck branded on a store and immediatly thinks it will be a better place to eat than the fast food/cafe/burger joint next door. Well, it isn't and the "good value" is really not there at least for myself. After heading over to the restaurant and eating the food, they either accept it for what it is, or never return again (like I did).

Two, it seems that the only thing Puck has under control is the finances. The Expresses are pure commercialism, not good food. I think that's how they differ from your friendly neighborhood bouchon. I saw Puck on TV when he came to Houston touting his express, making it seem much more than it is. And he does that perfectly fine, he sure is great at marketing.

Elie

P.S. I still cannot get over the fact that he endorsed Sandra Lee's book. Sorry.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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But on a brighter note, Russ & Robb, if Wolfgang Puck keeps this up, pundits like you will have a much easier time describing the process of selling out one's culinary soul to crass commercialization.

as someone who likes to get paid as much as possible for everything that i write(well, most, i'm still waiting on a check from fat guy), i'm not so quick to jump on the crass commercialization bandwagon. i'm happy to be out of my garret (or, rather, toiling in a nicer one than i had when i started), and i don't expect anyone else to feel different.

everybody has their own idea of how to succeed (and indeed, what success means), and i think what we're hearing from this thread is that though the puck cafes are not statements of art, they do often offer good food at a good value in places where that might not be the norm. what's wrong with that? how is a wolfgang puck cafe different in theory from a bouchon?

the practice is different, though and i think the real lesson to be learned is the importance of keeping everything under your own control. agood reputation is too valuable to be risked by licensing it to entities who might not place the same value on it that you do.

And that's really the crux of it, isn't it? You make your own choices. Wolfgang, or Marlon, or Richard Burton, or Chef Boyardee, or Picasso, or whoever, decides what commodity it is they've got, and will offer for sale, and what they want for it, and what they're willing to give up of themselves to get their price.

I, too, will be happy to see little Wolfgang Puck eateries in, for example, airports. It may not be the grand cuisine for which he became famous, but being able to eat better, even marginally, in airports will improve my life considerably more than one or two fabulous restaurants in LA.

More power to him, as far as I'm concerned. When society decides that any great artist is "selling out," that's easy to say. But it is, I suspect, a much more difficult decision when one actually IS said great artist. A problem with which I personally will never have to grapple.

It's really very arrogant, selfish and presumptuous of us to demand that great talents owe us something, and that they should use those talents, resources and assets only in ways of which we approve.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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how is a wolfgang puck cafe different in theory from a bouchon?

Russ, Keller would and does eat at Bouchon? (As would I.)

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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But on a brighter note, Russ & Robb, if Wolfgang Puck keeps this up, pundits like you will have a much easier time describing the process of selling out one's culinary soul to crass commercialization.

as someone who likes to get paid as much as possible for everything that i write(well, most, i'm still waiting on a check from fat guy), i'm not so quick to jump on the crass commercialization bandwagon. i'm happy to be out of my garret (or, rather, toiling in a nicer one than i had when i started), and i don't expect anyone else to feel different.

everybody has their own idea of how to succeed (and indeed, what success means), and i think what we're hearing from this thread is that though the puck cafes are not statements of art, they do often offer good food at a good value in places where that might not be the norm. what's wrong with that? how is a wolfgang puck cafe different in theory from a bouchon?

the practice is different, though and i think the real lesson to be learned is the importance of keeping everything under your own control. agood reputation is too valuable to be risked by licensing it to entities who might not place the same value on it that you do.

And that's really the crux of it, isn't it? You make your own choices. Wolfgang, or Marlon, or Richard Burton, or Chef Boyardee, or Picasso, or whoever, decides what commodity it is they've got, and will offer for sale, and what they want for it, and what they're willing to give up of themselves to get their price.

I, too, will be happy to see little Wolfgang Puck eateries in, for example, airports. It may not be the grand cuisine for which he became famous, but being able to eat better, even marginally, in airports will improve my life considerably more than one or two fabulous restaurants in LA.

More power to him, as far as I'm concerned. When society decides that any great artist is "selling out," that's easy to say. But it is, I suspect, a much more difficult decision when one actually IS said great artist. A problem with which I personally will never have to grapple.

It's really very arrogant, selfish and presumptuous of us to demand that great talents owe us something, and that they should use those talents, resources and assets only in ways of which we approve.

I don't find that the name on the food improves the taste. But that's just me. :wink::wink:

Edited by winesonoma (log)

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

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how is a wolfgang puck cafe different in theory from a bouchon?

Russ, Keller would and does eat at Bouchon? (As would I.)

let me be clear that what i attempted was a "nuanced" reply. it was not a defense of the puck franchises, but a defense of the concept (and, frankly, in defending the concept but not the reality, i thought i had made my point pretty clear--apparently not, all the more reason to thank god i'm normally edited).

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The puck empire is a pyramid with Spago at the top, followed by the various Spago-ettes (including Chinois). Below that are the Wolfgang Puck cafes, which are designed to serve puck cuisine on a bistro level. Then come the Expresses, which are designed to serve puck cuisine on a fast food level.

Supporting all of this is his commercial ubiquity: the home shopping network, the cooking shows, the cookbooks, the printed underwear of whatever.

Sounds to me like Wolfgang Puck is taking the Gap business model--a chain for every price point (Banana Republic at the top/Gap proper in the middle/Old Navy for the bargain-lovers)--and adapting it to food. Only Spago isn't being chained.

As for the Boiardi/Boyardee reference another poster wondered about: But that's the point! Boiardi was the pioneer in trading on his name to the point where it got diluted beyond recognition. (FWIW, I've also tried Wolfgang Puck's canned New England clam chowder and found it wanting. It was nicely spiced--a bit more peppery than I'm used to in canned clam chowder--but thin.)

At least Puck is still in charge of the show for now. I assume that whatever licensing arrangement he has with ConAgra gives him the right to pull his name from the products if he is dissatisfied with them?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

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