Q & A With Wolfgang Puck, Part 2: Spago (The Musical), Life in an Austrian Kitchen + The Joys of HSN
In yesterday's first part of our interview with Wolfgang Puck, the chef talked about his new downtown restaurant WP24 and gave us a little backstory of Ma Maison, Spago and the invention of his famous pizza. Speaking of pizza, turns out that Puck decided to detour, mid-interview and en route to the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, to check in on his Bistro. In the process of chatting up his chefs, handling dough, and peering at mis en place, he decided that he wanted to make a few pizzas. The sight of Puck shoveling a peel, his breakfast pizza loaded on top, into the ovens was arresting, not only to his chefs but to the handful of people who chanced to wander into the restaurant at lunchtime and did a series of double-takes when they recognized the guy on the line.
Turn the page for the second part of the interview, and check back later for Puck's recipe for soft-shell crab tempura.
Squid Ink: So where did you get the name Spago?
Wolfgang Puck: Well, that's funny. George Moroder, a very successful musician; he did all the music for Donna Summer. And for Midnight Express, for Flashdance, for Top Gun: he won 4 Oscars for music. When I was at Ma Maison he was a good customer. So I told him what I wanted to do with this restaurant, because there was no pizza at the time in L.A. There was like Shakey's pizza, and the chains, but not one restaurant. He got all excited and so he was supposed to invest the money. So then we talked and he wanted to call it Spago, because he said he wanted to write a musical called Spago.
SI: A musical??
WP: Yeah. And he said, Well, if we don't make the musical, at least we'll have the restaurant. And I said, I don't care what you call it as long as you give me the money. So then all of a sudden when we talked about the business part, he said he wanted 75% of the business. I said, me too. So we never could agree on a business deal. I told everybody at the cooking class at Ma Maison that I was looking to open a restaurant, and I had a few dentists and a few doctors and they said, Oh we can help you raise the money. So we raised the money like in $15,000 [increments].
SI: And you kept the name?
WP: Yeah, so I'd told them already that it was going to be Spago. They said, Oh my god it sounds like a Puerto Rican restaurant, you have to change the name. And Rita Leinwand, who was the editor and chief at Bon Appétit at that time, said, Oh Wolfgang, how can you make pizzas, you make such wonderful food at Ma Maison and now you're going to go make pizzas. Everybody tried to say no. We went to have dinner at the Polo Lounge and Rita Leinwand told Barbara [Lazaroff, Puck's then wife], You have to stop him, he's getting completely crazy. That's not what he should be doing. But I said, You know what, we'll do that and we'll see what happens. And I tried to explain that we're going to make pizzas with Santa Barbara shrimp, with duck sausage -- not pepperoni or whatever.
And then we opened January 16th. The first night I didn't tell anybody and all of a sudden I looked around and it was full. And I said, Shit. Mark Peel was doing pasta, and we didn't even have a pasta cutter; we cut everything by hand. And Kazuto [Matsusaka] was doing the appetizers and Ed LaDou was doing the pizzas and I was doing the grill.
SI: You wouldn't call it a pizza joint now.