Originally created 01/10/01

Chef's celebrity is cooking with TV show's premiere



NEW YORK - Wolfgang Puck's celebrity is fed by his famous restaurants, including the original Spago in Hollywood, his pizzas, pastas and soups on sale in supermarkets, and his regular appearances on ABC's Good Morning America.

With all that, it's a wonder it has taken him so long to jump on the cooking-show bandwagon that has made stars out of Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay.

"Up until now I've always been busy," Mr. Puck explained over tea at a Manhattan hotel.

Like he's not busy now.

This interview was squeezed between a morning TV appearance in New York, for which Mr. Puck had a 5 a.m. wake-up call, and a flight back to Los Angeles and his "day job" at Spago. In the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, Mr. Puck will be preparing for the Governor's Ball, the official Oscar after-party. (Last year, the hottest invite was DreamWorks SKG's Oscar party at Spago.)

Wolfgang Puck, which begins airing Friday on the Food Network, will follow the chef around his restaurants, to catering jobs, on shopping trips, then close with the preparation of a dish for a studio audience.

But, while Mr. Puck's show will take viewers into Oscar parties and other A-list celebrity events, he won't have stars join him at the studio's stove - at least not yet.

"The public should get used to me first - and my accent," said Mr. Puck, who still sounds Austrian despite having lived in California for nearly three decades.

The chef, however, won't rule out future appearances with friends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shares Mr. Puck's love of Wiener schnitzel and an Austrian accent, and Joel Grey and Suzanne Somers, who are quite competent in the kitchen.

"Wolfgang loves to talk to people," said Robb Weller, the former Entertainment Tonight correspondent who now produces service and information programs, including Mr. Puck's, with Gary H. Grossman. "He's all about relationships."

Mr. Puck said the first few episodes of his show will let viewers see firsthand that he makes mistakes, and that's OK.

"The first shows were difficult ... But we're getting better, and it makes me excited we're getting better. The first time you do anything shouldn't be the best."

Despite his hobnobbing with the stars, Mr. Puck is approachable, and he creates a homey environment for the studio audience and viewers at home, said Eileen Opatut, the Food Network's senior vice president of programming.

"What we're trying to do is get into the center of Wolfgang's heart, brain and stomach," she said.

With his empire expanding to 10 restaurants and 16 cafes throughout the country, as well as a planned location in Japan, the 51-year-old chef still lives in Los Angeles with his wife and business partner, Barbara Lazaroff, and their two children, Cameron, 11, and Byron, 6.

This show marks the first major commitment by the New York-based Food Network to a chef from the West Coast, an area of the country often overlooked.

"I believe the West Coast is an important part of food in America, and people need to learn about it," Mr. Puck said. "Hollywood has a bad food reputation, and some actors and actresses have to stay skinny for work, but they really do come to my restaurant to eat and sometimes eat a lot."

On TVWolfgang Puck, a new cooking show, premieres Friday at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.

On the Net:

http://www.foodtv.com/

http://www.wolfgangpuck.com