You might know him as Wolfgang Puck, chef to the stars and head of a culinary empire. But he is also Wolfgang Puck, husband, father, and chef to his family. What a thrill it was for me to learn from this famous cook as he shared his personal kitchen techniques and cooking secrets.
I am a member of the Everywhere Society and they have provided me compensation for this post featuring Macy's Culinary Council. However all thoughts and opinions written herein are my own.
Wolfgang Puck began his vast cooking empire in the 1980's. His passion for "Eat, Love, Live Well" and his fine dining trademark, has provided numerous opportunities to feed the stars after the Oscars and Emmys, own 21 restaurants, and even make a winning appearance on the reality television show, Iron Chef. Despite all these great accomplishments, one of his favorite pastimes remains sharing his vast knowledge and expertise with "regular folk" (like me) at Macy's Culinary Council events. Mr. Puck has been associated with the Culinary Council from its beginning 10 years ago. He enjoys demonstrating recipes that encourage people to become more adventurous with their own cooking skills. I caught up with him at the Macy's in South Coast Plaza, California, where he prepared three autumn dishes to celebrate the fall season.
When I first saw what he was going to make (Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Red Bell Pepper Swirl, Risotto With Sauteed Apple, and Crispy Potato Galette With Dill Cream, Smoked Salmon and Sturgeon, and Osetra Caviar), I'm not going to lie--- I thought they sounded pretty fancy and not very useful to me. But as I watched how easy these recipes were to make (not to mention how delicious they were), my intimidation level vanished. While these dishes were certainly interesting and unique to observe and taste, what I valued even more was getting to observe Mr. Puck on a more personal level. He was quite humorous, cheerful, and talked often about his family (his wife, their three young children and his mother who was a professional chef in Austria). Another favorite part? Listening to him share his personal kitchen wisdom:
Tip #1: "I'm getting too old and can't do everything any more." Mr. Puck had two chef assistants helping him prepare his dishes by getting and preparing ingredients. He said at home, he encourages and lets his kids help out. I know that I have carried the main burden of meal preparation over the years with the excuse it was faster and easier to just do it myself. Family and friends really do like to help out. Meal preparation goes by faster and is more interactive when you allow others to help out.
Tip #2: "Be Patient With Potatoes." Crispy Potato Galette was really potato pancakes or if you want to get even more specific, hash browns. I've tried making hash browns from scratch in the past, and before I could get them to the pan, they got mushy and brown-colored. To avoid this, after grating the potatoes, place them in a cotton towel and squish the excess water out of them. You will be surprised how much water comes out!!! Next, either form circles for a pancake or spread them out in a non-stick pan or griddle that has lots of oil heated on high. Sprinkle more oil on top as they cook. Wait for the bottom to get nice and brown before flipping over. Following this method, your potato pancake or hash browns will be crispy on the outside and tender and soft on the inside every time.
Tip #3: "Add a little sweetener to everything." Mr. Puck is Austrian and he said all Austrians like to compliment with just a little sweetener. His favorite? Honey. But molasses or sugar works in a pinch. He added a touch of sweet to the winter squash soup and boy was it yummy. Just a tad is all you need to work with the other seasonings.
Tip #4: "I want to eat before I die." To speed things up, use a pressure cooker over a slow cooker. He said when he saw another chef using a pressure cooker his first reaction was that that guy was cheating. Since then, he has come to appreciate and use a pressure cooker as often as he can. He actually made the soup in a pressure cooker. Not only does it save time, but it seals in the flavor.
Tip #5: "The most important utensil in your kitchen is your palate." Mr. Puck stressed over and over and over again to taste, taste, taste as you go. He tasted with his fingers ("I took a shower") and with numerous spoons. Why I never thought of that? I just figured if I used the right proportions for a recipe, it would turn out OK. And of course, that isn't always true. Tasting as you go is the most important part of cooking any dish.
Tip #6: "It's not complicated to make good food." No matter what you cook, the key is getting and using good ingredients. And good doesn't necessarily mean it has to cost a lot. He said you don't have to use expensive wine or olive oil in your dishes. When it cooks, expensive or less expensive have the same results.
Great insights from a great chef. Which bit of wisdom will you use?