Q&A: Wolfgang Puck
Wolfgang Puck is often referred to as Las Vegas’ first celebrity chef, the pioneering restaurateur who paved the way for the Strip’s dynamic dining developments beginning in the early 1990s. But the truth is that Puck has been one of the most recognizable names in fine food for decades and well before he left his mark in Las Vegas, and he’s not just a famous chef who expanded his empire in the neon desert. Vegas has affected Puck in return; his company has been operating multiple restaurants on and off the Strip for years and he’s planted deep roots in the local industry and charitable communities. After the recent opening of his landmark Spago at Bellagio, it was time to catch up with Puck once again.
Congratulations on the new Spago Las Vegas! Your wife Gelila took the lead on the design of the restaurant. What was that process like?
You know, it can be very difficult when you work together as a couple on one big project. But I said I would stay with the menu and trust her taste on design because she has very good taste. I was sure she was going to make it the best, and if she paints it blue or black or brown, it doesn’t change my life. But you know how many people have gotten divorced over a building or remodeling a house? You cannot have two bosses.
It turned out beautifully but you have a nice advantage being on the lake at Bellagio.
The setting for sure inspired the (design) because we wanted to bring the outside in. Having the lake and the fountains right there is amazing, almost like looking at a movie screen, especially at night. If you live here, you’ve seen the fountains a thousand times, but if you are coming from Kansas City or Germany and you sit out here on the patio and watch these fountains go up, it’s like “Wow, this is Las Vegas.” It couldn’t be better.
Before you moved the restaurant from Caesars Palace, you said you knew Bellagio would be a great fit for Spago.
I think there’s a perfect synergy. You know, we were supposed to come here at the hotel’s opening but I couldn’t make the deal with Steve Wynn. We are very happy here. It’s a good addition to the hotel and it’s good for us. Being on someone else’s property is like a marriage—it’s give and take and we have to be sensitive to each other’s needs. But we have a strong relationship with MGM Resorts with restaurants at Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand and also the Borgata (in Atlantic City) and MGM Detroit.
Did you ever consider a full reinvention of Spago for this new spot?
Then I would have to change the name. It would be like if you are Chanel and you don’t make the Chanel jacket with the dress, or if Mercedes started making a completely different car. If they get away from all of that, it would be very difficult for them. People want to have the comfort of knowing what they’re going to get and I think that’s important for us. It’s about how to marry tradition with innovation. We have to do new things but we also know people are coming for lunch and might want a pizza or a hamburger—it just has to be the best pizza or the best hamburger.
How is the personality of the food different at the new Spago?
Mark Andelbradt is the chef here. The restaurant is decentralized. I don’t want to go to any Spago and have all the same dishes on the menu; I want to have a few dishes the same but the rest is up to the chef, and I hope he’s really taking advantage of that and being creative. That’s an important part. My chef in Turkey at the Spago in Istanbul, he found what the people like there, the different spices and wines and ingredients in the region. We always try to adapt to the locals.
And Las Vegas locals have been very important to you.
Oh, when we first opened it was totally local. Every Friday night the bar was like a cocktail party. That was 25 years ago. Now those people are 65 and have more money to spend. Las Vegas was a small town in comparison to what it is today and now there are many more restaurants. But that’s also why we have Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill in Summerlin. Even back then, a lot of customers said going to the Strip is a pain, so ... now it’s nice to have said, “Let’s do something for the neighborhood.”