Wolfgang movie review & film summary (2021)

If you’re willing to accept that a complicated, messy life has been shorn of its sharp edges and repackaged as comfort food, you should probably add another star to the rating above. Puck is an engaging presence who works the camera like a pro. And why wouldn’t he be? “Wolfgang” establishes that he kickstarted the celebrity chef craze. Cooking stars like Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay, and the entire Food Network roster owe him a debt. Before Puck, there was only Julia Child. While she was famous enough to have her kitchen set enshrined in the Smithsonian, she practiced the intimidating art of French cuisine on PBS. Puck was showcasing his newly-created “California cuisine” on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Child also didn’t have power agent Mike Ovitz as a hype man. It’s Ovitz who promotes Puck’s restaurant, Spago, to his clients and who also suggests Puck go on television to give the common folks a taste of what the celebrities got. How he secures that appearance is an amusing bit of subterfuge, setting in motion the next phase of Puck’s plan to show that the chef is the true star, not the restaurateur. “Being a chef was a blue collar job,” food writer Ruth Reichl tells us. “It was a terrible job. People knew who owned the restaurant, but they rarely knew who did the cooking.” Spago changed all that with an open kitchen that thrust whoever was cooking into view. Every celebrity who came in during its heyday—and there were many—got to see Puck and his crew make their food. And they loved it enough to keep returning.

Puck’s desire to shine a spotlight on chefs came after his first big American gig at Ma Maison, a famous Los Angeles restaurant that had Astroturf on its floor. Puck describes its owner, Patrick Terrail, as “very arrogant,” saying “he talked like he had the best restaurant in the world.” He also mentions how little credit he got for the ideas he brought to the kitchen. Terrail stops by to defend his honor, threatening to make the film intriguingly petty. Alas, the closest we get to anything juicy is a scene of Joan Collins slapping the taste out of Michael Nader’s mouth on “Dynasty.” “You don’t want to disappoint Joan Collins,” Puck warns, citing her as the inspiration for his famous smoked salmon pizza.

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