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A Cut Above: a Taste of Chinoiserie on Park Lane


Cut at 45 Park Lane

[UPDATE: Wolfgang Puck is bringing his signature Asian French fusion dishes from his Santa Monica restaurant Chinois to Cut at 45 Park Lane, London for a pop up celebrating the restaurant’s 35th anniversary. From today until 30th June the menu, featuring Asian flavours fused with French techniques, will include Shanghai lobster with curry sauce and whole sizzling sea bass with ginger and ponzu sauce. As well as an a la carte lunch there’s two tasting dinner menus – six courses priced at £115 per person and eight courses £165 per person including a welcome cocktail.]

Wolfgang Puck, one of the most famous of the world famous chefs, is reflecting on how times have changed for his profession; “When I moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s I used to go to discotheques,” he recalls. “Once I asked a girl to dance, she asked me what I did for a living and I told her ‘I’m a cook’. When the song was over, she left! Nowadays that scenario probably wouldn’t happen.”

He is more than likely right – since then chefs have become celebrities and Puck has become as famous as the stars who flock to his LA restaurants. Though the native Austrian, who learnt to cook from his mother and trained at Michelin starred restaurants in France, is not entirely comfortable with that either.

“I don’t like the name celebrity chef but I think that television has put chefs in the public. Television has really helped elevate our profession. I think it’s great because this has become an important profession, before it wasn’t,” he says. “Fifty years ago, you probably wouldn’t know who the chef was anywhere. Now chefs are like rock n roll stars.”

But for Puck, whose empire includes Cut, Spago and Chinois restaurants around the world, being a great chef still comes down to learning the basics. “The funny thing is, a lot of these television people, they don’t know how to cook,” he says. “I did a programme a few years ago where I asked the six chef contestants to make me an omelette. And you know what? None of them could make me a good omelette. That’s the problem with a lot of younger chefs today – they don’t start with the proper foundation.”


Wolfgang Puck

“Learning how to cook is like learning how to paint,” he continues in the first of many arty analogies (he has said that he would have liked to have been an artist if he hadn’t been a chef). “When you learn how to paint, you learn how to mix colours. Cooking is the same. If I have ginger, garlic and scallion, a dish would taste more Chinese. If I add basil and remove scallion, it would taste more Italian. When you really boil it down, it’s really not that complex. That comes with experience and, of course, a full understanding of the basics.”

Having mastered the basics, Puck eschews recipe books for his own instincts. “I know a certain flavour I want to have, then I try to get there my way. I don’t want to look at a cookbook to find how the Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese make it, I want to make it my own style,” he says.

“It’s just like writing a song, or painting. If you paint like Picasso nobody cares but if you created your own style, people would say, ‘oh, that’s interesting.’ Or if you’re a singer and you sing Lionel Richie songs all day long, you’re never going to become Lionel Richie – no matter how well you sing it. It’s the same with food – you can use lamb, fish, whatever but you still have to create a dish out of it your way.”

It’s an ethos that Puck encourages from the head chefs across his restaurant empire. “I create two lines here, and I let the chefs operate in between these lines. They have been working with me for many years, so they think like me anyway. But I want them to be creative, I want them to add something of their own to the menu.”


Steak at Cut

At Spago Singapore, the first in Asia and Puck’s second restaurant at Marina Bay Sands in the city state following Cut, the global fusion elements he describes can be found on the menu alongside American classics. “I opened Spago in Los Angeles in 1982 and then I opened Chinois in 1983 – essentially I opened an Asian restaurant but not in the traditional way. I made it my style,” Puck says.

The global menu at Spago Marina Bay Sands includes versions of two Singapore specialities: kaya toast and laksa. “We take something that’s already popular here and make it our own. And people still like it!” says Puck. As well as the luxurious versions of foie gras kaya toast and lobster laksa available at dinner, there’s a chicken “laksa” spring roll on the lunch and bar bites menus.

Big Eye Tuna Tartare

Big Eye Tuna Tartare at Spago

As well as the dinner menu, Spago has several lunch options to choose from depending on your mood and time allowance. Alternatively, a compact selection, still offering signature classics such as the tuna tartare cones and hand cut agnolotti, is available in the terrace lounge and at the al fresco rooftop bar. Perhaps to go with a cocktail or two although Puck prefers champagne. “I drink cocktails but not too much. With champagne, I can drink a whole bottle and still feel fine.”

When it comes to his own tastes Puck says he prefers strong flavours including chilli and spices in his food. “For me, French food is too subtle. One or two French dishes are fine but if I had to eat eight, I’d fall asleep.” While he has often tried chilli crab and fish head curry in Singapore these days he likes to stick to his own restaurants in Marina Bay Sands. “Even in my home country I go out less than I used to,” he says. “Here, if I want to have a really good meal I ask my chefs to cook me something.”

Although, or perhaps because, Wolfgang Puck has a couple of Michelin stars under his belt, he seems unfazed by the launch of the prestigious restaurant guide in Singapore later this year. “We don’t open a restaurant with the aim of earning Michelin stars. I know what I should do if I wanted to get the stars – open a restaurant that serves only 30 people a night and prepare 10 or 12 course meals. But I would only get people who try us once,” he says.

“For me, the stars are our customers,” he continues. “They are the ones who are going to come back, they are the ones who pay me and the rest of the people. So if the Michelin Guide gave me three stars but I have no customers those stars wouldn’t mean anything. I’m not saying Michelin stars are useless, but the most important thing for me is taking care of the customers.”

Great hospitality is a recurring theme for the chef and restaurateur. He sees good service as just as vital as good food. “Like any major city today, Singapore has a lot of great restaurants so to set ourselves apart we don’t just focus on the food. I think it’s important that people get recognised, that people feel like they are at home,” he emphasises.

“Yesterday at Cut, I saw a German family who has been living in Singapore for 40 years. I remember them from last time I was here. They came up to me and said, ‘Oh, it’s so good to see you again. We come here at least twice a month.’ That to me is more important than earning Michelin stars.”

[A version of this story was originally published in 2016]

Looking for a London Bolthole for Valentine’s?

45 Park Lane Entrance copy.jpg

Look no further: 45 Park Lane is the Best Boutique Hotel in Europe (according to the European Hospitality Awards 2016.)

[UDPATE: Couples staying at 45 Park Lane can dine on a three-course Valentine’s Dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s CUT restaurant in Europe (£115 per person on February 14). 45 Park Lane’s Valentine’s package includes one night accommodation for two with a complimentary upgrade subject to availability, a bottle of Lanson Champagne and English breakfast for two. From £610 in a Superior King, £955 in a Park View Studio Suite; valid February 10-19, subject to availability.]

What’s the story behind it?
Not just a glitzy address, 45 Park Lane is the newly opened younger, cooler sibling of The Dorchester hotel. Based next door to the grande dame, it’s more of a boutique affair with just 45 rooms and one restaurant (headed by a celebrity chef) packaged in a more modern design than The Dorch.

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Some thoughts on the first Singapore Michelin Guide

Michelin announced the first selection of the MICHELIN guide Singapore 2016-2

The Michelin Star winners in Singapore

Before the inaugural Michelin Guide Singapore was launched on July 21st I was sure of two things: that at least one hawker stall would gain a star and that Joel Robuchon would be awarded three. The former because I could see the headlines about “the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant” pinging around the world (and so could Michelin, I’ll wager) and the latter because Robuchon tends to collect three Michelin stars around the globe as naturally as breathing.

And so, as you’ve probably heard, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle became the proud recipients of a Michelin star apiece while Joel Robuchon clocked up another three stars for his fine dining establishment in Singapore (read on for the full list). All announced, in a world first for Michelin, to much fanfare: a songstress in glitter crooning When You Wish Upon a Star and dancers in chefs uniforms waving giant forks and spoons. Even the three star reveal had some drama: director Michael Ellis teased us at first that not every location was worthy of three Michelin stars before announcing he did indeed have a red envelope and that it was not empty.

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A Cut Above


Porterhouse steak at Cut by Wolfgang Puck

As Cut was awarded a Michelin star in the inaugural Singapore guide, launched yesterday, Chopstix looks back on meeting chef Joshua Brown:

Californian chef Joshua Brown had never visited Singapore before moving here with his family to open CUT restaurant at Marina Bay Sands. But the protege of Hollywood’s favourite chef, Wolfgang Puck, took to researching his new home city with a passion. “I hit the ground running,” he says. “There was all this fantastic food available 24 hours a day. I think I must have gained 20 pounds in the first month I got here.”

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Wolfgang Puck – the Stars’ Chef

Wolfgang Puck_2

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s inaugural restaurant, Spago in Los Angeles, was an overnight success that has become as synonymous with A-list celebrities as it has with great food. Film and rock stars, producers and politicians flock to the eatery, originally in West Hollywood and latterly in Beverly Hills. Now the acclaimed chef, restaurateur and TV presenter has opened Spago in Singapore – the first time the concept has launched in Asia.

“Spago is our flagship restaurant so opening one in Singapore is at once very exciting and creates a lot of pressure,” says Puck. “But when the opportunity came along to open a second restaurant at Marina Bay Sands, on top of the building where the swimming pool is, I didn’t hesitate for a second.”

The jaw dropping location on the Sands SkyPark, next to the stunning infinity pool and overlooking the city, is certainly a draw but Puck is confident there’s even more to Spago. “I think having a great view is obviously a big plus but I also know that people will come back for the food, the warm and friendly service and the hospitality,” he says.

After all, Spago Beverly Hills has 2 Michelin stars and the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award. Puck himself downplays the celebrity clientele: “Famous people, in the end, are all just regular people except everybody knows them. Since my early days in Los Angeles when I was used to serving Orson Welles and Gene Kelly and nowadays Elton John, Madonna and Leonardo diCaprio, a guest in my restaurant is my guest whether they are famous or not.”

The Singapore outpost is in safe hands with Wolfgang Puck stalwart Joshua Brown taking the helm. (Brown will also continue to oversee Cut, Puck’s successful steakhouse within Marina Bay Sands, as well).

Big Eye Tuna Tartare at Spago

Big Eye Tuna Tartare at Spago

The Californian cuisine that’s a mainstay at Spago will also feature in Singapore along with a few global elements. Spago aficionados will be happy to see a few of their favourites on the menu while first timers will have the opportunity to try Puck’s signature dishes from the Beverly Hills original. “Some of the dishes we’ve served at Spago through the years had to stay on the menu because many people come to our restaurant and ask for them,” says Puck. “If you come to Spago for the first time, I think you should try some of the Spago classics like our spicy tuna tartare in miso cones or the agnolotti pasta with white truffles.”

Crispy Black Sea Bass at Spago

Crispy Black Sea Bass at Spago

Signature dishes for Singapore include crispy black sea bass with clams and smoked potato puree; grilled lamb chops with charred eggplant; pan seared striped bass “laksa” with dry fried rice noodles; and grilled milk fed veal chop with kohlrabi orange puree and Chinese fermented black garlic.

Pan Seared Bass Laksa at Spago

Pan Seared Bass Laksa at Spago

Milk Fed Veal Chop at Spago

Milk Fed Veal Chop at Spago

“Be sure to leave room for dessert,” says Puck who admits to having a sweet tooth. “When I come to any of my restaurants, I always ask for ice cream or chocolate. I even once hired a pastry chef just to make wonderful chocolate and espresso bon bons.”

Puck, who moved to the US in 1973 and opened Spago in 1982, now has numerous restaurants around the world as well as a catering company (responsible for the Oscar’s after party every year), plus cook books and television shows. He first learnt to cook from his mother, also a chef, when he was growing up in Austria. At just 14 Puck secured his first job in a professional kitchen; “peeling vegetables and cleaning the kitchen but most importantly, I learned the basics of cooking”. After moving to France, 19 year old Puck worked at the 3 Michelin starred Baumaniere with the renowned Raymond Thuilier.

“It was all about luxury – foie gras, caviar or baby lamb – only the best ingredients were accepted in the restaurant. And it’s Raymond who really was my mentor and why I stayed with cooking because that’s where I developed my passion,” says Puck.

Veal Filet Mignon Tartare_1

His own cooking at home takes a simpler turn: “I love cooking at home for family and friends. Cooking for my family is always a pleasure and seeing the kids enjoying a meal is really wonderful. I like to cook simple things like a roast chicken or grilled fish with roasted or steamed vegetables. My kids love romaine so I’ll make a salad with balsamic vinegar and sea salt.”

While Cut is renowned for steak, Puck is also passionate about the equally superb side dishes that accompany them. “I always try to cook with vegetables. I buy whatever’s available in the farmer’s market. Vegetables are one of my favourite ingredients and we can prepare them in many different ways whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, French or Italian. They are easy to adapt to different flavours.”

His appreciation of veggies started at an early age, again inspired by his mother. “My mother taught me early on that by [sourcing] from farm to table you will end up with the best results. We had no choice – I grew up on a farm so everything came right from the garden whether it was vegetables or salad or berries. When my mother used to make vegetable soup, she hand picked for or five vegetables, washed them and made soup out of them. Very simple, yet very tasty.”

Health and wellbeing is also a priority for him these days. Most days, the he will exercise for an hour after taking his children to school and before starting his business calls. “We use organic ingredients wherever possible because I believe our health starts with the right food,” he says.

Puck is still very much a hands on chef. When he’s at home in California, most lunch times will find him at Spago Beverly Hills or his restaurant at Hotel Bel-Air and at dinner at Spago or Cut. He’s also set up a development kitchen. “My passion is the kitchen so I spend most of my time there, very little in the office and I always try to evolve and learn new things. That’s why this year I built an experimental kitchen where I can go and play and have a few young chefs working with me to test new recipes and come up with ideas,” says Puck.

“To me, cooking is an evolution so there has to be constant innovations. Not only in the cooking but also in the whole attitude and décor.”

Spago Interior_1

The décor at Spago Marina Bay Sands, designed by New York based Tony Chi, is influenced by a colonial style Singapore bungalow complete with verdant garden. There’s inside and outside seating, with the interior being more fine dining in atmosphere including an extensive wine cellar while there’s lounge seating, low tables and cabanas al fresco. Of course both have open kitchens – a Spago feature.

“When I started Spago, I wanted the kitchen to be in the heart of the restaurant, just like it is in my home,” says Puck. “Today it’s a cliché that restaurants have open kitchens but in 1982, Spago was a trendsetter and probably the first fine dining restaurant with an open kitchen.”

Puck is still as enthusiastic about his vocation as when he started out. “I love what I do, that’s the important thing for me. I still have a passion for seeing the guests at the restaurants and going to the market.” Though he does concede:”I’m terrible at cleaning up after cooking. As much as I love to cook, somebody has to do the dirty work and clean up after me.”

And he shows no signs of slowing down. “I still feel like I’m at the beginning. As we speak, I’m working on a project near Palm Springs, a new family restaurant, and I also love making wine,” says Puck. “To me, getting up in the morning and thinking, what can I do next? What can I do better? Is there anything else I haven’t done yet? That’s what keeps me going.”

[UPDATE: Wolfgang Puck’s Cut won a Michelin star in the inaugural Singapore guide on July 21st 2016]

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