Friday, Aug. 20, 2004 | 4:55 a.m.
Editor's note: In August the Where I Stand column is turned over to guest writers. Today's columnist is renowned chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck.
August 21 - 22, 2004
When it comes to talking about food, it's not often I run short on words. Ask anyone who works with me -- I can talk all day about ingredients, flavors, new recipes and creating new menus.
But a question left me speechless the other day. A customer in one of our Las Vegas restaurants stopped me as I made my way to the kitchen and, after talking for a few minutes, she asked, "Wolfgang, what exactly does fine dining mean?"
At first, I thought she was joking as the question seemed obvious, but when I really thought about it, I didn't have an answer. I think I smiled and blurted out "Well, if you're fine with your lunch it's fine by me!" and I kept moving to the kitchen. But her question stayed with me. I shared it with some of our executive chefs and everyone had a different definition.
We could agree on some things that went into fine dining. Fresh, quality ingredients. Innovative recipes. Great service. Wonderful design. Fine dining meant all of those things.
But what about white tablecloths? Shining silver? Champagne and caviar? Certainly to some. Did fine dining mean rare delicacies, prepared by master chefs? And do the words fine dining also translate into expensive? Well, maybe.
But I'm not so sure. See, here's the thing: I've had blueberry pancakes cooked on an old skillet over an open campfire in the middle of nowhere that were as fine as any meal I've ever had. I've had warm beignets, served in a paper bag with hot espresso in a Styrofoam cup late one night in New Orleans, and it doesn't get any finer than that. I've stumbled upon small neighborhood bakeries that have served the finest cherry pie I've ever tasted, and I can still remember my first Dodger Dog! I can think of no finer meal than whatever was bubbling on my mother's stove on a cold Austrian night, when there wasn't a white tablecloth in sight.
When you think of some of the finest meals of your life, I'm guessing the food was only a part of what makes a memory special. But the occasion, the company, where you were and what you were doing -- all of these are what really stand out.
These are some of the things I wanted to bring with me when I came to Las Vegas. So many of my good friends would visit me here or ask me about the city, I was very excited when I learned that they were going to open their own restaurants in our great hotels. Now, over 12 years later, one of the things I like best about how Las Vegas continues to evolve as a culinary city on par with any in the world is the growing variety of chefs and restaurants.
Sure, there are some famous guys, who you see on TV and in magazines, opening excellent restaurants. My friends Thomas Keller and Pierro Selvaggio have already made their marks with the wonderful Bouchon and Valentino, respectively at The Venetian. They are creating new, exciting and very fine dishes that push all of us to do the same.
But there are also a growing number of new restaurants manned by chefs whose names you might never know but whose food you will never forget. They come to Las Vegas from around the world and they bring their influences with them. It's not just happening on the Strip, but in Green Valley, Summerlin and all around.
And we're a better city because of it.
Remember, I'm a chef, so I hope every bite you take at one of our restaurants is unforgettable, whether it's a simple cheeseburger at the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at the MGM Grand or something more intricate at one of our four other restaurants. But it's also good enough to know that our role is to often ride sidecar, to provide a setting and experience that adds to your day, that provides comfort when needed or elevates a celebration.
And when that happens, that's as fine as dining can be.
And if I see that woman who asked me again, I'm telling her I'm sticking to my first answer.