Friday, April 25, 2014 | 1:59 a.m.
The original celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who has now run the legendary Spago in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace for nearly 21 years, never thought that he would author a cookbook focusing on a lifestyle of healthy foods.
In 2009, he began to change his views. “I’m a chef, not a doctor or a dietitian or a research scientist. I worked in my kitchens and ran restaurants. But it began to change four years ago.
“Wanting to feel healthier, I started adjusting my eating habits,” Wolf told me. “I also began working with a trainer when I was 59. I’d had a hip replacement but was in constant pain from an inflamed nerve in my lower back.
“My biggest fear was that I would have to give up skiing. I’d begun to stop in the middle of the hill to catch my breath. I couldn’t play tennis in the warm months without sitting down to rest every 15 minutes.
“It had to change. Now every day, people ask me where do I get all my energy and how am I able to work so many hours at my age. I will be 65 in July. They ask me to bottle my secret. My new book ‘Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy: Light, Delicious Recipes and Easy Exercises for a Better Life’ is my answer to those requests.”
Wolf launched the cookbook at Spago this month on the same day he was presented with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence at his “Sip & Savor” party to kick off the 40th anniversary of UNLVino, which he supports. Wolf is planning to open a Spago in Summerlin, his first foray in the suburbs.
He and I talked in the kitchen as he kept an eagle eye on all the courses being served to his 300 guests.
“After seven months of exercising, the difference was incredible. No more stopping halfway on the hill for a breather. For tennis, I could hit the ball for an hour without stopping to rest.”
Wolf said he wrote his seventh cookbook so that foodies and fans could still enjoy the food he loves but simultaneously have more energy and stamina. He dropped 20 pounds.
“My goal is to help you achieve what I’ve achieved: a better, more sustainable and more enjoyable lifestyle,” he said. “Enjoy your food, your fitness, time with loved ones with meals and exercises to enhance your life.”
How do you see the state of food today here in Las Vegas and around the rest of the world?
We really believe in Las Vegas and the rest of the country. Here we have so many talented young chefs who really make interesting food. When I see, for example, what my own chefs are making, I admit that I didn’t even think about things like that. We really have amazing people in our kitchens.
Is food changing and pushing the envelope?
I think that’s really a great thing. Through the years, we’ve always had people starting out with new ways. When I started in Los Angeles, it was a totally different experience. I think we’re in the middle of a new revolution right now.
Technique has become very, very important. People have become so good with so many different things. We just cooked or grilled. Now we’ll cook for 72 hours at a very low temperature to get short ribs tender and rich.
An oddball question: Both of us know fine dining, casual dining. Has fine dining become casual — while remaining fine?
I always thought that the restaurant should be fun. It’s not a church! So the restaurant’s ambiance should be fun. What should be serious is what’s on the plate or what’s in your glass. You should have a good time.
In the old days, too often we thought about fine-dining restaurants as tables far apart, nobody laughed, everything was really stiff with high chairs. I think that time is over. Young people, especially today, have a lot of money, and they can spend the money, but they want to have a good time. So they like good music, they don’t dress up like in the old days.
If you went to a fancy restaurant, and you didn’t have a coat and tie, they didn’t let you in. Those days are over. Now people go, they want to relax and rest the way they want, eat the way they want. I think it’s more fun now because we have more different and interesting restaurants.
Your empire continues to expand. How do you manage to keep pace with it all over the world?
Thankfully I have so many talented young chefs, and it’s obviously young people who make up the revolution. The old people know what’s going on; they stay confident. I love the revolution, too, and fortunately I have so much help with so many great young people and hopefully we’re getting better all the time.
However, I must say as much as I like the revolution, I also like some of the old styles. To me, a great chicken potpie is as good as any new thing. The great meal must always come first. Everything in moderation maybe is OK. If you just have all these different new tasting menus and everybody makes something crazy, it’s not fun — so you need both.
At 65, do you think about slowing down? Is your eldest son beginning to take an interest in cooking and running restaurants? Is he going to follow in Pop’s footsteps and take over eventually? (Wolf has four sons: Cameron, Bryan, Oliver and Alexander.)
My oldest is at Cornell right now. He’s going to the hotel and management school. He wanted to go to college, so I said, “OK, you go to Cornell, the best hotel and restaurant management school.” We have a lot of restaurants. Just to manage them will take a lot of skills, so there’s a lot for him to learn.
Hopefully he enjoys cooking, too. Hopefully in the summertime, he’ll be working with the restaurants. He’s young and he’s not as interested in my cooking as in other forms of cooking. The revolution is crazy; really interesting. The kids are into molecular gastrostomy. They all love chemistry, and molecular gastronomy is really chemistry pushing into the food.
We always talk about the next wave of food, whether it’s going to be Asian or Caribbean or whatever ethnic area. Do you see any new wave of food coming that you haven’t yet explored?
I really think that Indian food is still very low in America. Now when you go to London, you see a lot of Indian restaurants and good ones. Here we have very few. There’s nothing really being done yet to modernize it.
I also see traditional Chinese food has a lot of the dishes that could be modernized. There has to be somebody who comes up with a new wave of Chinese food because I really believe that there is a place for that. Some of the classic dishes you would never change, they’re as good as it gets, but a lot of the other dishes with fresh ingredients can be changed.
He summed up: “Today I have more energy, more muscle and more strength than I’ve had in a long time. I’m less fatigued, and I need less sleep. My restaurants have grown larger, and I open more new restaurants every year all over the world adding to a hectic travel schedule. You’d think it would be the opposite, but I changed my life, and I feel better than I have in 20 years.”
Our thanks to Carin Krasner for her photographs from “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy,” which are being posted with permission from Grand Central Life and Style.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.