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January 18, 2006

Easy There, Wolfie

It all started well enough. But then there were the Wolfgang Puck Cafes. Then the Wolfgang Puck canned soups. Then the Wolfgang Puck Instant Hot Lattes.

Today, it's Fettuccine Wolfredo.

Don't get me wrong, there's still a part of me that wants to like Wolfie. Yes, he's supremely annoying. Yes, he's sold out to a degree that I find troublesome, and I generally support selling out. And yes, looking back with today's eyes, his cuisine seems somewhat tame. But taken in the context of his time and place, you can't deny that he was both a talented and influential chef back in his heyday. Chinois on Main was one of my earliest progressive fine dining experiences, it'll always hold a special place in my heart, and when you consider that it opened its doors in 1983, you must give the man his due. When I was lucky enough to go (it's a big deal when you're 14), I'd request the counter so that I could watch Puck's culinary swat team from a scant three feet away. They'd tame the massive firebreathing woks, produce French/Asian sauces with obscene amounts of butter, and hold little impromptu contests to see who could dice and julienne vegetables with the most machine-like precision. And all the while, head chef Makoto Tanaka would stand parked under a spotlight on the corner of the counter, the figurehead of the good ship Chinois, slowly sipping Japanese beer and approving every outbound dish with a detatched nod. This was clearly a formative experience for me. It was Chinois on Main that led me to Fusion Food Cookbook, and it was Fusion Food Cookbook and California produce that took me from occasional cook to obsessed hobbyist. So Puck was a beloved landmark, albeit a distant one, in my own culinary development.

All of that said, when you start titling your dishes with bad puns involving your name, you've crossed over into Leon territory.

C'mon back, Wolfie... ignore the camera for a bit and make yourself some schnitzel... you'll feel much better, I promise. And we'll all feel much better about you.

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