Luxe Life Blog
Photos: Wolfgang Puck receives key to the city; Spago toasts 20th year
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who started the culinary revolution in Las Vegas, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his restaurant Spago in the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace on Tuesday evening as Mayor Carolyn Goodman presented him with a key to the city and I toasted him with champagne.
Through next Thursday, Dec. 20, Spago will serve a menu with retro pricing from 1992 featuring many of the famous dishes from when he first opened. I highly recommend the smoked sturgeon with crisp potato galette ($12) and the Cantonese-style roasted duck with wild huckleberries, ginger and stir-fried baby bok choy ($20).
I chatted with Wolf, my pal of more than 30 years, and reminded him when I flew out here for the opening that it almost became an overnight failure. With the rodeo in town, his cowboy customers wanted steaks and shrimp cocktails, not his fancy smoked salmon and caviar pizzas.
“I had no choice but to stay and make the sucker work,” Wolf said. “We had no customers. Nobody wanted what we had on the menu. I told Tom (Kaplan) and David (Robins) we’d have to tighten our belts and give it six months. But three weeks later, it changed overnight, and Tom told me tonight we have just passed $250 million in revenue. And we’ve just renewed the lease for another 20 years!
“My son, 18-year-old Byron, wants to take over. He is going to Cornell (Culinary Academy) next year. By the time he is 35, I think he should take over, and I will be the consultant and travel around the world. We have grown to 22 upscale restaurants, plus, a lot of cafes in airports, and with our catering, we now have over 5,000 employees. We started out little, so it’s been an amazing journey.
“I think Spago, just like the world, is in constant evolution. I think if we don’t change or we don’t move forward, then we move backward. It is nice to see part of the past, some of the old dishes from the last 20 years. People remember fondly when they came here for special occasions; it is cool to see how people respond. Today, people know more and more about nutrition, so I think that will change the way people eat and demand food.
“I really believe since there are more and more talented chefs out there that food will become more and more interesting. In the old times, you didn’t have chefs running the restaurant. They had to cook what the owner said. Now they cook what they want. To make a difference, you have to make different food. I think I became successful by making things like your ‘Rich and Famous’ smoked salmon pizza with caviar because nobody made things like that.
“I think it all changed because America never really had a big history about food, so in Los Angeles it was easier to change than anywhere else. We just have so much more talent now. So now all of the sudden when chefs became their own bosses, they said we will cook what we want to cook, what we want to eat, and it all changed dramatically. Today, if you cannot change anymore, people get bored and they go to the next thing. They always want something new.
I will keep on delivering the new. I stay interested and curious to do new things. I still want to do new things. We just did some new stuff on the menu and took off some old stuff. We both know many places that have gone to the restaurant cemetery, and I don’t want to be dead by a young age.”
Our thanks to contributing photographer Erik Kabik for his photo gallery from the much-deserved celebration.
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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