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Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who started the fine-dining revolution on the Strip, celebrated the 20th anniversary of Spago at Caesars Palace today -- and then flew to L.A. to prepare Friday night’s dinner in George Clooney’s home for President Obama.
Wolf also sabered off the corks of bottles of Mionetto prosecco to kick off the 6th Annual Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit food and wine festival. A galaxy of star chefs joined him for the festivities, including Guy Savoy, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Nobu Matsuhisa, Bobby Flay, Rick Moonen, Hubert Keller, Julian Serrano, Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger, Francois Payard and Wolf’s sidekicks David Robins and Eric Klein.
The temperature soared up to 100 degrees, but the chefs didn’t care, popping off the corks to toast Wolf for his extraordinary two-decade achievement.
Wolf told me: “Now the 20th is past, I have to look ahead to a 21st celebration, which will have to be bigger. I always look forward, never backward. Even with 22 upscale restaurants and 45 cafes, I still look after it as a family business -- it’s expanding like my own family. I have four boys, but I gave up trying for a daughter.”
Wolf explained that in the past 12 months, he’s opened restaurants in London, Singapore and at the Hotel Bel Air in California. “Now we’re redoing the original Spago in Beverly Hills this summer, so I don’t have anything planned by way of expansion in Vegas for now. But with the right opportunity, we would happily add another here.”
Even before Friday night’s dinner for the president, Wolf has another dinner with celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse at the Hotel Bel Air tonight, then Alain flies here to join in the Vegas Uncork’d events this weekend.
“For me, it’s still all about the passion and the ingredients,” said Wolf when I asked him for the secret of his culinary success over the years. “I still cook. I still shop. In fact, I went with Alain to the fish market at 5 a.m. to pick out the fish. It’s just like a woman who gets excited about buying a new dress or new shoes. You have to feel it, touch it. I might find 10 king salmons, but only two will be perfect enough to buy.
“I’ll still drive down regularly four hours there and back to Chino farms in Rancho Santa Fe to pick out the best vegetables from the farm for my restaurant diners. If you have the best ingredients and the best-quality products and you don’t screw them up, you have the secret to great cooking.”
Wolf won raves today for his 20th anniversary luncheon of white asparagus salad from Austria, grilled Loup de Mer from the French Mediterranean on a shaved fennel salad and heirloom tomatoes and strawberry panna cotta for desert. How does he get everything exquisite and exactly right for 150 foodies at the same time?
“Every year, we do the sit-down dinner for 1,600 of Hollywood’s finest for the Oscars. They are demanding and know what’s good and what isn’t. We’ve never missed yet, but I think 1,600 at one time is about the maximum I’d want to tackle -- 150 today was easy!” he laughed.
Check back Friday for our Day 1 report of the six Master Chef dinners at Caesars Palace tonight and the 15 food truck extravaganza at the Bellagio.
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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