It’s not often I’ve been treated to a group cooking lesson from Wolfgang Puck. In fact, it’s never happened before and I’m pretty sure it will never happen again. But On November 19, he was on-hand at the model home for The Ritz-Carlton Residences to educate and entertain condo buyers and journalists. Not only will his company handle all on-site catering at L.A. Live and The Ritz-Carlton Residences, but beginning in March 2009, he’ll also own a restaurant at L.A. Live: a brasserie he’s calling Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill.
Wolfgang Puck cooked using a Gaggenau cooktop, the same premium brand that will be available to owners of the Ritz-Carlton Residences. “That’s what separates restaurant cooking from home cooking,” says Puck. “Home cooks don’t have the BTUs, but not with Gaggenau.”
Puck first taught us to make pumpkin risotto with sautéd shrimp, with prep work from culinary lieutenant Mateo, who will head Puck’s L.A. Live operations.
To cook the pumpkin risotto, wait until the pan’s hot, and the olive oil starts to smoke. Add chopped onions and garlic. Sauté, then add either Arborio or carnaroli rice. Add white wine or vinegar for acidity, about a cup. After the wine reduces, add chicken, mushroom or vegetable stock instead of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. You can’t leave it alone or it will burn. Starch dissolves, leading to a creamy texture. Keep the risotto al dente, so it’s not mushy.
Reach for the butternut squash that has been pre-roasted with cinnamon, salt and pepper. Puree the squash. That way, you don’t need much butter.
Oil the pan and add Gulf shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook shrimp separately. “Why not a little butter?” Add parsley to shrimp for color.
Back to the risotto. Finish the risotto with a little Parmigiano or butter. With grated cheese, it’s likely older than a block, which has no starch. Fresh grate. Season with salt and pepper. Turn heat down. Risotto has to run a little bit on the plate. Otherwise it’s like eating a rice cake. Add Gulf shrimp.
“When I came to the U.S., only a few restaurants made risotto,” says Puck. “Now every place makes risotto and the sad thing is it’s almost always overcooked.”
For the potato pancakes with smoked salmon, cream, dill and caviar, begin by grating Yukon Gold potatoes. Add salt and pepper. For latkes, add onion, egg and flour. If you don’t use grated potato right away, it will get brown. Add olive oil and butter to grill. Make pancakes thin, so you don’t have to use knife and fork. Potatoes are moist inside, crispy outside. Cream mixed with salt, pepper, lemon juice, chive and dill. Spoon cream on top. If you don’t want smoked salmon, add apple sauce, lox or smoked trout. “A little caviar on top,” said Puck. “After all, we’re at the Ritz-Carlton.” Finally, sprinkle on some chives.”
At Spago, Puck has the luxury of making smoked salmon and sturgeon every week, so it’s not too salty. He understands that not everybody has the time or resources to smoke their own fish, so he supplied some advice about sourcing smoked salmon: “If somebody has smoked salmon for $6 per pound, don’t bother. It’s always worth the added expense for top ingredients.”
Puck’s restaurants buy most of their seafood from International Marine @ 6th & San Pedro. He said, “It’s important that I know where the ingredients come from because we want to use good ingredients, but also buy from people who do the right thing, don’t mistreat animals.” Their beef comes from Idaho, a farm that Puck visited personally.
Puck also had some general advice about cooking for parties: “Buy good ingredients and don’t screw it up afterwards. Make something simple and fun so you can spend time with your guests.”
After the demonstration, a publicist pressed me to take a photo with Wolfgang Puck. Honestly, taking photos with chefs, even famous chefs, is not my thing, but my parents got a kick out of it.
After meeting Puck, the guests partook in Wolfgang Puck Catering. It was quite a spread, featuring several more dishes than I’m even posting about. These are just all I sampled, beginning with Spinach, Chanterelle and Gruyere Quiche.
Artichoke hearts hosted olives, fennel, cherry tomatoes, lemon and Chilled Shellfish (tender squid rings and shrimp).
Lobster Nicoise appeared on slabs of saffron-tinted potato with Quail Egg, Haricot Vert and Dill.
Diced Tuna Tataki was doused with minced sweet-and-sour cucumber, Red Curry Vinaigrette and Shrimp Chips.
Lemon Verbena Poached Salmon joined Pearl Cous Cous and Mint Vinaigrette in Butter Lettuce cups.
Lemon Meringue Tarts appeared side-by-side with Strawberry Panna Cotta with Pistachio Cookies and shaved white chocolate.