Episode 328: A Chef’s Jouney
“I stood on the bridge for an hour.”
“Why were you going to kill yourself?” I asked.
“We ran out of potatoes,” he said. “The chef freaked out. I couldn’t go home.”
“My step dad always said I wasn’t going to amount to anything.”
So he ran away.
And then, Wolfgang Puck was fired from his first restaurant job at age 14.
Now he’s a famous chef and beyond that he’s created an empire in food. He was the first “celebrity chef.”
And he’s expanded his love of food in every single way: restaurants, cookbooks, he built the fastest growing catering company (and even catered the Oscars.) Now he’s doing a MasterClass.
“I always wanted to be in charge of my own destiny,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is what I was born to do,’ ya know.”
“You felt that?”
“How did you feel that?”
“Ah, because my whole body, my whole spirit changes when I’m in the kitchen or when I’m at the farmers market.”
He listed all the foods he made with his mom. I felt like I was with him in the kitchen. Watching that joy. When people have joy behind memories, it sparks some other pursuit.
And for Wolfgang, it was cooking. I wanted to know why.
“I loved the fried chicken, wiener schnitzel, and things like that. I think I loved the sweets mostly, like a vanilla chocolate cake for Sunday morning. And we made ‘palacsinta,’ which are like thin crepes stuffed with apricot marmalade.”
He went on. My tongue was swelling. (Do NOT interview a chef on an empty stomach. Trust me.)
“Do you think it’s possible for people to start now?” I asked. “Not just cooking, although it could be that. But any field?”
I liked what he said next…
“I think it is important to learn the basics really well, but I think in this day imagination is even more important.”
He told me how he connects each dish to the season. And only uses the freshest ingredients. Organic, too.
“Things are temporary,” he said. “You cannot get everything at its peak all the time. When I was up in school at Harvard, one guy came up to me and said, ‘I had strawberries and cheese and they both tasted like nothing.’ And I said back to him, ‘Only a guy like you would eat strawberries in February.’”
I eat strawberries in February…
See, it’s instinctual for Wolfgang. He grew up in Austria. And then moved to Indianapolis. He didn’t know what he was going to get himself into when he moved.
He didn’t realize how many well-done steaks he’d have to make.
That’s why, when he went out on his own to start his own restaurants, he followed his philosophy. “Be in the moment.” That’s what cooking with fresh food is to Wolfgang.
It’s deeper than taste. It’s quality of life.
And he proved his step dad wrong. He felt the sensation of aliveness that came out every time he stepped into the kitchen with him mom.
He had a soft knowing. And that lead the way.
I think destiny is more of a mystery. But Wolfgang seemed to think about this differently.
So I asked him, “How did you know what you really wanted to do?”
And his answer was simple.
“I didn’t know anything else…”
Links and Resources
- Wolfgang’s Master Class
- We talk about some of his restaurants including:
- Eric Ripert
- Le Cirque
- Billy Wilder (famous director)
- Ma Maison
- The Wall by Pink Floyd
- Serena Williams (tennis player)
- Frank Gehry (architecture)
- Four Seasons
- Freddy Rosen who started Ticketmaster
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