Chef Wolfgang Puck on catering Paris Hilton’s wedding: ‘Paris Hilton loves caviar’

Chef & Restaurateur Wolfgang Puck joins Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Karina Mitchell to discuss his difficulty finding restaurant workers, the state of the restaurant industry, catering Paris Hilton's wedding, and what he's serving for Thanksgiving.

Video Transcript

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- Welcome back, everybody. Fresh off catering Paris Hilton's lavish wedding, famed chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck is joining us now to talk about a cornucopia of things, from the restaurant industry's recovering to his Thanksgiving menu. Wolfgang, always great to see you. The last time we spoke-- it was back in June-- you and I talked about how you were having trouble finding employees, even though some of your waiters make six-figure salaries. Has that gotten any better, Wolfgang?

WOLFGANG PUCK: You know, it has gotten much better for the front of their house-- for the waiters, busboys, bartenders, and so forth. But it's still difficult in the kitchen, because the salaries are not really equal. You know, you have a waiter who can make six figures, and you have a line cook who stands behind the hot stove, and he makes, you know, maybe 2/3 of that or less.

So I really believe sooner or later, we have to do something-- have service inclusive, or share the tips, and so forth. I think that the front of the house is pretty well-staffed now, but the back of the house is still difficult.

- Well, sir, I want to turn to that wedding that my colleague just mentioned. You were involved in Paris Hilton's wedding, of course.

WOLFGANG PUCK: Yeah.

- A friend of mine was also involved in planning that wedding. I just want to know, how much more did it cost you as far as putting together that menu and the staff at a time when, you know, the cost of everything from chocolate, to chicken, to beef is going up, and, of course, labor costs are higher? So how much more do you think you had to put as far as input costs this year?

WOLFGANG PUCK: I believe it cost us probably 20% more, you know, for the whole menu, to look how we can really balance the menu better. But I think, you know, everything has gotten up. Every truck driver gets more money. The warehouse people get more money. The fishermen get more money. So, obviously, all the prices are getting higher all the time.

And you know, we had a duo of fish and meat for the wedding, so I think it was pretty expensive. But then, we had the salad and the pasta course. The pasta course, OK, was labor-intensive, but not-- the food cost wasn't so high. So it's really engineering the menu in the right way that we can survive, that we don't have to charge, really, that much more for a customer. If not, they're going to say, what happened to you, Wolfgang? A year ago, we paid that much for a party, and now, we are paying 40% more. So we have to be careful with the prices.

- All right, we're all a little curious. Pasta was on the menu. OK, tell us something else, something decadent and lavish that was on that Paris Hilton menu, Wolfgang.

WOLFGANG PUCK: Well, Paris Hilton loves caviar, so we had a whole caviar station out there. And we had all these amazing appetizers, like the thon tartare, you know, the tuna tartare in the miso cones. We had amazing potstickers. We had great spring rolls. So we had a lot of little appetizers first, and then, when they sat down, we actually had a salad of jam lettuces. And then we had a tortellini with truffles on it at the same time. So it didn't last too long, because there are 280 people, and it's difficult to clean up and serve them again.

So we served them the salad and the tortellini at the same time, the tortellini with truffles. Obviously, truffles are very expensive. So at the end, it was all good. They loved it. And I know Kathy and Ricky Hilton, and Paris also, since she was maybe three years old, or two years old. So it's like part of our family.

- Haha, awesome. That's amazing. It's a busy time of year for you, sir, right the holiday season?

WOLFGANG PUCK: Yep.

- Where high-end restaurants like yourselves are going all out to take in reservations. What are you seeing this year? And then, I just want to know more broadly, what is your recipe for economic success moving into next year? What do restaurants have to do to adapt to this new environment?

WOLFGANG PUCK: Well, I really believe we have many restaurants. Like I'm here at CUT in New York City right now, downtown, at the Four Seasons. And you know, George, our manager, and Ben, our chef, they really adapted really well. And we did, actually, the last three months, better than we did in 2019, before the pandemic.

So it shows us that if there is a problem, we have to find a solution to manage better. And I think a lot of businesses out there are managing better now-- leaner, maybe, a little bit, and watch more the costs. You know, before, when everything goes well, we really didn't look at the cost as carefully, you know? But if you look at every line, you're really going to make money at the end of the day.

And I think last month was the best month CUT ever had in six years. So that says a lot. We still miss people in the kitchen, so I think every chef-- including Ben, the executive chef-- they work harder. But I think it's good, because at the end of the day, they really see the results. And I think everybody is financially responsible.

And that's what I do now in the restaurant. I tell the chef and the manager, it's their restaurant. They have to take care of it. They have to make it successful. And both, critically, that the food is great-- we always buy the best ingredients. And I always tell the chefs, buy the best ingredients, and then, mess them up too much. Just keep it simple. So that way, if you eat a piece of striped bass or black bass, you can't taste the fish. Or if you have the meat, if it's full of sauce, you don't know what you eat.

So to keep it really simple and delicious is the most important part. Like last night, I came in late, and I had the tomahawk steak, and I had the Snake River Farms steak just to try it, simply grilled. I didn't even need a sauce with it. I said, you know, if you like meat, like, these steaks were the best I had in a long time.

- Yeah, yeah, I'm with you. The classic-- just keep it simple. Let the taste come through. So Wolfgang, Thanksgiving is upon us. I'm wondering if you're seeing a lot of reservations at your restaurants. And I'm also curious, what's your favorite dish on the Thanksgiving table?

WOLFGANG PUCK: Well, Thanksgiving is tradition. I tried many times to do different things at home. I remember one time, I went to all this work. I did Peking duck, and people looked at me and says, why Peking duck? This is Thanksgiving. We want a turkey, or at least a ham, or something like that.

So I think traditionally, a turkey, if you cook it right. Try not to overcook it. But for me, it's really the side dishes which are really important.

So I love-- because I'm from Australia, I love it with braised red cabbage. I make a chestnut puree with it. I make a sweet potato gratin with apples in it.

So it's the traditional holiday flavors. And I think the house should smell like the holidays. You know, we're using all the spices, from cinnamon, to ginger, to nutmeg, and so forth. So I think that's really, for me, the most important part, is the smell. Just you feel like, ah, I know this is the holidays.

- I agree. And you know, Thanksgiving is such a homey sort of holiday. I don't know, I mean, do a lot of people go out? I traditionally don't, but are you seeing a lot of reservations at your restaurants for Thanksgiving?

WOLFGANG PUCK: Definitely. Here at CUT in New York, you know, we have so many reservations. We have people on the waiting list. People want to come. So we're going to reconfirm all the reservations now. At the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles, it's the same thing, where we run the whole hotel. We have 200 people on the waiting list.

I think people want to go out because, as you see in the news now, it's very difficult to get a good turkey anywhere, and there's a shortage of turkeys. So people get nervous and said, maybe we should just make a reservation in a restaurant and get it over with. And as you know, preparing this feast for Thanksgiving is a lot of work. Worse, the clean-up! Who wants to clean up the kitchen, and dining room, and everything?

- [LAUGHS]

WOLFGANG PUCK: So I think it's much easier to make a reservation, and cheaper!

- Yeah, yeah, in the long run, it might be. I'd rather cook, forget about the cleaning. Wolfgang Puck, I think I'm coming to your place. Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for being--

WOLFGANG PUCK: OK, I will wait for you and give you the best turkey you ever had.

- I bet you would! All right, Wolfgang. Be well, and we'll talk to you soon.