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After 30-plus years of being at the forefront of American — nay, global — dining, one could forgive world-renowned toque and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck for slowing down a bit.
But, as we learned while waiting at his award-winning local restaurant, The Source, for the seemingly inexhaustible chef to break free from a swarm of admirers who refused to let him go until they’d snapped a picture or regaled him with tales of the countless meals they’ve enjoyed at his establishments, the man remains more important to the culinary world than ever.
And he’s utterly consumed by the intersection of food and politics.Friends in High Places
A nonpartisan host if ever there was one, Puck said he’s been friendly (“Mostly dinners or fundraisers,” he explained) with all the U.S. presidents dating back to Gerald Ford.
Puck, whose restaurant empire sprouted in West Hollywood with the opening in 1982 of his flagship Spago, said he was perhaps closest with fellow Los Angelenos Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
To wit, he recalls one of his defining political achievements: cooking for the G-7 economic summit held in Williamsburg, Va., in early 1983, at which he served Reagan, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, French President Francois Mitterrand and other world leaders.
“It was a big early moment, to meet all these heads of state all at once,” he said of the prestigious invite.
In the intervening decades, Puck has socialized with magnetic pols the world over. The night before our interview, in fact, he said he had catered a fundraiser for Newark Mayor and New Jersey Senate hopeful Cory Booker — “He seems like a very energetic, very likable young man,” Puck suggested — hosted by Hollywood mogul Jerry Weintraub.
Still, he remains most captivated by one fellow globetrotter: President Bill Clinton.
“I don’t feel like I’m an important person. But when you have a discussion with him, he really focuses in and looks at you,” Puck said of 42’s uncanny memory and tractor-beam-like draw.Picking Our Battles
A firm believer in personal responsibility, Puck seemed almost of two minds when it comes to government involvement in food issues.
For instance, he praised first lady Michelle Obama for keeping healthy eating on everyone’s radar, but he feels the “Let’s Move!” campaign is still missing the mark.
“To talk about the kids is great. But it’s not really the kids who decide,” Puck stressed, putting the onus on parents to invest more time and effort in planning and preparing good, nutritious meals.