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Posted On: 21 March 2018 03:29 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:18 pm

Qatar a melting pot of cultures; I love being here: Hollywood’s favourite chef Wolfgang Puck

Khadiza Begum
Khadiza Begum
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Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) is a multicultural festival that celebrates the country’s diverse food, beverage and hospitality offerings. Held over a course of several days during spring, the Festival invites residents and visitors to enjoy special culinary offerings in scenic outdoor spaces. It has grown since its first edition in 2010 to become one of the most-anticipated events in Qatar’s growing calendar of annual festivals and events.

The opening ceremony of QIFF 2018, saw Hollywood’s favourite chef, Wolfgang Puck and Qatar’s very own Aisha Al-Tamimi sharing the QIFF Cooking Theater stage for an exchange of culinary insights spanning from East to West.

Wolfgang Puck also hosted a live cooking demonstration at QIFF’s Cooking Theatre at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, 15 March, where he prepared Seafood Risotto and Chinois Lamb, both of which are favorites on the menu of his restaurant, CUT, at the Mondrian Doha.

In an exclusive interview with at QIFF, Wolfgang Puck shares his passionate culinary journey, his views on Qatar Food Festival, his favorite Arabic dish, how he prepares Oscars Gala dinner menu and much more!

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: What inspired you to become a chef?

Wolfgang Puck: My mother was a professional chef and she always cooked whatever was fresh in our garden.

I grew up very poor in Austria and so when I was 14, I left school and started my chef’s apprenticeship. Three years later, at 17, I went to France where I found my mentor Raymond Thuilier, the owner of Provence's famous Baumanière which had Picasso and the Queen of England among its patrons, and I said I wanted to be like him one day.

What made the place exciting for me though, was that he cooked from the heart – and not from a recipe -- using whatever was fresh, or in his gardens. He was the first chef I saw focusing and maximizing on fresh ingredients the same way as my mother and it was a completely new way of looking at haute cuisine.

Q: When you’re not in running a restaurant, how do you spend your time?

Wolfgang Puck:I don’t only run restaurants but also have kitchenware line, a journal and a supermarket food line so I’m constantly thinking about food and what I can do next.

At other times, I play tennis, go skiing, hang out at home or watch a little bit of TV.

Q: You own 25 fine dining restaurants worldwide and opened your first one in Doha last October. What do you find special about the Qatar market?

Wolfgang Puck: We have a lot of Qatari guests coming in to our restaurants in London and Los Angeles so I think our brand is quite familiar here. We hold true to the brand but look to add the local culture and tastes where we can.

Qatar is home to such a diverse range of nationalities which makes it ever exciting to learn how to accommodate local preferences with the right balance through the feedback we receive from our guests as well as in trials in the kitchen.

I love coming to Doha because so many people here appreciate great food. What’s amazing is that the country is changing and it now has its own dairy and agricultural produce so I’m excited to use ingredients which are grown locally or made here.

Q: You have quite a few restaurants in the region. How would you describe the difference in preferences between the Middle Eastern and Western diners?

Wolfgang Puck: Middle Eastern customers prefer their meat to be cooked a little more than we would do in Western cities. It’s important we accommodate the preferences of the local market, and with Steak being such a large part of our menu, we worked hard to find a way to deliver on their preferences. We still maintain the Wolfgang signature in steak. We also try to use a lot of the local spices, as well as accommodate some of the local delicacies such as using Lebneh instead of butter with the bread service.

Q: What is your favorite Arabic dish?

Wolfgang Puck: Shakshouka – an Arabic egg dish – and Beryiani. I love spices in general as well as spicy food, so I have enjoyed trying lots of Arabic dishes.

Q: You’ve travelled all across the world and have restaurants in 80 airports. What do you find special about Qatar as a destination?

Wolfgang Puck: Qatar is a big destination in the Middle East today and people come here from all over the world because Qatar Airways flies everywhere. It’s á truly international food city with great food where you can get street food or go to a nice restaurant.

Global dining scene aside, there is a lot to do in Qatar and it’s great for kids! When I came here with my son last December, it was a lot of fun; we went dune bashing; he went jet boarding and waterskiing. He was fascinated by the falcons at Souq Waqif. On this trip, I am going to visit the Museum of Islamic Art.

Q: How does it feel to be a part of QIFF, the country’s signature food festival?

Wolfgang Puck: It’s an honour to be here and partake in the food festival especially because it showcases the whole country and all the exciting restaurants that this country is home to – not just ours!

Q: You have been preparing the Oscars Gala Dinner menu since 1994, working with the finest ingredients to feast more than 1,000 of the world’s most discerning diners. What has changed over the past 24 years in terms of composition, ingredients, portions and presentation?

Wolfgang Puck: The most significant change to the official Oscar dinner is that it has moved from a traditional sit down gala dinner to a lounge style cocktail reception. This new set up provides a more social and interactive setting where guests can sit back and relax, enjoy the food and setting and socialise. Guests get to sample a range of dishes and keep going back again for their favourties.

With this change, Wolfgang serves over 30 different bite sized dishes as part of the new Oscar menu that guests can enjoy throughout the night including Oscar favourites: Smoke Salmon Oscars, Wolfgang’s famous Spago introduced Smoke Salmon Pizza, Chicken Pot Pie, and Mac & Cheese.

This year, for the first time, we also introduced a full dessert station which was greatly popular with the guests.

Q: How much time does it take you to design the Oscar’s menu every year? How big is the preparation team? What challenges do you face?

Wolfgang Puck: The Oscar’s team is made up of a number of international chefs from Wolfgang Puck Restaurants around the world as well as the main catering team based in LA. There are over 300 chefs in the kitchen for the Oscars and 900 servers on the floor serving over 22,000 plates – of 30 different dishes – to more than 1,500 guests.

About Wolfgang Puck

Wolfgang Puck is an LA-based Austrian celebrity chef and restaurateur credited for pioneering and popularising the open-kitchen concept. In removing that fourth wall at his first restaurant Spago on LA’s Sunset Strip (opened in 1982), Puck eliminated the barrier between patron and chef, and began to interact more with his customers, many of them Hollywood A-listers. The 68-year-old über-chef has been the official caterer for the Academy Awards Governors Ball for the past 24 years.

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