How Wolfgang Puck’s Georgetown restaurant is recovering from fires, the pandemic

Not long after opening in 2019, CUT by Wolfgang Puck in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood had to close because of a fire.

Puck said he was initially told the fire was caused by the restaurant’s woodfire grill. So, he had a gas grill built, but half of the restaurant’s kitchen couldn’t be used. It turned out to be an issue with the exhaust, Puck said.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic struck, forcing businesses to close. Puck said his restaurants offered takeout service, and he chose to take losses so his employees could keep working.

Over a year ago, after the height of the pandemic, the exhaust caught fire again, and Puck learned it wasn’t built correctly. A new exhaust system had to be built, he said.

In a wide-ranging interview with WTOP, the famed Austrian chef said business is getting better after the pandemic and said he doesn’t plan to stop cooking anytime soon.

The culinary team at CUT by Wolfgang Puck in D.C. on Jan. 27, 2023. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)

“My wife often told me, ‘Why don’t you sell the restaurants and then retire?’ And do what?” Puck said. “I said, ‘What would I do?’ If I have no purpose in life, I might as well die.”

At CUT, Puck said, staffing was among the challenges that the pandemic presented. Only now do his D.C. workers feel they have enough staff so that “people don’t have to work 16 hours a day.”

“People really appreciate to get great food and great service, getting a great experience,” Puck said. “And that’s what we really try to provide our guests is a great experience.”

The D.C. staff is currently planning for Valentine’s Day brunch, which is slated to include plates like an omelet with crab meat, seafood appetizers, duck, French toast, waffles, and poached eggs with pork belly, among other delicacies.

And to drink, the menu will include different types of Bloody Marys, mimosas or a Bellini.

Puck didn’t cook on the most recent New Year’s Eve for the first time in 55 years, but he’s unsure if he’ll be able to do the same on Valentine’s Day. Instead, he said, he plans to celebrate with his wife a few days before.

“Let’s go out, have a nice bottle of Champagne, maybe some caviar, some smoked salmon and celebrate before, not just on Valentine’s Day, because everybody knows Valentine’s is one of the busiest days in restaurants.”

He recommends having a Valentine’s Day meal with several couples, “and you can still be romantic, or you can be romantic when you go back home.”

Outside of day-to-day responsibilities, Puck said he enjoys to ski and play tennis, and enjoys eating as much as he does cooking — “as long as the quality of the ingredients are good.”

Quality, he added, is essential.

“I don’t want to come to eat a steak somewhere and then the steak is tough and [has] no flavor,” Puck said. “I don’t want to go somewhere and eat seafood if the seafood is not really fresh.”

And, he said, there are no plans for him to start slowing down.

“I hope I can continue to be in a kitchen, go to the markets in the morning, train young chefs, and then hopefully, one day once service is finished, they can take me out with my feet first,” Puck said. “I don’t want to die at home watching TV.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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