Wolfgang Puck on dining trends, D.C. restaurants and why he doesn’t care about Michelin stars

WASHINGTON — Wolfgang Puck is one of the most famous names in the culinary industry.

Over the past 30 years, the chef and restaurateur has built an empire that includes more than 27 fine dining restaurants, as well as a number of casual eateries, bars and catering outposts throughout the world.

In 2007, Puck planted his name in D.C. when he opened The Source on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, nearly eight years later, the Austrian-born chef is planning a second restaurant for the District.

WTOP recently sat down with Puck to discuss everything from evolving dining trends, to his favorite Chinese food and his ideas for a second Wolfgang Puck concept in the nation’s capital.

Architecture and memories drew Wolfgang Puck to D.C.

In 1982, Puck opened his first restaurant, Spago, in West Hollywood to immediate success. It didn’t take him long to open his second concept, Chinois, in 1983, followed by his third, Postrio, in 1989. And he didn’t slow down in the next decade — opening restaurants in California, Las Vegas and Maui, to name a few.

But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Puck decided to turn his attention to the nation’s capital. He says he had fond memories of touring the monuments and visiting the White House from his younger years. Plus, in his mind, the city’s architecture set it apart from others.

“It has always been a very interesting place and it feels very European here, because you don’t have these high-rise buildings everywhere,” Puck says about D.C.

So when the Newseum approached Puck about opening a joint restaurant and catering concept at the museum’s Pennsylvania Avenue location, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

Originally, Puck says, the Newseum wanted a more traditional-style restaurant.

“I said, ‘No. That’s too boring. Let’s do something interesting,’” Puck recalls. “I thought we had so many steakhouses and other restaurants here already, so let’s try to do an Asian restaurant.”

In 2007, he opened The Source.

Staying relevant in D.C.’s dynamic dining scene

Eight years later, The Source is still generating buzz and plenty of business for its tasty dumplings, fresh seafood and renowned Chinese New Year celebrations. Recently, the restaurant underwent a monthlong renovation project to freshen up its interior and its menu.

Executive Chef Scott Drewno added sushi options, a hot pot tasting table and a menu that caters to noshing (think: bao buns, tuna tartare cones and small salads).

“This is really made for the modern way of eating — the way the younger people like to eat today. They don’t want to be in a formal setting where they have to order one big dish,” Puck says.

Diners are more interested in relaxing settings and friendly service “but still with good flavor and good quality,” he adds.

A man and his duck

Puck doesn’t have one favorite item on The Source’s menu. When it comes to his personal order, the man will devour anything with duck.

“I am totally a duck guy,” he admitted. “If I had to choose one thing, it would be the duck — my favorite bird for sure.”

Puck says he first learned to cook duck when opening Chinois in 1983. There, he offered a duck tasting menu, complete with duck soup, duck wontons, stuffed duck neck and Peking duck.

“It took me a while to get it right, and now we have duck everywhere,” he says.

When it came to finding inspiration and mastering a technique, Puck turned to Chinese chefs.

“I think it’s one of the things the Chinese perfected and it’s better than anywhere else in the world,” he says, adding that the Chinese even do it better than the French.

On The Source’s menu, diners can try duck dishes such as the whole roasted duckling, roast duck curry and lacquered duck buns.

Expanding in D.C.

Puck has no plans to stop with The Source. On Tuesday, he announced plans to open a second restaurant in D.C.

“We are actually looking now to find a place,” he says.

While Puck did not confirm specific details for the restaurant, he said the second location will likely be a Spago or a CUT, both of which have received Michelin star recognition.

Why Michelin stars aren’t important to Wolfgang Puck

Despite collecting a few, Puck says Michelin stars and other awards aren’t that important to him.

“If I want to open a three-star [Michelin] restaurant then I just have to open a restaurant with 25 seats and make a special tasting menu only and that’s it,” he says.

But that’s not the way he likes to do things. Puck says he likes to design more casual menus with food that’s reflective of the surrounding culture, and he wants his diners to feel at-ease.

“We want people to have a good time and to have great food,” he says.

If you visit one of Puck’s restaurants while he’s in town, chances are, you’ll meet the chef. Puck says these days, he likes to spend less time in the kitchen and more time mingling with his diners.

“And it’s very important for me to know the guests and to see that they’re treated well. We’re in the hospitality business. The food is part of it, but it’s a whole package,” he says.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up