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Dateline: Miami, (Little Havana)
Wolfgang Puck was rolling cigars on 8th Street.
No wait. Wolfgang Puck was playing Dominoes with the Cuban men in the late afternoon in Domino Park. No. Let’s try this. Wolfgang Puck was chopping pork at Palacio de Los Jugos with a gray-haired “Abuela”.

In the “life is stranger than fiction” department all of the above sentences are true and I was a “Mittty-esque” like accomplice to the events. Yet it was, in hindsight, a very normal day. Why? Because Wolfgang Puck is at home in the world.

There are few people I’ve met that are so comfortable in their own skins. The man you have seen on television is the man you ride down the street in a convertible with as if he was a cousin, a co-worker, a pal just caught up in the quotidian world you are if you are a chef, a foodie, or just another human looking for a moment of culinary resurrection.

Here’s the deal with Wolf. He’s just like you and me. That is if you and me were running 100 million dollar a year corporation. Yet, here we were, sitting casually at “El Pub”, on a break with his 6-person TV crew eating a Pan Cubano sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola and our non-English speaking waitress from Oriente, Cuba recognized him from The Home Shopping Network. Which means he is not exactly like “you and me”. But…he is.

What you will love about Wolfgang Puck is that he is not a “wolf” at all. Perhaps no man is more improperly named for his first name yet so well named for his last…in the Shakespearean sense.

After watching him cook, not only at his world famous Spago restaurant in L.A. but also with me at our theater kitchen as we taped for his TV show. I can say that what his magic is is not some prestidigitation of ingredients and techniques but his nearly uncanny perception of knowing what the public wants. That is no mean feat, my friends. He could cook anything if he chose; any convoluted, multi-dimensional, pull a rabbit out of hat dish that Ferran Adrià could conjure but he simply chooses not too. He cooks for his guests. His forte is more like the ability of Tom Hanks than John Malkovich. He doesn’t remake himself for the audience…. he gives them what they want. And they want him.

How crazy is that?

If he were my child I might have named him “Fox”.

I'm Norman Van Aken and that's my word on food.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Copyright, 2002 © by Norman Van Aken


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