On this day in 1949, Wolfgang Puck, the celebrity chef and official caterer for the Academy Awards Governors Ball, is born in Austria.
Puck, whose mother was a hotel chef, began his culinary training as a teenager and worked in top restaurants in France before moving to the United States at age 24 in 1973. After a stint at a restaurant in Indiana, Puck relocated to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s and became chef and co-owner of the popular Ma Maison. In 1981, he published his first cookbook, Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen, and the following year opened his restaurant Spago, on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Spago became famous for its gourmet pizza (which featured such toppings as caviar and smoked salmon) and its celebrity clientele. Puck went on to open Spago restaurants in locations such as Chicago, Tokyo, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills. His empire grew to include non-Spago restaurants, as well as a line of frozen foods, soups, cooking products and cookbooks.
A winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year, Puck has also been a frequent presence on TV, demonstrating cooking techniques on talk shows like Good Morning, America and making cameo appearances on programs such as Las Vegas. His eponymous cooking show on the Food Network won two consecutive Emmy Awards. In Hollywood, Puck is famous for catering the Governors Ball, the star-studded official post-Oscars party that is attended by Academy Award winners, nominees, presenters and performers. The first Governors Ball was held on March 26, 1958, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, following the 30th annual Oscars. Since 2002, the festivities have been hosted in the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center, a shopping, hotel and entertainment complex that includes the Kodak Theatre, which opened in November 2001 as the first permanent home of the Academy Awards show. Puck’s company is also the official provider of food and beverage services for the Kodak Theatre. In the past, his lavish menus for the Governors Ball have included such items as gold-dusted chocolate Oscars.