Wolfgang Review: David Gelb's Disney+ Documentary Celebrates the First Celebrity Chef

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Celebrity chefs proliferate everything from your TV screens to your grocery store shelves, but one man brought that to fruition.

Wolfgang Puck gets the documentary treatment in a film releasing on Disney+ titled, simply, Wolfgang.

Documenting how his love of cooking helped him escape the harsh rule of his stepfather as a teen in Austria turned into a lifelong passion and created an empire, Wolfgang shows the chef's passion for food, refusal to fail, and his unending optimism to be the keys to his success.

Wolfgang Poster

Director David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Chef's Table) was first introduced to Puck's magic when his father took him to Spago, Puck's lauded restaurant on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.

Through that first encounter, Gelb discovered his own passion for food, and without that early influence, he would have never become the filmmaker he is today.

That early impression and how Gelb describes its impact makes him the perfect director to bring Puck's meteoric rise to the screen.

Puck's story is brimming with hope, which makes sense since it was hope to escape his stepfather's critical nature that started his journey.

Young Wolfgang Puck in the Kitchen

His childhood was violent, stressful, and highly unpleasant, but when he got a job peeling potatoes at an Austrian restaurant, Puck used the opportunity to his advantage.

Told repeatedly that he would amount to nothing and failure was imminent, Puck vowed to spin those words on their head. Success was imperative, and Puck's firing after a night when the mashed potatoes ran out was the first and last time Puck ran afoul of success.

A mere child in the kitchen, Puck worked his way to France and learned the secrets of French cooking, which included using only the freshest ingredients for maximum flavor.

By age 24, Puck was ready to set sail for America.

Grinning Wolfgang Puck

When Puck joined the culinary crew at Los Angeles eatery Ma Maison, his career truly took off. Opened in 1973 by Patrick Terrail, Puck was eager to work in a French restaurant in America.

His hopes were initially dashed at the uninspired menu and the tacky decor, but by 1975, Puck was head chef and eventually co-owned the restaurant with Terrail.

Celebrities flocked to Ma Maison for the homey feeling Terrail infused, and the unique French-influenced California cuisine Puck created.

When he couldn't come to a satisfactory ownership agreement with Terrail, Puck left Ma Maison. Then, together with his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife, Barbara Lazaroff, Puck turned the restaurant industry on its head with the opening of Spago.

Wolfgang the Chef

Spago made the kitchen a part of the dining experience and proved that pizza could be sophisticated and elegant, changing the restaurant business and the way Americans eat forever.

His understanding of celebrity exploded with Spago as he expanded on Terrail's premise of welcoming guests.

The exposed kitchen allowed everyone to be a part of the experience, and Puck's visits to every table ensured he was always present and available, sharing in the joy that his food brought to his guests.

That generous spirit brought cooks out of the kitchen and into the public eye for the first time.

Wolfgang Puck Spago Hat and Pizza Wheel

Puck's regular access to celebrities, directors, producers, and journalists provided the perfect launching pad to comingle his in-restaurant acumen with other entertainment venues, and Puck quickly shared his time between the restaurant and on-screen appearances generating buzz for the restaurant and his nouvelle California cuisine across the country and the world.

Gelb expertly weaves historical footage of Puck's various achievements together with commentary from those who worked with him and loved him over the years, painting a beautiful picture of a man who deserves every ounce of his success.

For all of Puck's success, he sacrificed a lot, too. Despite Barbara as business partner and wife, their romantic relationship dissolved because he didn't have the time to do all things at all times.

Gelb doesn't pull away from the downside of Puck's success, but the various interviews show that even when things weren't perfect, Puck's character remained steadfast, and malice and ill-will were never factored into the equation.

Riding the Pizza Wave

Gelb takes Puck's journey full circle, following the chef back to Austria to visit with family, reliving old memories, and revisiting the tastes and culture that drove Puck's enthusiasm for food into a dynasty.

Little things, such as Puck eating Wienerschnitzel in his home country, serving it at Spago, and cooking it at home with his son, offer a compelling view of the chef.

Knowing where he came from and what he's achieved are simply portrayed as Puck strolls down the aisles of a grocery store, pausing by labels bearing his name and likeness.

Puck was my first celebrity chef, too. Visiting a friend who lived up the hill from Spago's former Sunset Strip location prompted a visit to the restaurant. I'd never been somewhere that celebrities and regulars seemed to be treated with the same respect.

Wolfgang the Celebrity Chef

Wolfgang reveals the perfectly planned seating for the haves and have nots, but that didn't usurp the comfortable atmosphere where mingling with the upper crust was as natural as it was on the artisan pizzas served on the menu.

That ambiance is prevalent in Puck's life and within Wolfgang, perfectly in line with Puck's sentiment that, "Making people feel happy is my purpose in life."

Longevity is Puck's proudest achievement, and Wolfgang, the film, celebrates it.

Wolfgang premieres on Disney+ on Friday, June 25.


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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