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Wolfgang Puck Bistro is Gone
In late September I got a call from Oklahoma Magazine asking me to write an article about Wolfgang Puck Bistro. I’d grown quite fond of the place over the years so for me it was a labor of love. I interviewed the chef and also the manager — bright, young and enthusiastic, and full of plans and hope for the future. And then, late last week, I got the news that Wolfgang Puck’s had closed. Suddenly my eulogy had become an elegy. And as such, I’ll print it here. (And if you are a restaurant owner, please consider hiring some of the enthusiastic hardworking staff who are suddenly jobless.)
Wolfgang Puck, like Dior and Armani, is one of those names that seeps into your subconscious without your being quite aware of it. The very sound drips glamour. But for Puck, a hardworking chef who melded his 18 years of classic French training with the homegrown simplicity of California cooking and thereby helped invent the new California cuisine of the 1980s, glamour comes second. “I love the business, the people,” he once told a reporter, “but my first love is the food.” Three years ago, when the first (and still the only) branch of Wolfgang Puck Bistro outside Los Angeles opened in Tulsa, Puck raised the bar of culinary excellence in Oklahoma. Soaring plate glass windows, sleek modern decor and impeccable service: if what you expect from the name Wolfgang Puck is elegance and sophistication, you won’t be disappointed.
Even through the slack hours of a weekday afternoon, the kitchen is busy. Ben Alexander, the new executive chef, moves from stovetop to oven to prep counter, executing orders with a balletic grace. His energy is inexhaustible; he’s passionate about the food. “I won’t serve it unless I’d eat it,” he says. “And I’m VERY picky about what I eat. Our mantra,” he explains, “is freshness. Fresh herbs, fresh produce, and we source locally as much as possible.” Recently, Wolfgang Puck rolled out a whole new menu. It was designed by Ben in collaboration with Steve Madonna, Puck’s executive catering chef in California, with each dish tasted, tweaked, and approved by Puck himself. The menu, though, isn’t shared with any of Puck’s California restaurants. It was designed especially for Tulsa and it’s unique to Tulsa. “It’s Italian, it’s Mediterranean, and we’ve kept some favorites from the old menu too,” says Ben. “But we pair heirloom tomatoes with ribeye and sweet corn puree with salmon, so you’d have to call it nouvelle American cuisine.” “It’s like an approachable Spago,” agrees Gary Greene. He’s the general manager, he’s from Vegas, and you can feel big-city energy when he talks. “You can come in and experience a Wolfgang Puck meal for $20 per person.”
In the years since the Bistro opened, a culinary revolution has transformed Tulsa. Walk down streets that were lined with desolate factories three years ago, and there’s a new restaurant on every corner. Does this competition make Greene feel threatened? “Oh but we’re a part of it. Success breeds success,” says Greene. “I’m proud we’re a part of the movement that put Tulsa on the culinary map. You see, some people view us as California outsiders. But we’re not. We’re happy to be part of the Tulsa restaurant industry and we want to see it grow.”
Brian Schwartz: Author
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.