Wolfgang Puck is about to attempt what many celebrity chefs before him have tried and failed: Take on New York.
But is he nervous? Preoccupied? If so, it didn't show on a recent visit to the kitchen of his CUT restaurant in London. He looked totally relaxed as he sprinkled salt and pepper over a piece of raw beef -- American Wagyu from Snake River Farms -- added a few drops of olive oil and cut a thin slice for a taste.
"In New York, if you have a nice two-bedroom apartment, you're not going to cook that often," Puck said. "You don’t have the space, and you still make good money."
Still, feted chefs - including Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay and Joel Robuchon - pulled out of New York. Puck's success grew out of what he calls the "hardest market" - Los Angeles. He's built an international dining empire in the years since founding Spago there in 1982.
"L.A. is much tougher," he said. "People have huge houses with big kitchens, they have private chefs, they don’t have to go out: They entertain at home."
Puck, a tanned, Austrian-born transplant, is the ultimate celebrity chef. More Rodeo Drive than Park Avenue. When I had lunch with him at Spago Beverly Hills in 2011, he excused himself from the table because the actor Sidney Poitier wanted a word; at dinner in CUT in London last week, it was the singer Lionel Richie.
New York seemed a natural next step, even if he was a bit reluctant.
"I wanted to stay more as a West Coast chef, the whole image thing," Puck said. "I didn't want to give New York more to talk about."
The CUT opening in September at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown will be his first location in the city--if you don't count his Wolfgang Puck Express counter at JFK airport.
Puck says he may bring Spago to New York and London, if he finds a good space that's not too expensive. (Spago is famous for its Californian cuisine and celebrity guests; at CUT, the focus is on steak.)
"Now it's a little cheaper in London," he said, a reference to the British currency's recent collapse.
How does he compare the restaurant scenes in the U.K. and the U.S.?
"There is an explosion of restaurants and interest in food here," he says. "It started a little earlier in America, in the '80s when there wasn’t all that much here. But now in London you have so many young talented chefs who changed the style, the way people are eating.."
London's restaurants are more interesting than New York's because of their multicultural influence, he said.
"New York has more upscale restaurants but for me, three-star restaurants are not the most exciting places," he said. "You go once and it is a good experience but you don’t really want to go back."
Puck's love of Los Angeles is reciprocated. Last week, he became only the second chef, after Bobby Flay, to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.