Wolfgang Puck checks in at MGM Grand Detroit

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

In an era where celebrity chefs are considered rock stars, consider Wolfgang Puck to be Mick Jagger.

The Austrian-born chef visited his namesake restaurant at MGM Grand Detroit on Friday for a private dinner and made time in the afternoon to cook lunch with members of the local media.

He was casual and funny as he chatted about simple cooking techniques, showing how to dress steaks and a whole de-boned chicken with olive oil, salt and cracked pepper before throwing them on the super hot charcoal grill in the kitchen at Wolfgang Puck Steak, the signature restaurant at MGM.

He and his team also cooked lobster pasta and served a salad with Michigan goat cheese. For dessert, his executive pastry chef, Kamel Guechida, made a version of Puck’s mother’s recipe of Kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian dessert similar to a pancake. Alex Resnik, Puck’s senior operations partner for his fine dining group, talked about wine and made an Argentinian chimichurri to top the meat.

Puck, 66, joined area food bloggers in snapping photos of the food with his iPhone.

“The pictures are good, but they aren’t going to fill our stomach,” quipped Puck, who owns dozens of restaurants worldwide, including flagship restaurant Spago Beverly Hills in California.

Sipping white wine, he joked that the best way to taste wine is to sniff it, then take a swallow and say “that’s complex.”

“People will think you know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Puck has had a presence at the MGM Grand since it opened in 2007. His company operates Wolfgang Puck Steak and the more casual Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina. Most of his restaurants follow an American food theme and focus on either steaks or pizza.

In September, he opened The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. He checked up on it before his visit to Detroit.

He said he likes having restaurants in Detroit and elsewhere in the Midwest because “people are very down to earth.” He’s aware of the uptick in Metro Detroit dining.

“The whole economy in Detroit has changed so much now. People come downtown, young people come downtown, there’s a bar-restaurant scene and everything. I think Detroit is totally on an upswing.”

“I think that one of the driving forces in the resurgence in the economy is coming from the restaurant and bar industry,” Resnik added. “I remember since we started coming (to Detroit), I would go for a run down Michigan Avenue past the old Tiger Stadium and it was nothing, years ago. Now there is restaurant after restaurant, wine bars, bars and nice cafes.”

Puck is easily the most recognized of all the “celebrity chefs” and has appeared not only on food-related shows like “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef,” but he has also popped up on mainstream film and television. He was in the 2011 “Smurf” film as Chef Smurf and appeared on an episode of “The Simpsons.”

His next move, he said, is to move beyond publishing cookbooks — he has put out at least six — and start an online cooking school. Wolfgang Puck Cooking School will feature short videos instructing home cooks how to make the basics, like eggs and soup stock.