As part of Food Bowl, this May's monthlong food festival, The Los Angeles Times is presenting the first Gold Award to chef Wolfgang Puck. The Gold Award is to be given to a California chef annually, with the idea of honoring culinary excellence and expanding the notion of what Southern California cooking might be. The award celebrates intelligence and innovation, brilliance and sensitivity to aesthetics, culture and the environment. We anticipate that the award will be part of the local landscape for many years to come.
The inaugural Los Angeles Times Gold Award could scarcely be given to anyone but this year's honoree, Wolfgang Puck, who taught the world what it means to be a Los Angeles chef. At Ma Maison, the restaurant that brought Puck to the area, he helped to invent the modern template of the entertainment industry restaurant, which included a kind of studied informality and superb French cuisine.
At the original Spago on the Sunset Strip, he created what later became known as casual fine dining, a movement that swept the food world, and his grill-intensive menu that included pizza, pasta and salad made the restaurant perhaps the most famous in the United States. The Asian-European style called "fusion" may have started at his Santa Monica restaurant Chinois, and his short-lived Eureka jump-started the U.S. gastropub movement. The more formal Beverly Hills Spago has defined fine dining in Los Angeles for the last two decades, and Cut showed the city what a steakhouse without compromise might look like.
Along the way, he championed sustainable farming at places like Chino Ranch, introduced Angelenos to the great wines of both Santa Barbara and his native Austria, nurtured the careers of generations of chefs, opened a succession of restaurants around the country and, not incidentally, used his celebrity to raise many millions of dollars for charity.
Wolfgang Puck is the man who showed the world what a great American chef might be.