PUCK’S PROGRESS : On the Run With Super Chef Wolfgang Puck, Who Built a Food Empire From Designer Pizzas
HE WENT TO work at age 13, in a restaurant 50 miles from his home in southern Austria. As his father waved goodby at the railroad station, he said, “You’re good for nothing, and you’ll never amount to any thing.” Two weeks later the young man made a mistake in the kitchen--he doesn’t recall what--and the chef told him to go back home. “I went down to the basement and peeled potatoes for two weeks, hoping that nobody would notice that I was still there. And I thought, my father was right.”
Not quite. Twenty-five years later the man is recognized everywhere he goes. People stop him on the street to ask for an autograph. He is a celebrity known by a single name (in his case, either the first or the second will do), and in the words of one fund-raiser, that name is magic when it comes to raising money. Another chef puts it this way: “The French have Paul Bocuse. We have Wolfgang Puck.”
Americans didn’t pay much attention to food until recently. Then a group of hotshot chefs came along and changed the way we eat. They created a veritable restaurant revolution, making American food internationally known. Wolfgang Puck led the pack; in a world populated by culinary stars he is probably America’s most famous chef. He is the John Lennon of the stove--a working-class hero with a restless mind who not only has talent, wit and business acumen but also a much-discussed wife, Barbara Lazaroff, who is his partner.
Until he opened Spago, Puck was just another talented chef who made good food. Then he took the pretension out of big-deal dining and made pizza the food of the stars. Now his two restaurants--Spago and Chinois on Main--gross about $9 million a year. And that is only the beginning. He has two more restaurants and a brewery in the works. He has his own frozen-food company. He is a consultant to one of the fanciest hotel chains in the country (Rosewood Hotels, owners of, among others, the Bel-Air). He is the author of two cookbooks and a videotape and has a regular slot on “Good Morning America.” He has his own charitable foundation, the Wolfgang Puck Foundation, which raised almost $200,000 last year for Meals on Wheels, and he regularly jets around the country for charity events. He’s even designing a showcase kitchen as part of an AIDS fund-raiser (for which he may design his own line of cooking equipment). In between all these activities, he occasionally finds time to cook.
I persuaded Puck to let me follow him around for a week in May to try to discover the secret of his success. Surely he didn’t get this far on his food. What I found is that, in addition to being a good cook, he is extremely bright, charming and almost unbelievably energetic. As one of his young pastry chefs said, “Wolf doesn’t understand that the rest of us need to sleep.” We were constantly running for airplanes and checking in and out of hotels as he made charity appearances and business deals. I discovered that his empire is vast, as is his enthusiasm. Fueled primarily by coffee (he prefers triple espresso) and Coca-Cola, he hit Cleveland, Phoenix and Denver, with a stop at home in between. He hardly ever slept, he never lost his sense of humor, and everywhere he went he seemed to be having a wonderful time. But watching carefully, I noticed that occasionally there’s what appears to be a flash of fear, as if he is worried that he will wake up and find himself still in the basement, peeling potatoes.
THE WOMAN at the airport Avis counter is young and very pretty. She looks at Puck’s credit card. She looks at Puck’s license. She looks at Puck. “Aren’t you the famous chef?” she asks. “From the famous restaurant?” She giggles. “Famous people don’t ride in station wagons,” she says, disappointment in her voice.
“I’d rather have a Porsche,” he replies, “but then where would we put the food?” She looks relieved and picks up the phone to order “the largest wagon on the lot.”
Puck has come to Cleveland to cook a benefit dinner for the Ireland Cancer Center of the University Hospitals of Cleveland. Asked why, he says all the right stuff about how fortunate he’s been and wanting to give something back to the country. “Kennedy said it best,” is how he puts it.
“I didn’t even know him,” says Lee Edwards, the woman who organized the first benefit last year. “But I called him anyway. And he agreed to come and cook. And then he got all the other chefs involved. Really, he put the whole thing together.”
Says Puck: “She told me she was going to use my name to attract other chefs, and I figured it might as well be good chefs.”
“Anyone,” says Susan Feniger of City Restaurant in Los Angeles, one of the good chefs, “would come when Wolf asked them to. It’s good to be associated with him.”
Now Puck collects his luggage (a suitcase and a huge ice chest), and then he collects Mark Peel, who is carrying a briefcase filled with knives. Puck’s watch, which he hasn’t changed to local time, reads 4 a.m. Peel looks sleepy. Peel, once the chef at Spago, has flown in with Puck to help with the meal. Mickey Kanolzer, manager of Chinois on Main and Melinda Bulgarian, a pastry chef at Spago, will fly in a little later, as will Puck’s wife.
Meanwhile, Puck has work to do. His first stop is a television station, where he is to appear on WKYC-TV’s “A.M. Cleveland.” “I always bring all my food with me for these demonstrations,” says Puck, in his dense Austrian accent, accelerating to his usual rapid speed and racing off. “One day in New York they bought the fish for me. It smelled so bad, they must have left it sitting for two days. I said to myself, well, they can’t smell on TV, so I cooked it. And then the hostess goes and starts handing it out to the audience. I went running out of there so fast.”
Besieged by autograph-seekers at the door to the station, he puts down the ice chest and poses for pictures. Then he goes in to set up for the show in a dark corner of the studio, drinking coffee while he peels shrimp and tomatoes and chops garlic. Meanwhile, he gives Peel instructions for the day, pulling a recipe for the benefit dinner out of the air. “Bone out the veal racks,” he says, “and make a stock with the bones.” Peel writes, as Puck describes “old and new veal,” a double dish of braised short ribs in a “big, pruney sauce” and simply barbecued veal. “We marinate the tenderloins in cumin, pepper and a little herbs; we see what we get.”
He is still dreaming his recipe when it’s time to go on. Without missing a beat he walks, smiling, onto the set and begins to chat while he deftly sautes shrimp and pasta, producing a dish in three minutes.
Two days later a radio host will ask Puck and another chef, “What is the most difficult thing to prepare?” The other chef will make a banal comment about all cooking being simple when you take the mystique out of it. Puck will say: “For me the most difficult thing to prepare is breakfast in the morning. I bought a $350 espresso machine and forgot to put water in it. I burn the toast.”
He is never at a loss for words. When a woman comes up after the show and says, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was at your restaurant five years ago,” he immediately replies, “Of course I do, it was a busy Saturday night!” The woman walks away smiling. “It was a safe guess,” Puck says.
And he’s a safe guest. “This show--he’s fantastic!” says the producer as Puck makes his exit. It is a comment he hears all the time. But right now it is 9:30 a.m., Cleveland time, and his main concern is to find an espresso--and finish his recipe. He and Peel search for a coffee bar, and then Peel goes across town to Sammy’s Restaurant, where the cooking for the benefit will be done. Meanwhile, Puck is due to address another audience at 11.
This time it is a group of people who have paid $50 to eat lunch while a panel of experts talks about “the best ingredients” and Puck cooks. When the moderator introduces Puck, she says, “I don’t know what he’s cooking, but I think he’s just so creative he makes it up at the last minute.”
He would like you to believe that this is true. When people ask what he will be cooking for the benefit the next day, he says, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll go fishing in the morning.” It is, of course, disingenuous; Peel is even now starting the stock that will be the basis of the “big, pruney sauce.” But it has a certain degree of veracity: It’s been less than a week since Puck planned the dish, and he has yet to test it or taste it. Pretty audacious when you’re cooking for 700! “My life might be easier,” he admits, “if I planned more. It bothers other people. But it gets so boring if you plan everything out.”
He has not, in fact, done much planning for the sliced veal salad he is now preparing for an enthralled audience. A week later his assistant, Pam Slate, will receive a request for the recipe, and there will be a hilarious moment as he tries to reconstruct it. “Do you think it was a cup of olive oil?” he will ask. “No, maybe less. How much balsamic vinegar? How many tablespoons in a quarter of a cup?”
The audience will never know this; he certainly looks smooth as he tells them how much he loves Cleveland. They smile as he plugs free-range veal, of which he is very fond, by saying, “The veals are happier so they taste better.” And they roar as he finishes up, leaving them with the final message: “The main thing in cooking is not to screw up the food.”
He sits down again, hugging his plate of veal salad. “The only good thing about this,” he says, momentarily bored by the speeches, “is that I’ll get to eat my own food.” In fact, his life on the road is a comedy of missed meals, dreary dishes and airline entrees (which he doesn’t even deign to look at), and unless he is in a kitchen, where he eats everything in sight, it’s not unheard of for him to go for a whole day on nothing but coffee and potato chips. Just now a look of dismay crosses Puck’s face as his plate is borne away, to be replaced with the lunch of the moment, a limp lasagna roll. He takes a few polite bites and asks for coffee.
He is gracious after lunch, lingering as people ask for his autograph. “Oh,” one woman says, “I’ll put it under my pillow, and then maybe I’ll turn into a good cook.” He smiles at a woman who gushes, “You’re our idol here,” and allows himself to be endlessly photographed. It is 2:30 before he finally makes his escape.
THE KITCHEN at Sammy’s is bustling with the good chefs whom Puck has asked to join the benefit. They have come from every corner of the country to squeeze into this absurdly small space and do the sort of work that they would never in a million years do in their own kitchens. Executive chefs don’t do prep work, but there is Jonathan Waxman (Jonathan Waxman’s and Hulot’s, New York) boning chicken and Piero Selvaggio (Primi and Valentino, Los Angeles) soaking ladyfingers in coffee for the dessert, Tirami Su. Dean Fearing (The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas) is stirring a sauce. Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (City Restaurant and Border Grill, L.A.) have been peeling peppers for hours. Robert Del Grande (Cafe Annie, Houston) spends the better part of a day peeling shrimp, and Alfred Portale (Gotham Bar & Grill, New York) cooks couscous. Puck walks in, slings a towel over his shoulder and begins to poke his fingers into various pots. As soon as he enters a kitchen his innocent air evaporates, and while he remains cheerful, he unconsciously assumes an aura of authority.
“You can’t get anything past him,” says Judy Post, a Spago cook who has worked with him for years. “One day I ran the ice-cream machine a little too long, but I figured we’ve got six kinds of ice cream, who’s going to notice? Wolf comes running into the kitchen saying, ‘You ran the vanilla too long.’ ”
Says pastry chef Nancy Silverton: “I used to make this cake that I soaked in espresso. Then I discovered that it tasted just as good if I used really strong coffee and put espresso powder in it. The first day I did it Wolf walked by, stuck his finger in the bowl and said, ‘How come you didn’t make espresso?’ ”
Many chefs are tyrants who make their employees miserable. Puck’s kitchen, in contrast, is a pretty relaxed place, and you’re apt to find the cooks’ kids playing hide-and-seek in the empty dining room. But Puck doesn’t miss much. Says another longtime worker: “If you take one shortcut, he’ll notice. He won’t yell or anything, but he’s just intimidating enough to keep you on your toes.”
He is that way about all aspects of both his restaurants’ operations. When he is on the road, he calls constantly, asking who’s there, what they are eating, where they have been seated. When he is at the restaurant he will casually stroll up to the reservation book at 6 o’clock and rearrange the seating. “I’m just looking,” he will say.
He knows that who comes to the restaurant is as important as what they eat. And everybody comes. When he is back at Spago, a man will wander into the office and announce that he wants the restaurant to cater a benefit for George Bush at a Bel-Air home. Tom Kaplan, the manager, will suavely field the questions, saying, “I’m sure that we can work something out.” When the man leaves, Kaplan will rub his hands together and exult, “This is great; it’s the perfect nonpartisan solution. I’ve been worried, because on the same day there will be a benefit here at the restaurant for Jesse Jackson.” Told about it, Puck will ask only one question: “So where is Dukakis?”
But here in Cleveland, Puck starts peeling carrots and cracking jokes. There is an extraordinary camaraderie among these chefs; they talk and laugh and help each other out. When a large grease fire breaks out in the kitchen, an amazing calm prevails in the crowded room as the chefs attempt to snatch their food from the flames. “Ah,” Puck says as the fire leaps around him, “we just turn the dinner into a barbecue.”
What he says now, however, is a rather wistful, “It’s 3:30, I’ve got to go.” He drinks a double espresso and heads off for a business meeting at the hotel.
“MOST PEOPLE want what I have,” says Bart Wolstein. What he has is a home with “30 acres, two lakes, tennis courts, a health club and steam room on the property.”
But what he wants is Wolfgang Puck, “a young guy with vision.” And what he is offering is “a real opportunity.”
Wolstein is, by his own claim “one of the largest strip-mall developers in the country.” But he’s bored by shopping centers, and now he’s ready to “do something for Cleveland.”
This something involves condos, hotels, boutiques and a yacht club on an island in the middle of the Cuyahoga River. He unrolls his plans, points to a spot and says, “This is where the restaurants are.” And where Puck comes in.
“You’ve been on my mind a couple of years,” he says. Puck smiles politely. “This is a $350-million development. It’s easy to get restaurants, but I was at your place, I saw your reservation book.”
He spins figures. He offers everything, from simple licensing to outright ownership. He is just spelling out the options when Puck’s wife arrives. Lazaroff quickly throws him a lot of fast questions. “Whose money is it?” “What’s the unemployment rate in Cleveland?” “Do people spend their money here?”
Wolstein sits up straighter, looks impressed. “There are 4 million people who have access to the community,” he says, “and they’re starved.”
Then Lazaroff asks, “Would you want it to be called Spago?”
Puck, who has been listening quietly says, “It should be called Clevo.” Lazaroff throws in: “It should have its own identity. We’re opening a restaurant in Malibu, it’s not going to be called Spago, and it’s going to be a huge success.”
“Don’t say that,” Puck whispers. “It might be bad luck.”
“It’s going to be a huge success,” Lazaroff insists. “All those people have nowhere to eat.”
Wolstein shrugs. “All I want to know is if you’re interested. I feel you’ve got that pizazz that can give this thing a signature.”
Puck looks at his watch. “I’ve got to go cook,” he says.
“Wolf is a little preoccupied,” says Lazaroff. But Wolstein won’t be put off. “So what do you guys think?” he insists.
“We’re building three new restaurants in the next year,” says Puck. “We have to see how it fits into our life plan.”
It probably doesn’t. Puck and Lazaroff aren’t particularly impressed: They say they get three or four such offers a week. “It all sounds great,” says Lazaroff, “but when the paper work comes in, it’s like you’re their employee. Everybody talks about what it grosses; nobody talks about what it nets.”
“People tell me,” says Puck, “that I make sometimes bad decisions. But for me, I’m good enough.”
Good enough, one would say, for almost anybody. “One of the first things I learned,” he says, “was from Jerry Magnin (a restaurateur, owner of the well-known men’s store and founding partner of Spectrum Foods). He told me that if the lease is not right, walk away.” The lease at Spago is very right; it costs them $60,000 a year for a restaurant that grosses about $6 million annually, only 1% of the gross. Many restaurants today pay rents of 7%, or more, of the gross. And Spago has a very long lease (13 or 14 years to go, says Puck). In addition, Spago owns the lot behind the restaurant (for which they paid $900,000), and Puck says that if the city of West Hollywood refuses to renew the conditional-use permit that allows parking, as it is threatening to do, they will simply put up an apartment building on the site. Because of a grandfather clause, they don’t legally need to use it for parking. “If they don’t let us park there, we’ll simply park on the street!” Puck says gleefully.
But Puck’s got other things up his sleeve. Lots of other things. He owns a one-third share in the 140-seat San Francisco restaurant he will open next year with San Francisco developer Brad Blackman and restaurant and hotel owner Bill Kimpton of San Francisco, (whose well-known restaurants include Masa’s). It will be designed by Pat Kuleto (of Kuleto’s and the Fog City Diner in San Francisco). Puck and Lazaroff will be the outright owners of the Malibu restaurant being built by developer Roy Krummer. “The rent’s really reasonable,” says Puck, “5%.” And he is a partner in Los Angeles Brewing Co., a boutique brewery and restaurant in West Los Angeles that should open in about a year.
Ask Puck why--five years after the opening of Chinois on Main and seven years after the opening of Spago--he has suddenly decided to expand, and he says only that the deals were right and that he’s got enough good people so that he can spread them around. But his eyes light up when he talks about the Malibu restaurant.
“I might call it Granita, because I love coffee granita (a kind of Italian ice), and I thought it would be great to sit outside in the garden in the summer and drink granitas. " There will be 120 seats--making this a medium-sized restaurant, smaller than Spago--plus the terrace, and Puck expects it to be “fairly easygoing, so people out there can go two or three times a week.”
The brewery is another matter. Puck owns only 10% (state liquor laws prevent him from owning a greater percentage), but he owns 10% of everything--and the Los Angeles Brewing Co. hopes to sell beer all over Southern California. “He wouldn’t be interested in only 10% if it were just a restaurant,” says one partner, Jerry Goldstein, “but there’s a potential for the beer to really take off once he got involved.”
“They wanted me mostly for the name to raise money,” Puck readily admits. But Lazaroff will design the restaurant inside the brewery, and Puck is intrigued by the problem of making food to go with beer. “Have you tasted the homemade salami sandwiches he’s been making?” Goldstein asks. “They’re fabulous.”
Says Puck: “I’d love to have a business where I made a lot of money without working too hard. That’s what the brewery and the frozen food are about.”
As for Wolfgang Puck Food Co.--the frozen-food business turned out to be more complicated than Puck expected. “I know how a restaurant works, but in the supermarket business there are so many people between you and the consumer, you really have to fight to get space. You have to invest $15,000 to $20,000 in New York to put your product on the shelf, and then if it doesn’t sell, the Sara Lee people come and put their stuff on top of yours. I told Paul Prudhomme (the famous New Orleans chef) how expensive it was to get into the business, and he said, ‘You’re telling me--it ran me almost into the ground.’ ”
Puck admits that he may have to rethink the frozen desserts, which are not selling as well as they might, but the newly introduced pizzas have taken off. Puck’s first fame came when he made designer pizzas topped with everything from homemade duck sausage to lox and cream cheese. But when the Food and Drug Administration saw that Puck’s pizzas contained no tomatoes (which they must to meet its official product guidelines), the agency refused to approve them. Puck was undaunted. “I asked how much tomato I had to put in,” he says slyly. “They said it didn’t matter. So I put an espresso spoonful of tomatoes on every pizza! Actually, the controversy was such good luck for us--it got us so much publicity!” So much that the pies are selling at the rate of almost $4 million a year.
JUST NOW HE is not interested in any of that. It is 5 o’clock and he is back preparing food for the benefit in the kitchen at Sammy’s, which is going full tilt. He sticks his nose into all the pots, sticks his finger into the ice cream, inspects the vegetables. Then he picks up a knife and starts helping Mark Peel bone the veal. Meanwhile, Puck’s wife is following him around the kitchen, trying to get him to think about business. Lazaroff designed their two glitteringly trendy restaurants, and now she has promised to draw up the plans for the Malibu site in the next few days. He could hardly be less interested. “Listen to me!” she shouts over the roar of the room. “This time is not going to be like Spago and Chinois. I don’t want to draw the plans and then you tell me you hate it and I do them again and again.”
Avenue Magazine, the upscale Manhattan publication, may have called her one of the most powerful women in Los Angeles, but her husband seems unmoved. “I promised to fax the plans to the developers,” she wails. “Let them wait,” he replies. Before long she is shouting at him, “You have such a hard head,” and he is saying, “But I haven’t been wrong yet. " “Yeah,” she says. “You were the one who wanted red-and-white check tablecloths at Spago.” “And we should have had them,” he shouts back, just before they both begin to laugh.
Despite the numerous shouting matches, it is clear that these two have an enormous affection for each other. Puck calls his wife “Barbarella,” and, while he says that they are “exactly opposite,” he seems more relaxed when she’s around. Says Puck: “Barbara watches over me. She’s better than a lawyer; she has really good perceptions of people.”
He trusts her implicitly. The next week Pam Slate will hand Puck a letter offering a cameo role in Shelley Long’s new movie, “Be Prepared.” “Do you want to do it?” Slate will ask. Without even looking at the letter Puck will get up and go looking for his wife. “Should I do it?” he will ask, handing her the letter. She will peruse it and reply, “Yeah, this is cute, but tell them we can write a funnier line.” When he was asked to wear a suit for the cover photo of this magazine, Puck refused until he could get Lazaroff’s approval.
Of herself Lazaroff says, “So OK, I’m pushy--but I’m usually right.” And although much of the success of the two restaurants is clearly due to her, she rarely gets much credit. Her designs for both Spago and Chinois are California classics, and yet when the Design Industry Fund for AIDS, a New York foundation that has asked a group of major designers to each work on one room of a townhouse for a benefit in the fall, wanted a kitchen designed, Puck was the one that they asked. Miffed, Lazaroff refuses to have anything to do with the benefit. “I know,” she says, “that everybody looks at me like I’m a publicity-hungry society climber, but the one thing I will not do is do all the work on something and have somebody stick their name on it--even if it is my husband.”
Like her husband’s, her life is played out on a public stage. At night she is in the restaurants, dressed to the nines in flamboyant fashions and wearing heels so high that her feet are constantly sore, smiling at the customers. “I feel so sorry for Barbara,” says Puck. “When people complain to me, I can say, ‘I just put something in the oven for you, and I better go make sure it doesn’t burn.’ But Barbara has to stand there and take it.” And there is a lot to take. “It is unbelievable,” says Lazaroff. “People think they have the right to ask anything. Why don’t you have children? When do you spend time together? Why do you look so much better in your pictures? They ask things you would never think of asking them.” One time, says Lazaroff, a woman turned to Puck and asked, “Why don’t you come home with me?"--as his wife was standing next to him.
Even their wedding guests were demanding. About 130 people went to the medieval extravaganza that Lazaroff staged in the south of France in 1984; a lot of them complained about their accommodations. “I kept saying, ‘I’m the bride, why do I have to deal with this?’ ” It would probably surprise most of the guests--and the millions who watched the wedding on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"--to know that Puck and Lazaroff had been married at home, by a rabbi, a year earlier. (He is not Jewish but says, “Religion is not so important to me.”) “I wanted,” says Lazaroff, “one thing in my life that was completely private.”
But perhaps not quite so private as their last anniversary. “Wolf was going to take me out for dinner. I went home to change. By the time Wolf got there it was 10 o’clock.” The couple ended up at Katsu, the only people in a Japanese restaurant that stayed open just for them. “In all the years I’ve known Wolfgang Puck,” sighs Lazaroff, “he has never been on time for anything.”
TONIGHT IN Cleveland is no exception. He is to be at a cocktail party given in honor of the visiting chefs at 7 o’clock. At 8, he is still in the kitchen, helping Piero Selvaggio make lasagna. “Wolf,” says Lazaroff, “they’re going to be so disappointed.” But Puck has had enough. “We didn’t come to party,” he says. “We came here to work!” He spreads another layer of noodles over the sauce and adds, “We went last year to the party.” And then, under his breath he says, “It’s like a nightmare. You have to go to these dinners. It drives you crazy.”
In fact, he works steadily until almost 9. And then he goes on to dinner--with 17 of his closest friends (the visiting chefs). And then to a disco, where he dances until 4. The next day he is the first chef in the kitchen--at 8 a.m.
He moves at this pace for the next five days. With minutes to spare, he makes the plane to Phoenix, where his good friend Vincent Guerithault (a chef who once worked with him in France) is getting married. As he boards his flight, he murmurs, “It’s a good thing I can sleep on planes, because sometimes that’s the only sleep I get.” He checks into the Biltmore, showers, changes, goes to the wedding and then decides he still has time to catch the last plane to Los Angeles. So he checks out again, making this plane with mere seconds to spare. A day later he will dash off to Denver to spend a day raising money for Share Our Strength, an organization of chefs dedicated to helping the hungry.
Why does he do all this? As we flew home from Denver (once again he had changed the reservations, catching an earlier plane), he gave a clue. Sinking into the seat, Puck said: “I had a nightmare last night that I forgot a catering job for (powerful Hollywood super agent) Mike Ovitz. It was awful.” And then, talking about a man who had come into the restaurant a year before and hated the food, he said: “I heard Jerry Lewis say that if you’re a comedian you want everyone to love you. It drives you crazy. If there is one person in the audience who isn’t laughing, you want to win him over. I feel the same way. If there are 299 people in the restaurant who love the food and one who doesn’t, I am miserable.” A little later he will reveal that he used to have a recurring dream about being deported back to Austria. After all these years, and all that success, Wolfgang Puck is still afraid of making a mistake, still anxious to please and still a little bit worried that he will be sent home.
And so as his plane lands he will confide, “I’m really glad we got out early, because Lisa Hoffman (Dustin’s wife) is having a luncheon for her mother at Chinois, and I think it would be nice if I were there.” He will dash to Spago, dash home to change, race down Sunset to Chinois. As he walks in the door a woman will approach him and say, “I think you’re the greatest in the whole world.” And Puck will walk back to the kitchen, peer at a platter and say to one of the cooks, “Put some more food on that plate.”