The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook: Recipes From Spago, Chinois and Points East and West by Wolfgang Puck (Random House: $19.95, 304 pp., illustrated)
The nice thing about Wolfgang Puck, the author, is that you can cook from the cookbooks he writes. You want to cook from them. The recipes are that enticing.
The nice thing about Puck, the chef, is that he is forever growing, expanding, pioneering, reaching for the new and interesting paths the way artists who become famous might do.
He's something of a Picasso, finding himself vitally interested in a certain idea and following it through until another fascination suddenly surfaces.
The nice thing about Puck, the professional, is that he is only too happy to share his knowledge. "The more people know about food, the better it is for the profession," he said.
Right now he is in his East-West period, or, more accurately, winding it up. His most recent cookbook, "Recipes From Spago, Chinois and Points East and West" is the oeuvre to show for it.
Spago, from which the Western branch of the recipes come, is the restaurant he opened after spending six years with Ma Maison, which became one of Los Angeles' most glittering star restaurants in the galaxy with his help. And with his wife, designer Barbara Lazaroff, he opened, shortly thereafter, Chinois on Main, an experimental laboratory for his Oriental culinary fascinations and fantasies.
So you will find in Puck's new book recipes which really are interpretations of Oriental culinary ideas, not necessarily Chinese. There are Chinese things, in fact, which no Asian has ever heard of, much less tasted: spareribs containing jalapeno chiles with lemon grass and rice wine vinegar (which are divine); sea scallops with spicy vinegar, made with curry and salmon caviar; fried rice, fried twice, seasoned with Japanese soy sauce; a rack of lamb whose marinade contains Japanese miso (soy bean paste).
From Spago and Puck's special love of Italian, Mexican, American and his native Austrian cooking, the "West" theme grows like a happy road map with the pizza chapter leading the way. Pizza, after all, is what started the idea for Spago.
"My own taste for pizza was developed in France, at a restaurant in Salon-de-Provence called Chez Gu," he said. "I was working at L'Oustau de Baumaniere with my friend Guy Leroy at the time. On our days off together we would celebrate with a light informal dinner at Chez Gu, and it always included one of their pizzas. It was here, as we sat relaxing and talking, that our visions of starting a restaurant in America came to include a pizzeria right next door to the restaurant. Imagine our disappointment when we moved to Los Angeles and found that such an idea was unheard of in the States. Who would have guessed that some six years later, restaurants would be serving pizza from one end of town to the other?"
Puck supplies the reader not only with several pizza and calzone recipes, but with a few words of encouragement: "Don't let the new seriousness about pizza scare you away from making it at home."
In this pizza chapter you will find Spago's famous duck sausage pizza and Jewish pizza made with smoked salmon and California golden caviar.
Famous Desserts Included
Both of Puck's restaurants are famous for their desserts, and you will find the best and most famous--individual apple tarts, creme brulee tart among them--in the book.
Few other chefs have introduced variety and novelty to fish dishes as has Puck. And you'll find recipes for red snapper with fennel, an easy grilled tuna with mint vinaigrette, grilled salmon with Pinot Noir butter, crab with black bean sauce and grilled salmon with tomato butter, among many other enticing recipes to keep you and your guests happy, and, we might add, in good health. If there is one message that has evolved as a result of the work of fine chefs and their restaurants, it is that health and good food are related.
Which brings us to what's intriguing to Puck now. "Health food--or spa food. I think people really need help along those lines and I am now interested in working with dietitians, eventually incorporating Chinese, Mexican and South American food ideas into a spa theme."
Well, while Puck is preparing his next show, you can catch up with his East-West theme and his recipes in the book. You'll enjoy it.
Some readers may have preferred to find some color photographs of the recipes, but Puck's own drawings, and the stark simplicity and rarity of the recipes really need no further embellishment.
"We didn't think of pictures because I was to do some color sketches. But time slipped away and I just couldn't catch up," explained Puck. Pictures would have been nice, but then, you can't have everything.
2 pounds baby back ribs, in 1 or 2 racks
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup soy sauce (half mushroom soy preferred)
1 1/2 cups rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped ginger root
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or lemon grass
1 small jalapeno chile, minced
1 large shallot, minced
Rub both sides of ribs with pepper. Place ribs, uncut, in roasting pan. Mix soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, cilantro, jalapeno chile and shallot and pour over ribs. There should be enough liquid to barely cover meat. Cover and marinate overnight in refrigerator.
Drain marinade from ribs and roast ribs at 325 degrees 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven. At serving time, grill spareribs until browned and hot through.
To serve, cut racks into individual ribs and arrange ribs in overlapping fashion on warm platter. Serve with napkins. Makes 4 to 6 servings.