I never had a fantasy about moving to California. But when I came to Los Angeles, it wasn’t as if I didn’t know anything about the place. I knew the Chinese Theater. I knew Burbank from the Tonight Show. I knew the health food restaurant on Sunset Blvd. where Alvy Singer ate with Annie Hall. I knew Gidget lived in Malibu, the Brady Bunch lived in the Valley, and the gang from “Three’s Company” lived in Santa Monica. I knew the Beach Boys liked a girl named “Barbara Ann.” I knew Ventura Highway. I knew it never rained in Southern California. And I knew if you stayed at the Hotel California, you could never leave.
Most of all, I knew celebrity super-chef, Wolfgang Puck.
After all, I was travelling to Los Angeles to go to film school and become part of the film industry. And that meant — one day eating at the famed Spago. I knew in the future, I would walk into Spago with a wannabe model at my side and Wolfgang Puck would run out of the kitchen to greet me. “Neilochka!” he would shout in his Austrian accent, “Please sit down at YOUR special table right next to Al Pacino!”
Wolfgang Puck represented Los Angeles to me. He was an icon. A Hero. And there’s nothing sadder when you lose faith in a hero, whether it is OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson, or Mel Gibson. While Wolfgang Puck never committed a heinous crime, he became guilty of something just as bad — overexposure.
First he became a fixture on the “Today” show. Then, he opened “Wolfgang Puck Cafes” in malls everywhere, so every Joe Schmoe could make believe he was eating lunch next to Al Pacino. I can honestly say I ate my worst Italian meal ever in a Wolfgang Puck Cafe in Orange County.
Soon, Wolfgang Puck was invading my local supermarket with his “Wolfgang Puck” soups.
At first, I was excited about this soup development. I’m a huge fan of canned soup. It is easy to make and usually tastes pretty good. I have been eating Campbell’s Soup since I was a child. But as I matured, I started to feel ashamed to bring my Campbell’s Soups “Chicken and Stars” to the checkout girl. What could be less sophisticated? Who eats this soup after the fifth grade?
Luckily, Wolfgang Puck came to the rescue. His soup had fancy names and a photo of Wolfgang Puck smiling at you right on the label. Although it was three times more expensive than Campbell’s soup, I could proudly display it in my shopping cart. And who knows?… maybe women in the supermarket even thought that I was having Al Pacino over for dinner that night! In a way, buying a Wolfgang Puck soup was like having the real Wolfgang Puck travelling to your home and catering your dinner, much like he caters the Governor’s Ball each year after the Oscar’s.
But then I tasted the soup. Have you ever tasted a Wolfgang Puck soup? It tastes like piss! It makes Progresso Soups seem like something served at the Four Seasons
Then, my relationship with Wolfgang Puck turned worse. It turned dangerous.
On our last trip to New York, Sophia and I took the red eye. When we arrived in Flushing, it was already morning and my mother was at work. While Sophia unpacked, I started making us some scrambled eggs. After a few minutes of frying the eggs, I reached for the handle of the frying pan and — OUCH — almost burnt my skin off.
“Holy Shit! ” I screamed, as I spilled the eggs all over the oven top.
As I jumped around in pain, I noticed a memo stuck on the refrigerator. It was from my mother.
“Neil: Be careful. Wear a cooking glove when using the new pots!”
Later on, I learned the whole story. My mother had already burnt her hand three times after buying this new set of cookware.
“What kind of shitty cookware did you buy?” I asked. “What pots have a metal handle that gets so burning hot when you use it?”
“Oh, no, these pots are very good.” she answered. (even though they were on sale!) “They are Wolfgang Puck pots!”
Wolfgang Puck!! Now he is hawking cookware! And some crap from China that he wouldn’t use in a million years!
After this painful incident Sophia, my mother, and I went to the Berkshires for a vacation. I avoided telling Sophia about the Wolfgang Puck cookware, because I didn’t want to ruin her vacation. She is a big fan of the Food Network and watches Iron Chef religiously. I didn’t want her to know the truth about one of America’s most beloved chefs.
We had a great time in the Berkshires. Sophia and I got along terrifically. On our return to New York, things even got romantic between us one night. We cuddled all night in my childhood bedroom, satisfying my childhood dream of having a hot babe in my bed.
In the morning, I awoke feeling great. My mother had gone to work. I could hear Sophia in the kitchen. I smiled. Maybe she is making me a special breakfast in bed. Suddenly, I remembered! She didn’t know the true horror of Wolfgang Puck cookware. I tossed the sheets aside, and, still naked, ran into the kitchen.
“Sophia, STOP!” I screamed.
But it was too late.
“Holy SHIT!” I heard her yell in agony as my mother’s Wolfgang Puck frying pan came crashing to the floor.
Wolfgang Puck, enough! Leave my family alone!
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