Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Bravo
Wolfgang Puck is not only one of the world’s most famous chefs but he’s a frequent judge and guest on cooking shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. While Gordon Ramsay may clamor for his competitors to nail his Beef Wellington recipe, for Puck the secret to being a great cook boils down to a simple task — cooking the perfect egg.
Born in Austria, Puck started cooking when he was just 14 years old. After working at some of the best restaurants in the world, including the renowned Ma Maison, he settled in Los Angeles. There, he revolutionized Tinseltown cuisine at the legendary eatery Spago with his designer pizzas that drew the likes of Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Oprah Winfrey. The man who's fed the elite and tasted great delicacies said the secret to being a great cook boils down to a simple task — cooking the perfect egg.
Puck explained that if he really wants to test someone's technical skills in the kitchen, he gives them a very straightforward test. "To me, I judge these chefs often on how they can cook an egg. If it's an omelet or it's scrambled eggs, generally I have to give people a pan and eggs and I say, 'OK, make me an omelet.' Because there are all these people, comments said, 'We worked in all of these fancy restaurants.' And often now chefs forget about learning the basics."
Many cooks, he noted, will study the menus of the establishments where they work and be trained to prepare those items to perfection, but they don't seem to learn the foundation of cooking as a whole. As a result, when they go to make a dish as elementary as an omelet, they crack under the pressure.
The actual preparation is simple, according to Puck. He remarked, "You have to put it in a hot pan -- maybe with a touch of oil and a touch of butter — and then season the eggs before. Add maybe a little bit of crème or a little melted butter into the eggs. And then cook them fast enough, so that way, you can have them cooked on the outside and soft in the center. And it is amazing how few people, how few professional chefs, can do that."
Of course, the challengers on Top Chef face even bigger obstacles than a scrambling test. Tasks often include odd ingredients, and contestants are usually pushed far outside their comfort zones.
If the master could offer one piece of advice to the hopefuls, he would tell them to cook what they know. He acknowledged that they should "do something where they are familiar with what they did already many times."
Of course, they can add a twist to their go to dishes. "I would suggest just to do that maybe in a different fashion," Puck said. "It's OK. Maybe you don't have the same fish or the same meat, but to do something you are familiar with. Don't go and cook Indian food if you never cooked Indian food."