Written by Taylor Baker
Wolfgang is a retrospective portrait on the life and work of famed chef Wolfgang Puck. The documentary is directed by David Gelb who notably directed the cult classic and critical darling documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi of which Jiro Ono Japanese chef is the subject. Fast tracked for a digital release on Disney+ on June 25th, Wolfgang is arranged between staged shots, staged interactions, scripted and unscripted narration, and insert images alongside historical footage of different dishes being cooked. It provides a cursory look, but as one would assume with the 82 minute runtime and being on Disney+ it doesn’t get too deep and teases the more interesting facets of Puck rather than digging in. The moments I enjoyed most were seeing how he ran his kitchen and interacted with staff, like the master of a well oiled machine. There is a clear sense of respect, and deference to the leader of not just the kitchen, but the restaurant itself.
The personal interest and love for food Puck is known for takes it’s time arriving. We hear various talking heads lay out his historical accomplishments and learn that the open exposed kitchen through glass windows was apparently a Puck innovation well before we dig into his schooling and climb from rags to riches. Much more time than necessary is spent on the various celebrities that came to Spago rather than the cuisine that specifically brought them there. Even after the film is over it’s unclear how much his constantly booked restaurant was filled with patrons who love the arrangements of the kitchen, and how many customers merely wanted to elbow to elbow with hot shots if not the famed Puck himself. The film attempts to correlate the value of Puck as directly proportional to the amount of celebrities in his orbit early on, thankfully this is eschewed in the last leg of the film as his ascent to television chef is detailed.
We spend various chunks of time on Puck’s family throughout his life, following his run from Austria to France. We continuously hear of his rabid dislike of his stepfather, but without details we can only imagine what his home life was like. His sister never addresses the topic in her various scenes. His marriage to Barbara Lazaroff and the children they shared are depicted, but we never hear mention of his first wife Marie France Trouillot, and see but a scarce moment of Puck alongside his current wife Gelila Assega. Which gives off the feeling that this is more of a commissioned and authorized promotional video by Puck for Puck, than a serious effort to appreciate an artist. For anyone looking for a documentary that celebrates cuisine, artisanal cooking, and a personal introspection of Puck as a chef this will whet your appetite, but the seminal and summary work one would assume will arrive likely after his passing occurs is not yet born.
Wolfgang is streamed as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home. Wolfgang will be available to stream on the Disney+ Streaming Service on June 25th.