Wolfgang Puck on Cooking Up an Empire

UPDATED: May 5, 2008
PUBLISHED: May 5, 2008

Before he became a household name with a multi-million dollar culinary empire, Wolfgang Puck was fledging chef with dreams of owning his own restaurant. Due in no small part to hard work and relentless dedication to the highest quality product, Puck polished a sterling brand identity and forged key business practices that can be applied to a variety of industries.

Learn from the legend on what it takes to be top chef, or boardroom chief, through his five principles for success.

1. Find the Best People, Create the Best Team. With his ever expanding empire, Puck can’t be everywhere at once. "We want to create a feeling, when people come to dinner, that if I’m there it’s a plus. But even if I’m not there it has to be a good experience.

2. Only Allow Room For Improvement. "We’ve tried to be good–and only go up from there. If we’d stayed at the same level 10 years ago, we might not have made a run at it. We added more expensive dishes and better ingredients and the restaurants thrived."

3. Focus on Your Passion, But Find Your Balance. Puck still gets his greatest satisfaction from being in the kitchen. But that doesn’t mean he’s there 24/7. "I think being successful means having balance. Since last year, [I’m] really working on how I can get a more balanced life. Otherwise, in the end, you work for nothing.

4. Embrace the Ups and Downs. Becoming a highly sought after celebrity chef isn’t without its toils and frustration. "I learned more from the one restaurant  that didn’t work than from all the ones that were successes." When you view your losses objectively, you can avoid future pitfalls and channel motivation for further success.

5. Pay Your Dues. "Young people want to be famous before they know how to cook, before they know how to treat people, before they know what hospitality means." Finding sustainable success means letting go of your sense of entitlement. When Puck came to the U.S., no one was knocking on his door with offers of running a five-star restaurant. It took long hours and serious dedication to acquire the skills and expertise needed to stay afloat in a very fickle industry. Take your lessons with gratitude and roll with the punches. It makes for one very appetizing success story.

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