TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Wolfgang, directed by David Gelb, is about chef extraordinaire Wolfgang Puck. Working from a screenplay by Brian McGinn, the filmmaker goes back and forth in time through Puck’s life. His childhood was rough due to an abusive stepfather, but when he was in the kitchen, helping his mom or grandmother cook, Wolfgang Puck felt safe and truly inspired. After training as an apprentice, he landed a job as the head chef in the Los Angeles set Ma Maison.
But, after several years there, Puck and the owner, Patrick Terrail, had a falling out. This and the insistence of his then-wife, Barbara Lazaroff, led the cook to open his own restaurant, Spago. This seemingly simple establishment forever changed the American food scene and laid the groundwork for the celebrity chefs of the modern era, including Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain.
Let’s start with the negatives of Wolfgang and then end with the positives. At a mere one hour and 20 minutes long, the film is, somehow, a bit repetitive. Various people interviewed, such as a food critic or family member, will say something along the lines of “Wolfgang Puck was the first superstar chef.” Then the narrative will follow its current path, only to go back to that celebrity status and explore it more. During that examination, points made earlier or statements utters not too long ago are repeated in one way or another. This makes it feel like the film stops and restarts a few times.
“…forever changed the American food scene and laid the groundwork for the celebrity chefs of the modern era…”
However, this Disney+ documentary proves to absolutely still be an informative and lively production. Gelb effectively lays the groundwork of the pre-Wolfgang Puck restaurant era in the U.S. so that the full impact of his way of envisioning dishes and how he prepares them is understood and makes all viewers salivate just thinking about the recipes. The camera lovingly captures all the food, and each meal looks ready to be plucked off the screen and consumed. The film will definitely leave one ravenous.
Then there are the interviews that tell the story of Wolfgang. The food maestro himself speaks vividly and candidly about the abuse he suffered as a child and the hardships he faced to achieve his dreams. He admits to his mistakes, acknowledging he left his family on the back burner to run a food empire. His regret over this is palpable, but for the most part, Puck is a charming, spirited fellow, the kind of person you want to keep talking when he is done.
The other people who speak are all engaging, knowledgeable, and offer a variety of viewpoints, so the culture and Puck’s life in any given era is put in the proper context. This works wonderfully in the film’s favor, as even when it is repetitive, the way things are being explained still sounds pleasing and inviting.
Wolfgang examines the life and game-changing career of Wolfgang Puck in a visually engaging and charming way. While it repeats itself every so often, the food on display is delectable, and every interview is a trove of information. All in all, the documentary might be a bit flawed, but its positives far outweigh the negatives.
Wolfgang screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…the camera lovingly captures all the food..."