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Inside the Wild First Days of Wolfgang Puck’s Flagship Restaurant Spago

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A new book excerpt lays out the whole hectic scene

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Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By Coca-Cola - Dinner with Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud part of the Bank of America Dinner Series presented by The Wall Street Journal
Wolfgang Puck working away in the kitchen
Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NYCWFF
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

By all accounts, Wolfgang Puck’s seminal restaurant Spago is a big, big deal. The Beverly Hills eatery has mellowed into one of LA’s most enduring culinary legends, a backdrop for Puck to show off the ways in which he’s changed the international food landscape. But back in the early years the scene was a hotbed for celebrities, drug abuse, and some of the wildest nights in any kitchen in America.

The Daily Beast has highlighted just a few of the many previously-untold stories of early-days Spago, excerpting a lengthy portion of the new book Chef, Drugs and Rock & Roll by writer Andrew Friedman. Here are a couple of the most eyebrow-raising details:

The place was packed on night one. Like, 18 Rolls-Royces outside packed. Apparently Puck had some juice behind him from Ma Maison, and all the celebrities decided to descend at once.

The line couldn’t hold. That first night saw hundreds of guests and an open kitchen that couldn’t keep up. Opening pastry chef Nancy Silverton says her prep work (meant to last days) was completely wiped out within a few hours, and pretty quickly it became clear that Puck — who had been working the grill station — needed to be kicked out of the kitchen because he was spending too much time talking to guests and holding up everyone else.

Chef Wolfgang Puck Teaches Kids How To Make Pizza
A younger Wolfgang Puck making pizzas
Photo by Jason Kirk/Getty Images

People got tipped in drugs. Because of the era, most folks who came through the front or back of house at Spago in those early days had some connection to drugs, either as a user, seller, or passive observer. Longtime front of house lead Jannis Swerman says in the book that it was basically impossible to even get into the bathrooms, owing to the drug use and promiscuity. Some, like the chefs themselves, would be “tipped” in drugs by VIP regulars, even if they didn’t want them.

There has only ever been one person blacklisted from the restaurant. Apparently Puck was so spurned by his former boss Patrick Terrail from Ma Maison, he made sure the man would never be allowed inside Spago. At least on one occasion, that meant actually barring Terrail and friend Ed McMahon from entering the building.

Honestly, the whole excerpt is worth a read, and highlights just how insane the book by Friedman likely is. The non-fiction title just landed on the open market yesterday, so readers can find it on Amazon or in local bookstores now.


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