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Wolfgang Puck On The Source, Politics, Future DC Plans

Wolfgang Puck enjoys noisy restaurants. So when he hears or reads complaints about the boisterous chatter at his venues, he doesn't mind.

"When people have fun, they are noisy. They laugh and talk loud so I think it's OK," he said. "I tell everyone, 'You know what, when you are dead, it's going to be quiet for a long time.'"

Loud restaurants and reading other complaints online—he avoids it—were a few things the gregarious chef raised when he sat down last Friday with Eater. He also praised the successes of The Source, the award-winning restaurant adjacent to the Newseum located near the U.S. Capitol. In doing so, Puck lauded chef Scott Drewno and manager Rikka Johnson for helming a well-run power spot that has become popular among Washington's elite and even big-name stars in entertainment. The chef also hinted at the possibility of another restaurant of his opening in D.C.

The Los Angeles-based chef was in town for the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner. News organization Politico invited Puck to Saturday's fete. The next day, The Source catered an annual brunch at the Georgetown home of Robert Allbritton, owner of the Washington publication.

He confessed naiveté on the occassion. The celebrity chef, who's well-known for catering Hollywood-centric parties such as the Academy Awards Governors Ball, said his staff had to prep him on the significance of the glitzy banquet, a Beltway tradition since 1920. Puck also admitted to forgetting Politico's invitation to the party in 2012. "Last year, I didn't put [the event] on my calendar," he said sheepishly. "When it came up, I had something to do in Tampa." For this year's occasion, he made sure it was on the books and looked forward to the festivities.

"Since everybody is making fun of the situation, I think it should be OK," he said. "I like it more to be like that than being a serious thing. It's like a restaurant. When they take themselves so seriously, it gets boring."

The Source has been in Washington since 2007. How's everything so far?
It's amazing. I really didn't know where we were going with this restaurant. First, we opened the restaurant because of the catering at the Newseum. That was really the main business. I had the fight in the beginning: Why didn't they put us out there in front of the Newseum, where they have the gift shop. Now they think I was right. It took them a long time to really say, "Now we can't do it because it's expensive to remodel the whole thing." But even with the location, which is hard to find and doesn't really have a street sign, I'm surprised how well we do.

The Source now has strong connections to politics and government. It's been nominated a few times by the Rammys as a top power spot, including this year. How do you feel about that?
It's a tribute to Scott and Rikka. Because a power spot...When people come to a place, they want to be recognized. They want to get the table they think is the best table in the house. And they want to be taken care of.

Your restaurants have catered to the Hollywood crowd and the Washington crowd. What's the difference between their palates?
I don't really know. I think it doesn't really matter to me what people do. I'm sure you have picky politicians or picky actors. Or easygoing actors or easygoing politicians. In a way, every city has its own stars.

So would you see a difference between catering an actor's party and catering the Politico brunch then?
I guess, maybe, the real Hollywood type of people, if it's a cocktail party, they would eat very little. I think with politicians and lawyers, they'll probably eat more.

Why do you think that's the case?
It's interesting. I know, right away, when we do a cocktail party, like when we did a party with Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark. There were all these Hollywood people who came. They just stood around. They didn't want to eat?I remember Jack Nicholson told me once. I did a party a long time ago. He comes into the kitchen, and says, "You know, Wolf, can I eat in the kitchen?" I say, "Why would you want to eat in the kitchen?" He says, "I don't like eating outside because people take pictures with me with my mouth eating or having a funny face eating something. It's not good for an actor to get pictures like that."

That would make sense...
Also, they have to be so careful. Like today, especially. You eat something and the next day it's on TMZ. Modern technology — everything [goes] viral right away. If you're well known, you have to really watch your steps at what you do. Even I do now. In the old times, I would sit here, and the girls used to come over and say, "Oh, can we take a picture with you? Can we sit on your lap?" And I say, "OK, no problem." Now, you have to watch that.

That applies for politicians, too.
Yeah, for the politicians, too?I think we have to be much more image-conscious than we've ever been.

You set up shop here six years ago. Since then, the city continues to grow. What do you think of the D.C. culinary scene now?
I think it's amazing. Washington, for years, had Jean-Louis [Palladin] at the Watergate and a few other restaurants that people talked about. It was a very French-oriented restaurant scene with maybe a few Italian restaurants like Roberto Donna's restaurants. Today, you have so many young chefs. Now, [the scene] has exploded with so many options: Young chefs open small restaurants with good flavors and good tasting food.

Do you have a favorite spot or a dish in the city?
I don't go out that often when I come here. I stay [in Washington] two or three nights and I stay [at the Source] mostly. The last meal was at José Andrés' Minibar. I think that was the best experience I had lately at another restaurant.

What's it like managing a restaurant and catering business?
When we do catering here at the Newseum, it's OK because we have a kitchen. The rest of catering is logistics. So you need a really good manager. We can produce the same food, but it's a lot of work to get that done. You basically have to build a restaurant at someone's backyard.

In Washington, do you have plans to have another restaurant?
I would like to open another restaurant. I would remodel the bar first and Scott is redesigning the kitchen [at The Source].

What would the new restaurant be?
Maybe a new version of Spago. Maybe. We'll see.
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