x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse Cut has opened in Dubai

In an exclusive interview, the renowned chef Wolfgang Puck talks to us about opening his first restaurant in the country: the steakhouse Cut.

Wolfgang Puck at his steakhouse Cut at The Address Downtown Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National
Wolfgang Puck at his steakhouse Cut at The Address Downtown Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National

The much-lauded Chinese haunt Hukama in The Address Downtown Dubai may have gone, but in its place now sits a steakhouse, Cut. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill steak restaurant, primarily because the name above the door is Wolfgang Puck (it’s actually “pook”, although often mispronounced).

Born to a chef mother in Austria 64 years ago, the energetic and charismatic Los Angeles-based chef-cum-restaurateur is in Dubai for the long-awaited opening. Puck’s empire transcends fine dining, casual and quick-service restaurants, two decades of Academy Awards catering, right through to cookbooks and even kitchen appliances for home shopping networks.

But Puck almost didn’t make it. At the age of 14, as an apprentice at a small hotel in Austria, he nearly threw himself into a lake in the midst of winter after his boss kicked him out for not peeling enough potatoes to cope with the service. But his resilience championed and he returned to face the music, moving on to another apprenticeship and then leaving home to carve out a career in Michelin-starred restaurants across France, Monaco and then New York, Indianapolis and finally Los Angeles, now home to him and his first baby, the celebrity hangout Spago.

Organised frenzy

Back in the heart-of-house, the kitchen at Cut is an organised frenzy as dishes pour out from each station. The friendly banter between Puck and his brigade – his operational partner, global culinary director and five chefs who have moved across permanently from his operations in the United States, is refreshing and contagious.

There’s tuna tartare sandwiched between togarashi crisps. Australian Angus, grain-fed rib-eye steak on the bone served in a skillet à deux. Pan-roasted Maine lobster towers over a black truffle zabaglione. Dover sole sits daintily in a preserved lemon and shallot sauce. A double-sized dark chocolate soufflé perches precariously. Everything, pretzel bread rolls included, is made from scratch in this kitchen.

Oddly, out of all his restaurant concepts boasting cuisine from Californian and Chinese to Asian and Italian, it is only Puck’s steakhouse Cut that has been exported internationally.

“We decided four years ago – when there was a big downturn in the economy on the West Coast where we had eight restaurants – that we would expand globally,” Puck recalls. “We opened a Cut in Singapore and then London. There are always people who will eat meat, so I thought it would be the easiest concept to export because of its clear identity.”

But why Dubai and why now?

“We opened Cut in London three years ago and we’ve always had a lot of customers from here asking why we don’t have anything in Dubai or Abu Dhabi,” he replies. “And then I met some of the people from Emaar there and in LA who wanted to bring it to Dubai. I visited last year in March to see the hotel which has a nice site looking across to Burj Khalifa. And now we are finally opening.”

Steak with a twist

The Dubai market is overflowing with steakhouses, but at the same time it’s also a safe bet, like Italian cuisine. Simple, no-frills cooking. So how will Cut differentiate in a saturated steak market?

“Everyone can buy good meat but you have to have talent in the kitchen,” Puck says. “We treat it just like Spago and Chinois. Instead of a broiler, we cook steaks on a charcoal wood grill where we get a smokiness from it and different flavour. You can regulate it better than electric or gas. We look at being the best in our category.”

His executive chef, Raymond Weber, has worked for the company for eight years, moving across from Wolfgang Puck at the Hotel Bel-Air in LA, while his restaurant director Andrey Godzhik hails from Cut in Beverly Hills.

The mostly grain-fed beef on the menu has been selected in a similar style to a wine list – by country and by age. From the US in South Dakota, there’s 100 per cent pure Black Angus, aged for 21 days. Australia is represented with both Angus from the Rangers Valley, aged for 35 days and Wagyu from Queensland. And for a premium price, 100 per cent Japanese Wagyu beef from the Shiga prefecture. All steak cuts are available including Puck’s favourite, the top of the rib-eye. He also eats his steak charred on the outside, rare yet not too blue inside – but fans of blue-black will be catered to. His youngest son Alexander, age seven, is the most loyal of all to Cut.

“When I bring steak home, it has to be medium-rare. He won’t touch it otherwise. ‘Papa, are you sure this meat is from Cut?’ he asks. “He thinks Cut has better meat than Spago and Bel-Air even though the supplier is the same. At Cut we grind the seasoning finely so perhaps it’s more mellow.”

While it’s not all red meat, poussin on the rotisserie, Peking-style duck and seafood also dominate the menu. For now, there’s no sign of Austria’s national dish, though, Wiener schnitzel, but Puck promises to reconsider if he can source good veal.

It’s not just about great food, though.

“For me, restaurants are entertainment,” he says. “I want people to have a good time. But I don’t like going to restaurants where it’s like a nightclub. I want to talk at dinner.”

M4 Allow steak to rest for five minutes before serving – otherwise the juices will run out and dry the meat.

Cut at The Address Downtown Dubai opens today (Sunday, May 11). Open daily from 7pm to midnight and Monday to Friday from 12pm to 3pm. Call 04 888 3444. Email cut@theaddress.com

artslife@thenational.ae