Wolfgang Synopsis: This documentary takes a look at the life of Wolfgang Puck, a man who survived a troubled childhood filled with a series of challenging obstacles and whose perseverance led him to become a prolific and celebrated chef worldwide.
Despite being a picky eater (it was pizza and cheeseburgers all day as a kid), I grew up with an undying love for food television. At its core, food is an art form driven by raw passion and creative ingenuity, with some of my favorite high-profile figures like Gordon Ramsay and Alton Brown transforming plates from their distinct perspectives. Long before today’s food craze, there was only Wolfgang Puck.
Celebrated as the world’s first celebrity chef and a major influencer of American food culture, Wolfgang Puck is now getting the documentary treatment with David Gelb’s feature Wolfgang. The chef’s larger-than-life personality commands the screen throughout the documentary, but it’s Gelb’s thoughtful intimacy that renders Wolfgang’s story into a satisfying entree.
Packaged into a refreshingly airtight 79-minute runtime, Wolfgang offers a fairly well-rounded portrait within its rigid constraints (this is a Disney-produced documentary, so audiences have to sift through oversimplification and some hero-worship). Gelb wisely realizes his strongest asset lies within Wolfgang himself. The Austrian chef possesses a bright presence and intoxicating passion, two assets that bring his story to life through the chef’s wistfully nostalgic introspections. Whether Wolfgang’s rummaging through a pile of fresh ingredients or tutoring one of his young employees, his electric energy always remains a captivating source of entertainment.
To Gelb’s credit, Wolfgang packs some surprisingly nuanced exploration. Gelb creates a sound juxtaposition between the star’s luxurious acclaim and his depressed days growing up in a house of abuse and hopelessness. Through these hardships, Gelb discovers how the star’s longing for love and acceptance motivated his tireless journey for success. I was also surprised to see Wolfgang take himself to the task at several points. By discussing his faults as a workaholic who kept his family at bay, Gelb humanizes Wolfgang in a way that most biopic documentaries can’t replicate.
Wolfgang is consistently pleasant, but I do wish the film leaned more into its naturalistic strengths. Some segments rely too heavily upon expert interviews and well-cut montages to shortcut Wolfgang’s journey. In actuality, the film is at its best when it strips these devices for a more pure portrait of the titular chef. Gelb’s film could also benefit from a bit more exploration. While his film works as a slight and breezy experience, I was left wanting more vivid details from some of Wolfgang’s personal experiences. Maybe it’s just the foodie in me, but the moments where Wolfgang is caught intimately behind the scenes offer the most satisfaction.
Whether you’re an inquisitive foodie or a general eater, Wolfgang’s impassioned gaze towards its titular chef radiates with love and affection.