Betting on Detroit

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck dishes on his two local MGM Grand restaurants

Wolfgang Puck, considered by many as the original celebrity chef before it was even a thing, has built a career on never resting on his laurels. He’s always looking to change things up, whether it’s taking beloved dishes off the menu at his signature Spago in California or writing a healthy cookbook.

This spirit of reinvention can be seen right here in the Motor City. After his Grille restaurant closed its doors at MGM Grand Detroit a few years ago, he opened not one but two restaurants, which were more focused concepts, to replace it: the Pizzeria & Cucina and Steak, created specifically for Detroit.

He says the Grille, which opened at MGM in 2007, shuttered because what the casino really needed in a big sports town was a sports bar for fans to take in all the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons action. That space is now home to Tap.

At Steak, which took over the space inhabited by fellow celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, he says they’ll start playing around with the menu to make it “a little more special that’s not at other steakhouses.” For example, during a recent dinner held at MGM Grand Detroit, he served an agnolotti pasta with truffles so he’s hoping to introduce something similar to the menu. He also says he’d like to see more seasonal dishes, like braised dishes in the winter, as well as more special cuts of meat.

“When we started, Detroit financially [wasn’t doing well so it was] not feasible to do this,” Puck says of experimentation with the menu. “I think the city is in better shape; you have a lot of people who will enjoy something a little bit different.”

Also different is a more crowded, hopping Detroit restaurant scene, which has seen several highly anticipated restaurants open in the past year.

So would Puck consider opening elsewhere in Detroit outside of the casino? “It might happen,” he says. “It’s certainly a possibility; once I have good people working somewhere they want to grow.”

Speaking of good people, one of the new Detroit hot spots was opened by Marc Djozlija. The chef and co-owner of Wright and Co. was Puck’s top chef for many years.

And here’s a fun fact: The brother of Puck’s wife, fashion designer Gelila Assefa, was the restaurateur who opened Ethiopian eatery Blue Nile in Greektown.

Eat Like a Chef — And Lose Weight

Think it’s tough trying to eat healthy? Try running dozens of restaurants around the globe. Chef Wolfgang Puck decided to get in shape after getting winded playing tennis and skiing, which prompted him to write his most recent book, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy (Grand Central Life & Style, $30). Here are some tips to help you reach your goal weight.

  • Keep it simple. At home, Puck says he will steam vegetables such as broccoli and carrots, put some good olive oil and sea salt on it, “and that’s it.” Speaking of vegetables …
  • Focus on produce and whole grains. Puck is a big proponent of cooking and eating seasonal produce. When seasonal produce pickings are slim — like now — healthy whole grains such as quinoa can be the stars of your meal.
  • Set an example. Have kids at home? Puck says parents should eat their veggies if they want their children to eat it too. “I know we all talk about feeding the kids at school, but it really starts at home,” he says.
  • Food is pleasure. Puck says in the long run you have to enjoy your food. So it’s OK to eat pie. No, you can’t eat the whole thing.