People are usually impressed when I tell them that I was one of the original investors in Spago. I’d like to claim credit for being so clever and having such foresight, but to tell the truth Spago became so much more than what was originally intended. Way back then, in 1981, Wolfgang Puck was the Chef at Ma Maison, which had almost closed, before he became the Chef. There was the restaurant, and also the cooking school, Ma Cuisine. (I always thought that the industrial garbage can located right in front of the restaurant should have been labeled, “Ma Poubelle”, but that’s a story for another time.) At the insistence of my employer at the time, Bon Appetit Magazine, I was encouraged to attend Ma Cuisine for a series of classes, taught by Puck himself. Such are the wonderful perks of the underpaid, but still glamorous magazine business.

What I learned at my first cooking school experience, was that good stock (and good ingredients) makes good food. We started each class with crusty french bread, house made pate, bottles of red wine, and a lot of socializing. We were then handed our recipes, given some instructions from Wolf, and then let loose in the kitchen. One night we made a seafood pie. How could one fail with fresh fish stock, puff pastry from the pastry kitchen, and the finest seafood on the market. We were assemblers really. And the results were restaurant quality.

So when my two stove mates Stan and Don convinced Wolfgang that they could help with his unsuccessful attempts to raise money for the restaurant he had optioned on Sunset (the former Kavkaz Russian restaurant) by contacting their dentist friends, I wanted in. The original name of the partnership was Trattoria Spago. This was going to be Northern Italian style – pizza, pasta, salad, average check $13, bring the family. (sounds familiar doesn’t it – maybe CPK?) This was at a time when Italian restaurants were dimly lit, red-check tablecloth, chianti bottle candle holding, temples of baked lasagna (think Little Joe’s in Chinatown). My friend and I were going to split the investment as partners. At the last minute she dropped out. I stayed in.

Due to a disagreement at Ma Maison, Wolfgang gave back the keys to his Porsche, and rather than just consulting on this future chain of affordable Italian trattorias, spent all his time and creativity on Spago. His girlfriend at the time, Barbara Lazaroff, handled the decor. The rest, as they say is history.

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