Monday, May 21, 2018
Cooking

Chef Wolfgang Puck brings home the bacon at HSN

Wolfgang Puck loves rice pudding. It's what was for breakfast back home at Grandma's house in Austria, he says into the camera. • The rock star chef is double-dipping into the turquoise 3-cup portable rice cooker that he's hawking Friday morning on HSN. Coincidentally, that's the first color of six to sell out. Actually, it's not really a coincidence. Lots of people behind the scenes know how the rice cookers are doing, thanks to screens mounted in various places that display a running ticker of units sold. When something is hot, the host and guest stick with it. • Watching Puck eat from the turquoise unit? Money in the bank. • Puck was on air at HSN for a total of eight hours over 24 — four two-hour shows — starting Thursday at midnight, and the cash register was cha-chinging all day.

The main reason for his appearance was to sell the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven, a newfangled countertop appliance that uses some of the properties of a pressure cooker to bake and roast both savory and sweet dishes. He flew in from London the day before and would be headed home to Los Angeles the next day. He did manage to slip into Bern's Steak House for dinner before his first show.

HSN expected to sell every last one of the 12,000 pressure ovens it had in stock. About 3,200 sold in the first two-hour segment. The WPPO, as it's called around HSN, was Friday's "Today's Special." So at the $249.95 sales price, that final tally would be close to $3 million. That doesn't include what came in for the rice cookers and the Wolfgang Puck cooking utensils collection. About 18,000 pressure ovens were sold in one day last October and another 18,000 will be available this October on HSN. By mid September, the WPPO will be on shelves in department stores and specialty kitchen shops such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table.

A handful of media was invited to watch the filming of the 10 a.m. to noon live show, during which Ana from South Carolina and Karen from Texas called in to say how much they loved Puck and his products. Puck didn't miss the opportunity to plug the oven's superior qualities.

"Try the pulled pork, Ana," he says. "I know in South Carolina, they like pulled pork." This is unscripted, real reality TV, and it's up to the star and the host, in this case Robin Wall, to keep the audience engaged — and buying.

Puck, who turned 65 this month, will celebrate 16 years with HSN in August. "Longer than my first marriage," he quips. (He's on No. 3.)

The first time he went on air in 1998, he arrived at the HSN campus early and slept in his car in the parking lot, he says. Now Puck is at HSN about six times a year selling everything from appliances to pots and pans to cookbooks.

He's one of a stable of celebrity chefs featured on the shopping network, among them Scott Conant, Donatella Arpaia, Curtis Stone and Ming Tsai, but he arguably has the most star quality. He comes with serious culinary chops, including a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation. His empire includes 22 upscale restaurants and 45 cafes around the world. He's a cookbook author and the caterer to the stars, thanks to his association with the post-Academy Awards Governors Ball.

With all those restaurants, we wonder when he might consider one in the Tampa Bay area.

"I am too busy now. Talk to me in two years," he says.

Over and over on Friday, we hear what a nice guy he is, down to earth, friendly. He certainly is nice to caller Cindy from Ohio, who is eager to try out the new products she bought.

It's obvious that the staff of chefs, camera operators, producers and other crew members have done this dance before. There are no missteps, or toes stepped on, as sets are rapidly wheeled in and out of the studio. If you aren't hungry when you get there, you will be. The aroma of turkey roasting is just one temptation.

By the end of the show Allyson Holt, HSN vice president of culinary, and other brass are in the studio. Puck is that sort of draw. He hasn't even asked for a glass of water and spends another 30 minutes talking with the media.

All the while, he's snacking on the food that has come out of the bank of eight Wolfgang Puck Pressure Ovens behind him. There's roasted chicken, pulled pork, prime rib and even desserts like souffles and baked Alaska.

"Real cooks eat, and I love to eat," he says, nibbling on another piece of chicken that he has salted liberally with a Wolfgang Puck salt mill. His chef whites are splattered with evidence of the slicing and plating accomplished in 120 minutes. And even when he's off the air, the sales ticker keeps clicking.

Contact Janet K. Keeler at (727) 893-8586 or [email protected] Follow @roadeats.

 
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