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Wolfgang Puck Talks Subscription Meal Plans, Cooks’ Problems And 20 Years On HSN |

Wolfgang Puck Talks Subscription Meal Plans, Cooks’ Problems And 20 Years On HSN

Wolfgang PuckHSN

The key to building a successful business is much the same as putting a great meal on the table. Bring together the best ingredients in proper proportions, prepare them with the best tools, time everything right, mix with finesse and the fine-tuned senses of an expert, add a dash of something special that brings it all together and makes it pop.


Wolfgang Puck has been doing that in the kitchen since a little boy at his mother’s side in Austria and in business since 1982 when he found Spago.

Today he manages three companies – Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, under which he operates 26 fine dining establishments in six countries; Wolfgang Puck Catering, serving contract dining services and special events including the post-Academy Award Governors Ball, where Puck has been the official chef for over 20 years; and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which includes a portfolio of 50+ company-owned and franchised casual dining restaurants and Wolfgang Puck branded food, wine, cookbooks, meal kits and cooks’ tools.

Empowering the home cook to create restaurant-quality meals is Puck’s mission. “Cooking is my passion,” Puck tells me. “I want to show home cooks how to make a great meal and put an amazing meal on the table. With the right tools and know how, it doesn’t need to be a big effort. Cooking should be fun.”

His partner in that mission to empower home cooks and turn them into real chefs is HSN. This weekend they are celebrating 20 years together.

Over the years Puck and HSN have sold more than 10 million exclusive cookware products, including over one million pot-and-pan sets together.

From chef to product designer

Years ago Puck realized that home cooks were hampered by the lack of professional-quality and affordable cooks’ tools. He also observed the success of the George Foreman Grill introduced in 1999 that gave cooks a new more convenient, healthier and faster way to grill. That led him to create his first cookware collection.

“I started to develop cookware exactly like we use in a restaurant,” he shares, “But even though it was priced less than you’d find in specialty cookware stores, it still was a little too expensive. When HSN approached me, we worked to get the same professional quality at the right price point for the customers. Then we had success.”

Stepping in front of the camera

While Puck credits having the right products at the right price point as the key to success of his cookware business, I personally don’t buy that. Yes, that is important, but the secret sauce of his success with HSN is his ability to connect with his audience and teach them how to use the products he personally-designed for them.

Wolfgang Puck on HSNHSN

“I don’t just take things out of the oven and put it on the counter to see on TV. I do it more like a cooking class. We teach them how to do it, give them tips and show them how to create an amazing meal.” His watch-and-learn approach on HSN comes naturally to him, as he has operated a cooking school and currently offers a video Master Class series online.

Besides teaching people how to cook on HSN, Puck has taught other celebrity chefs how to sell on television as well. “Twenty-years ago, Wolfgang Puck joined the HSN family as our first ever celebrity chef,” said Rich Yoegel, VP of Home, HSN. “Since then, he has continued to pave the way for the culinary industry, inspiring our customers to be innovative in the kitchen with professional quality kitchen essentials.”

As an early chef pioneer on television, Puck set the bar extremely high for the many celebrity chefs that followed. “A lot of chefs have come and gone over the years I’ve been with HSN. Everyone thinks it’s easy to sell over TV. But it is not so easy,” he says, stressing the need for true collaboration with HSN behind the scenes and the ability to connect and inspire the audience in front of the camera.

Evolution of a product line

Starting with kitchen basics, Puck’s cookware line on HSN expanded into kitchen appliances around 2000 to help cooks do at home what they couldn’t do before and do it faster. “People today don’t have time. In the old days, my mother and grandmother were at home cooking lunch and dinner. That was their job, but that is definitely not the case today,” he says.

His line of kitchen appliances, including rice cookers, grills, countertop ovens, blenders and food processors are all designed to save time but result in a meal that tastes like it took hours in the kitchen to produce.

Take his countertop pressure cooker, an especially popular item for Puck on HSN. Called the “kitchen gadget of the moment,” by the New York Times, it is one of the fastest selling appliances today. (Full disclosure: I own one, as well as his rice cooker and bread machine.)

“You can come home from work, put some pasta and chicken breasts or hamburger meat in it, walk away and give the kids a bath and in eight minutes under pressure you will have a delicious meal,” Puck says. “But I show the viewers how to use a few tricks to add to the pot and make it taste more like a restaurant meal.”

Puck can attest to the quality of his appliances. “I use my oven every day. I use my blender in the morning. I cook on the griddle all the time. We use it in all of our restaurants. We take the griddle with us for the Oscars party and other private events. I really like our products,” he says.

Next steps

The next logical step for Wolfgang Puck’s culinary empire is meal kits. He has already given home cooks the tools and know how to create great meals. Meal kits allow him to put the quality ingredients together too.

He dabbled in curated meal kits with Chef’d, an online service where people could select the kits they want, no subscription required. But Chef’d ran into troubles of its own. It was recently acquired by True Food Innovations, an investment firm with a meal kit offering, called True Chef, but which focuses on grocery distribution, rather than home delivery.

To Puck’s mind, that is what’s wrong with the home-delivery subscription model. It requires people to pre-pay for a subscription only to receive a meal kit that they may not feel like eating the day it is delivered. “At Blue Apron you have to buy three meals at a time, but then you may not want fish the day it arrives. So you put it in the refrigerator and three days later it isn’t fresh anymore,” he says.

Puck is currently in the design stage for a meal kit offering that allows people to pick up kits in the store with the option of home delivery too.

“Ideally speaking, picking up a fresh meal in the grocery store is the best way. I want to give the cook the pots and pans, show them how to make the meal, then give them the right mix of ingredients to put it all together,” Puck says.

Teacher becomes student

Having mastered everything he needs to know about running restaurants, developing products and cooking, which he most generously shares with his audience on HSN, he is equally passionate about lifelong learning for himself. To that end, he has enrolled in the Harvard University Owner/Management Executive Education program of three month-long intensive courses.

Having started his chef training at 14 years old, he never had a chance to go to college. But now at 69 years, he proudly exclaims, “I have done two months already and next month I am going for my last month. Finally I went to college.”

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