Review by Sean Boelman
Although the celebrity chef craze is no longer as big as it was a decade ago, there are still plenty of people who have made it very big for themselves through the culinary arts. Filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) offers an interesting glimpse into this trend with his film Wolfgang, a standard but scrumptious food doc.
The movie tells the story of chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck and how he gave birth to the notion of the celebrity chef. The documentary is a relatively basic biography, and Puck’s story is a rags-to-riches tale the likes of which we have seen before, but there is plenty of inspirational value here, especially for those who aspire to a career in food.
Gelb’s style of presentation is very straightforward, but it works for what the film is. Documentaries about a well-known person who is still alive can sometimes start to feel like they exist more as promotional materials for their subject, but the professional look of this movie keeps it from feeling that way, even if it barely scratches the surface.
At under an hour and twenty minutes in length, the film absolutely flies by, especially for those who enjoy the genre. One of the things that impresses most about Gelb’s storytelling approach is that he was able to capture Puck’s personality so well, which is a big part of what led to Puck’s success in the first place.
Admittedly, the movie doesn’t go deep enough in talking about the themes of fame. Even though Puck seems to have provided Gelb with ample access to himself, and there was apparently a wealth of archive materials available, it often feels as if the film isn’t asking its subject enough hard questions.
Furthermore, the movie really gets caught up in glorifying its subject. Obviously no one would expect this to be anything more than a puff piece, but the film would have audiences believing that Wolfgang Puck single-handedly saved the restaurant industry. However, it is absolutely clear that there is more nuance to the situation than that.
A majority of people who seek out this movie will likely be doing so for the purpose of seeing some tantalizing food shots, and this movie delivers plenty of that. The cinematography by Will Basanta is clearly the highlight and will leave any right-minded viewer with their mouth watering by the time the credits roll.
Wolfgang is exactly what one would want and expect from a biography of the celebrity chef. Maybe it should have been more with Gelb at the helm, but audiences will walk away with their appetites fulfilled.
Wolfgang releases on Disney+ on June 25.