My Favorite Mistake
Wolfgang Puck on getting drunk off a botched birthday cake.
I made my most memorable mistake when I was an apprentice at Hotel Post in Austria, while I was learning how to be a chef. I was about 14 years old and had left school to work. It was my grandmother's 60th birthday, and I thought this was my big opportunity to impress her with what I was learning, so I went to the hotel's pastry chef and told him I wanted to make a Sacher torte, the Viennese chocolate cake. I begged for the recipe, and he finally gave it to me. I didn't make a lot of money back then, probably $20 or $40 a month, and I spent my whole month's salary buying the ingredients--about 60 eggs, and pounds and pounds of butter and chocolate and flour. My grandmother saw me coming home with the shopping bags and said, "What are you going to do with this?" And I said, "I'm going to make a surprise for you."
I went to the kitchen and started to whip the butter with the sugar. At home we didn't have big bowls, so I was struggling to keep it all together. My grandmother kept coming in and looking confused, and I'd say, "I know what I'm doing--we do this at the hotel all the time." But each time she walked away I threw half of the mixture in the garbage so I could fit the rest of it in the bowl and mix it.
Finally I finished putting it all together and filled up a mold to put it in the oven. I remember it was a Sunday, because we were going to have it with lunch. But when it came out of the oven it was hard as a rock. …