Chef Eric Klein and Chef Jake Leach talk to ICE students

Meet Chef Eric Klein of Wolfgang Puck Catering

“Cooking is a global language.”

Chef Jake Leach (left) and Chef Eric Klein (right) talk to ICE students

Chef Eric Klein has over two decades of experience working in fine-dining kitchens around the world.

The chef, who is the Vice President of Culinary at Wolfgang Puck Catering, has a straightforward approach to cooking.

“It takes you the same amount of time to make good food and bad food," Chef Eric says. "Just be respectful to food and it will be respectful to you.”

Chef Eric stopped by the Institute of Culinary Education's Los Angeles campus for a demonstration for ICE students, staff and faculty as part of ICE's Guest Chef series. Chef Eric was also joined by Sous Chef Jake Leach and Vice President of Catering Sales Barbara Brass, both of whom spoke about their experiences in the hospitality industry as well.

When Chef Eric came to Wolfgang Puck Catering in 2016, he brought his culinary talent, hands-on leadership and outgoing nature to the job. His management philosophy still remains simple.

“I try hard each day to make a difference, to make everyone feel special and know that I care," he says. "For the most part, I grew up in Wolfgang’s kitchen, so taking care of his brand and his reputation is paramount for me.”

ICE students watch Chef Eric Klein's demonstration
ICE students at Chef Eric Klein's demonstration.

Chef Eric has previously held positions throughout the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, including at Obachine and Chinois on Main, and the flagship Spago, where he worked alongside Chef Wolfgang Puck for seven years. Chef Eric then went on to pursue his own business enterprises as head chef of the several restaurants, including the critically-acclaimed Maple Drive in Beverly Hills, where he served up rustic yet simple dishes incorporating influences from his native town of Alsace, France. He would later rejoin Chef Wolfgang as Executive Chef at Spago Las Vegas for 11 years prior to taking on his current role at Wolfgang Puck Catering.

Watch Wolfgang Puck at ICE's 2019 Commencement 

From a young age, Chef Eric recognized that in the kitchen at home or at the convent of his catholic school “everyone was always, in a way, working together.” The son of a cattle rancher and a butcher, he was also taught the importance of using the whole entire animal, not just to challenge oneself to be creative with cooking all parts of the animal, but also out of respect for the animal. 

Both restaurants and catering businesses are a part of the hospitality industry. To Chef Eric, there is a profound sense of responsibility that comes with the word “hospitality.” Creating a hospitable space means making sure that everyone feels welcome. His food reflects that ethos — his guiding principle behind cooking is the idea of a welcoming, comforting home-cooked meal.

According to Chef Eric, where there are memories of home, there is passion and inspiration to cook for those you love. This philosophy of sharing a sense of gratitude for one another, and a deep respect for the food and the customers is what guides Chef Eric and his team as they craft their catering menus. After all, Chef Eric says catering is all about supporting a community that celebrates one another. 

Chef Eric first sought out his culinary community by coming to America. 

"[America is] filled with different ethnicities, different styles, different techniques…People like to see something different,” he says. 

Cooking in this melting pot, it is no wonder that the first big hit developed by Chef Eric and his team at Wolfgang Puck Catering was a smoked salmon pizza. In catering especially, a vessel of flavor like the timeless flatbread can reign supreme. 

The culinary invention that Chef Eric shared with ICE students, faculty and staff was the spicy tuna tartare with pickled ginger and scallion whites in a spicy miso cone, topped with tobiko and bonito flakes. This flavor-packed bite fit the needs of a catering dish perfectly, delivering high-quality ingredients that can be eaten standing up with a glass of wine in the other hand. 

“This is not just selling food," Chef Eric says. "It’s selling a story, it’s selling, also, an experience.”

Chef Eric Klein assembles a tuna cone
Chef Eric Klein assembling the signature tuna cones.

Chef Eric says preparation is paramount when creating the experience you want for your customers.

“You have a party for 50, and it goes to 100," he says. "What do you do? You have a party for 60,000 or 180,000, what do you do? And how do you make sure that you don’t lose quality when serving this many people? How do you make a version of a dish that is of the same quality but adapted for a huge audience? Rule number one is: 'Don’t put something on the menu that you can’t reproduce.'”

When you cater events for up to 180,000 people, this rule can be a saving grace when preparing a menu and ordering ingredients. 

The Wolfgang Puck Catering team fluctuates in size from around 40 to 80 employees. They can go from catering the Oscars one night to catering a private party in India the next. For these larger events, consistency becomes more and more important, and this can only be achieved through concise communication of ingredients, process and presentation — led by Chef Eric.

He defines his leadership style with a basic principle.

“Be humble. Be kind. Be nice. Be respectful. Hard work pays off. Respect pays even more,” he says.

Watch the full replay of Chef Eric's demo below.

More ICE Guest Stories: Meet Broad Street Oyster Co.’s Owner Christopher Tompkins

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