The announcement today of the partnership between Hyatt Regency Dallas, Woodbine Development Corp. and chef, restaurateur and frozen- and canned-food gourmand Wolfgang Puck was three years in the making. But according to Puck, until this morning they were working only on a “handshake” agreement. The first time any paperwork was signed was just prior to today’s announcement.
In 2007, Hyatt and Woodbine announced the $55-million project to renovate Union Station and Reunion Tower. Today, with work already underway to gut Antares, Woodbine’s president and CEO John Scovell announced that Puck will operate a “signature restaurant and banquet space” in the tower when it reopens. Additionally, Puck’s catering company will operate the event space in Union Station, which they plan to have up, running and cranking out delicacies like spicy tuna tartare with sesame miso cones by November.
After a lengthy history lesson by Scovell, he and Jennifer Johanson -- CEO, president and design leader for San Rafael, California-based Engstrom Design Group -- unveiled the renovation plans for Reunion Tower and Union Station. Keeping with their “past meets the future” theme, designers stripped off layers of paint in an effort to determine the original colors in the Station. (Here's what the proposed interior of the restaurant looks like.)
“Wherever possible, we are going to restore the colors exactly as they were," she told Unfair Park, between mouthfuls of Puck tasties. "It’s important to the city of Dallas and the landmark status of the building.”
Scovell agreed, and it’s for that reason they chose Puck.
“We were convinced that because we have a building as special as Union Station, with so much history, we wanted a special name attached to it,” he told Unfair Park after the press conference. Explaining the logic behind choosing Puck and not a local chef, he said, “We did a lot of searching. We visited his restaurants. The Puck name is international. So it was not a decision to exclude local talent, but someone like him obviously has a name that is well recognized.”
Invitees to today's event were promised a “surprise special guest” -- the identity of whom became apparently immediately upon entering the Grand Hall at Union Station. Flanking both sides of the entrance, a dozen waiters and waitresses held trays offering glasses of iced tea and sparkling water, and printed on the cocktail napkins it said, “Wolfgang Puck catering.”
“It’s really fun to be up there in the tower, especially at night, to be able to look at the whole city,” Puck told Unfair Park. Plus, you know, it is a revolving restaurant some 50 stories above the Dallas streets. He said the draw, aside from the location atop a Dallas landmark, was “the association with Ray Hunt and John Scovell ... because I generally operate on trust, and we signed the first agreement today. And we’d worked together already for three years.”
And, he said, he’s not worried about having to vie for a table in the Dallas dining scene.
“Texas woman don’t learn how to cook,” he told us, bursting into laughter. “I didn’t name the restaurant yet, we’ll find a name, and we can always call it Puck at Reunion Tower.”
And, the restaurant will serve Asian-style and influenced cuisine. “We have enough Southwestern restaurants here. I’ll leave that up to Dean [Fearing] and Stephan [Pyles], because they started that and they do it well. And, now, we want to come to Dallas and show what we do well.”
This isn’t Pucks first job in Dallas, he told Unfair Park, “I use to come to here all the time in the ’80s. I used to do consulting for The Mansion and The Crescent, so for me part of the decision was that I already knew Dallas.”
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Unfair Park knows this will come as a shock, but Puck won’t be here in Dallas year-round. Instead, Brent Anderson, Puck's veep of culinary operations, is overseeing Puck’s Dallas endeavors. Anderson’s worked with Puck for the last 10 years, and he relocated to Dallas four months ago -- after a little job catering this year's Oscars. He’s been choosing the appliances, equipment and supplies for the Union Station kitchen.
Puck’s very, very excited about the new kitchen, but of course.
“It’s the best equipped one we have so far," he said. "In the past, we’ve had to watch how we spend our money.” But here, he said, thanks to the partnership, getting the best equipment is the primary concern. “I really believe that there is nothing like this so far. In this old historic building we will have everything state-of-the-art. You know for me, I wouldn’t want to get involved with people who didn’t want to do it first-class.”
And, it’s smart to let Puck build his dream kitchen. Why? Because, then he’ll be more likely to drop by for play dates. --Daniel Rodrigue