Age: 60. Founded Hollywood hot spot Spago in 1982; official caterer for the Academy Awards.
Age: 49. Owns 13 restaurants and starred on the Food Network’s Molto Mario and on Iron Chef America.
Is it better to be a chef today than it was 35 years ago?
PUCK: I remember when I first came to L.A., I went out one night to a club, and I danced with this girl. She asked, “What do you do?” I said, “I’m a cook.” She said, “A cook?” And when the song was over she left.
BATALI: Back then, cooking was the last thing you did after you got out of the Army—and before you went to jail! It was not an honorable profession.
Wolfgang, how’d you come up with gourmet pizza?
PUCK: One night at Spago, we had no more bread, and a customer complained. He wanted to know what he’d eat his smoked salmon with. So I cooked a little pizza with olive oil and onion on top, and then I said, “It’d be nice with a little caviar on top. It has more color.”
BATALI: I first ate at Spago after I came to L.A. in 1984. At that point, I was thinking about doing Italian food. And Wolfgang did a great job with pizza, a great job with pasta. He made me think about what I could do with that—I went to Italy and came back with my own take on it.
So, Mario: Are you ever going to give up wearing orange Crocs?
BATALI: My wife gave them to me, and I liked them. At this point, my kids wear orange clothes 80 percent of the time. It’s a happy color.
PUCK: I used to wear clogs all the time. They’re very common in a European kitchen because they’re supposed to be better for your feet.
BATALI: You’re on your feet 18 hours a day!
PUCK: I have my 14-year-old son working with me in the restaurant, and after five hours, he says, “Dad, my legs hurt. How do you do it?” I said, “What? Wait until you do it for 12 hours!” He said, “No—I can’t do it.”
Is there anything left for you to accomplish?
PUCK: I would really like to make the perfect roasted chicken, where the skin is crispy, like a duck.
BATALI: I’d love to do a fast-food pasta restaurant, where you do, like, 400 portions of pasta at lunch. But I haven’t figured it out yet!