The Untold Truth Of Wolfgang Puck's Wife

Not much is known about Gelila Assefa Puck, the third wife of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and mother of two of his children. And this fashion designer and philanthropic powerhouse seems to prefer it that way. The couple contrasts in this respect — Wolfgang loves the spotlight and has basically turned himself into a brand, while Assefa would rather not be subjected to the blinding lights of stardom. She's not into labels (even with her own line of couture handbags), and fame is of no interest to her. Still, The Hollywood Reporter quotes her as being a huge influence in not just the world of fashion and design, but in art and photography, as well. 

But despite the pressure to succumb to fame and fortune, Assefa remains quiet and down to earth, and would prefer to channel her energy into helping those who are struggling: her local community, home country, and fellow Los Angeles-based artists (via Dream for Future Africa). Basically, Assefa is to charitable and philanthropic causes what Puck is to fusion food and California Pizza Kitchen. 

But who is she really and what is her backstory? How did she turn her crafty childhood hobby into a globally successful career? And how is Puck's flagship restaurant Spago responsible for their budding relationship? Keep on reading for the inspiring untold truth of Wolfgang Puck's wife.

She first met Puck during a business dinner

After graduating from college with a degree in fashion design and business, Assefa decided to move to France in search of work and creative inspiration (via 10 Magazine). Her trip and the experience abroad helped hone her already refined fashion eye by exposing her to the unique world of couture that only Paris has to offer.

When she came back to the United States in the 1990s, Assefa took a job with a fashion design brand in Los Angeles. The company's owner and buyer held their LA business meetings at Puck's restaurant Spago on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Known for visiting all the tables each night (per Deadline), the famous chef dropped by Assefa's business dinner group and even signed a cookbook for them. Assefa tells 10 Magazine, "That was the very first time I met him," and it wouldn't be the last.

Assefa worked at Puck's flagship restaurant

After leaving her job with the Los Angeles fashion company, Assefa opened up a studio from her home, working with a long-time friend and mentor, James Galanos (via 10 Magazine). It takes time to establish yourself in the fashion industry, and according to the employment website Indeed, most fashion-focused individuals can expect to put in at least five years before their careers really begin to gain traction.

After branching out on her own and establishing a small boutique studio in Beverly Hills, Gelila Assefa Puck needed supplemental income to help pay the bills while her career steadily — albeit slowly — bloomed. As with most businesses, networking is one of the keys to boosting success. What better place to make connections than at a famous restaurant known for its high-end clientele and celebrity diners? Assefa ended up working a part-time position at the door at Spago — Puck's flagship restaurant — for about nine months, and cited that it was a great place to meet people. (Like her soon-to-be husband!)

The California dress style originally confused her

Californians are known for having a broad range when it comes to fashion — spanning from couture to comfortable to downright eclectic. The only city that tops the West Coast in terms of style diversity would be NYC. While the concrete jungle is considered to be a major fashion hub, according to The Urbanist, the city that never sleeps also has a fair amount of uniformity, by way of suits and ties. California has some buttoned-up styles, but not in abundance.

In an interview with 10 Magazine, Gelia Puck mentions that she originally had a difficult time accepting California's laid-back, tie-dyed fashion point of view, though she has become accustomed to it now. Growing up in Ethiopia, she attended a school with a very strict dress code that she would tailor to suit her inner fashionista. Her father was a businessman in Addis Ababa and was always in a suit. Meanwhile, per the King's selection, her mother was a flight attendant for Ethiopian Airlines. (This position was synonymous with being an ambassador for the country.) Being raised in such a serious environment, you can only imagine how out of place Assefa must have felt when visiting beachy Los Angeles as a teenager.

A childhood hobby inspired her to pursue a career in fashion

While kids tend to have many hobbies, how many actually use them as a springboard to a successful career? Even as a child, Assefa loved embroidery and fabric textiles (via 10 Magazine). When her mother's tailor would discard remnants of fabric leftover from fittings, she would turn them into clothes for her dolls.

This innate talent continued to flourish once Assefa moved to California and started college at the Los Angeles Trade Technical, where she completed her undergraduate studies in business (via Harpers Bazaar) and a degree in fashion design and merchandising (via DFFAF). Once she graduated, she traveled to Paris in search of work but found herself back in the City of Angels. Soon after, Assefa began working for her lifelong fashion mentor James Galanos — known as the fashion designer for the elite, as noted by The New York Times

Galanos was integral in helping her budding career. With his guidance, Assefa branched out on her own and opened up a boutique in Beverly Hills. Its primary focus was high-quality, bright, intensely colored dresses and bustiers that were made with handwoven silks embroidered with geometric patterns from all over Africa. Ultimately, she didn't veer too far off from her childhood enthusiasm for embroidery and fabric.

She collects and reinvents vintage clothes

Though she spends the majority of her time split between her family and philanthropic work, Assefa still enjoys designing and creating unique fashion items in her personal studio (via 10 Magazine). Perhaps inspired by the unorthodox fashion styles found in California, Assefa doesn't care about buying the latest trending brands and styles. Instead, she looks to the past and typically purchases vintage items — clothing that's between 40 and 100 years old, according to The Vou — and alters them in her design studio.

Assefa rarely buys hot trendy items and prefers collecting vintage gowns by her late mentor, James Galanos (via Harper's Bazaar). Her collection of vintage attire is extensive, and the 1920s is her favorite era. Vintage kimonos — which are also some of her "hot ticket" items — and opera costumes aren't off limits, either. If Assefa sees something she likes, she makes sure that it ends up in her workroom, so she can add personalized updates with a minor stitch here and there.

When it comes to statement pieces, nothing is off limits

You could describe Assefa's clothing style as an eclectic, yet cohesive blending of Bohemian West coast meets vintage couture. But that doesn't mean she's anti-sparkle, shine, or bling, and any big, bold, bright, (and likely pricey) statement piece is always a welcome addition to her wardrobe. 

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, Assefa mentions that one of her "showstopper" pieces is a Swarovski-crystal necklace created by Iranian jewelry designer, Iradj Moini. Another cherished piece of jewelry was a sentimental gift from Puck — an emerald bracelet by jeweler Martin Katz. (Of course, Puck hand-delivered this to her — along with her morning coffee. Can you say romantic?)

Paying homage to her African roots, she frequently wears jewelry that is either inspired or directly from her homeland. These pieces of wearable artwork are created with hand-carved horn, shell, and beadwork (via 10 Magazine), and no doubt show off the intricate embroidery and craftsmanship of her culture ... with no skimping on the color. It doesn't matter if it's jewelry, headwear, or her own line of designer clutches, Assefa has no fear when it comes to fashion.

Assefa prefers her own branding to be incognito

Assefa may be shy when it comes to the limelight, but when it comes to branding and labels, she's not afraid to speak her mind. According to her biography on the webpage Dream for Future Africa Foundation, the business-savvy lady is also the Creative Director for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide. (You know, the family business.) This is about the extent to which her branding and labeling desires reach.

When it comes to her simple clutches and bags, Assefa Puck prefers her brand name to stay hidden and wants the high-quality, fine-tuned craftsmanship of her handbags to speak for themselves. Her bags and clutches are designed for clientele who aren't into flashing bling or showing off their extravagant lifestyles by way of branding. In fact, she likens external branding to walking around in your underwear — it's really not necessary and is even a little offensive (via Harper's Bazaar).

She's respectful of the animals used in her handbags

The use of animal textiles like fur, hide, silk, wool, and feathers is still a common practice in the fashion world (via Good on You). It's a very profitable business, especially when it comes to leather. Business Wire reports that the global leather market grew from $870 billion in 2021 to over $961 billion in 2022. It's expected to climb upwards of $1,379 billion by the year 2026.

What consumer's don't realize is that a majority of these fabrics come from China (via Fibre 2 Fashion), where there is no litigation that eliminates any form of animal abuse. And while there are a fair amount of eco and animal-free textiles on the market that mimic their living counterparts, the fashion industry still has a long way to go. 

That's one major reason that Assefa's handbag line is so respectable: She makes sure that her fashionable products (which include animal textiles like ostrich, alligator, and African springbok, per Gelila Style) — use the skins and pelts from animals that were farm-raised as food. While this is still somewhat controversial to certain activists, it's a step in the right direction when it comes to keeping animals as happy as possible.

She's the founder of Dream for Future Africa Foundation

A philanthropist through and through, in 2010 Assefa created the Dream for Future African Foundation (DFFAF). This nonprofit organization primarily focuses on providing hardworking African citizens with skills and resources that can bring them long-term employment, financial stability, and independence (via Hollywood Reporter).

In 2018, DFFAF began to focus on underprivileged women who were living with HIV/AIDS. According to the World Health Organization's African regional office, 25.7 million Africans are living with HIV. This region of the world makes up almost two-thirds of all new global HIV infections, with women ages 15 to 24 among the most vulnerable (via Science). These women have no means of supporting themselves, and DFFAF provides them with health education, skills, and improved financial conditions. Meanwhile, the women's children are also provided with schooling so that they can secure a brighter, more optimistic future. 

Because of her continuous work on eliminating poverty and making education more accessible in her country of birth and throughout the continent, Assefa is considered to be a Global Citizen Ambassador for Africa. She has also been honored by Girls Inc. and ESSENCE, as well as receiving the Champion of Children Award from the Children's Institute Inc.

Being a mother is her first responsibility

Assefa undoubtedly juggles multiple jobs: Creative Director for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, founder of Dream for Future Africa Foundation, member of the board of trustees for Children's Institute Inc as well as the board of the Ethiopia Children's Fund (via Harper's Bazaar), designer for her handbag line, and private fashion consultant on the side (via DFFAF). But by far, the most important and demanding — but rewarding — position she's taken on is motherhood. She and Puck have two sons, Oliver (born in 2005) and Alexander (born in 2006).

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, Assefa Puck explains that when it comes to her handbag line, she's organized her company in such a way that she can prioritize her children and family first, while still having a creative outlet dedicated solely to her artistic prowess. "The handbag line is manageable, to where I can be a mother to my children," she tells the media outlet. "That's my first responsibility." 

Assefa and Puck genuinely celebrate and support each other

Knowing that the celebrity chef had already experienced two dissolved marriages, Assefa made sure that Puck knew theirs would be a partnership (via The Daily Beast). That meant there was life outside of the kitchen; work and business obligations would be balanced by spending just as much time with the family. This, according to Assefa, was the only way that they would be able to make their relationship work.

And the relationship has held strong. Although Assefa limits her time in the spotlight, she doesn't waste a second when it comes to expressing how much she cares for her husband. "I'm the happiest woman on the planet. I feel like he's a gift," she told Harper's Bazaar. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Wolfgang has also expressed his appreciation for his wife. "She continues to be a driving force of the future of our businesses as well as a wife and a mother who has made me a better man, a better father, and happy in ways I never knew possible," he told media outlet Page Six.

This dynamic couple has made it work, despite a substantial difference in age, career commitments, and of course, fame and fortune. While Puck has center stage, you'll find Assefa quietly waiting in the wings, giving him full support ... and vice versa. Their relationship is a recipe for success.

Always forward, forward always

Greater Good Magazine (a scientific publication provided by the University of California, Berkeley) explains that prospection — thinking about the future (as opposed to dwelling on the past) — can help people lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives. This thought process could also be applied to relationships. While learning from past mistakes or experiences can prove beneficial to your current or future self, focusing on the "would have, should have, could have, and/or what ifs" can ultimately spell disaster (via Thought Catalog).

That's why this dynamic couple's relationship is so inspiring. There is no dwelling on the past and no regret. But there is learning from the past, continual support, an equal balance between work and family, and an abundance of love. During a dinner party arranged by Assefa and Puck, the celebrity chef explained that they are always thinking about the future, whether it be planning a vacation or a philanthropic venture. Nonetheless, romance and family are always their first priority (via Harper's Bazaar). Cheers to that.

She's big on entertaining

Although Assefa tends to keep a low profile — compared to her world-renowned husband — that doesn't mean she dislikes having a social life. On the contrary, Assefa (and Puck, of course), enjoy dynamic gatherings and host intimate brunches on their patio every Sunday (via Harper's Bazaar). These small get-togethers are usually just with a few close (and very noteworthy) friends, like their two son's godparents, Sidney (dec.) and Joanna Poitier, and actress Virginia Madsen.

But their at-home entertaining isn't only limited to lazy morning rendezvous with mimosas and a few good friends. They often host extravagant evening parties as well — also with notable attendees, like actress Rebecca Gayheart and author Jackie Collins (dec.) — and serve only the most lavish four-course meals that Puck cooks himself. (Or at least, partially oversees. After all, even if you're catering your own party, you need to be able to kick back and enjoy the company, too.) These dinners are also a time when Assefa lets her unique-couture fashion shine, mixing modern-day designers like Jimmy Choo, with vintage Galanos evening gowns, and of course, plenty of designer bling.