The care and feeding of celebrities reaches critical mass on Oscar night.
Two veteran caterers of the glitziest shindigs on Hollywood's biggest night revealed some of the ins and outs of the process and, of course, some of what their well-known guests can expect.
“This year is going to be our 20th anniversary,” famed chef Wolfgang Puck said of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Ball, which will be hosted in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center just after and above where the 86th Academy Awards will be handed out today.
“So this year is not about the movies, it's about our 20th anniversary,” Puck joked.
Actually, it's about making the movie industry's elite feel comfortable and satisfied, so Puck plans to continue a small plates approach begun at last year's Governors Ball, which he feels is more conducive to hanging with your closest A-list pals rather than a sit-down dinner.
“Who needs another boring banquet?” Puck reckons. “They want to be able to party. You want to sit with your friends, with the people you do the same things as. We'll have all our maitre d's and managers at the front door of the ballroom, and we reserve a section of the dining room so that, when we know that Barbra Streisand has come and she has 10 people, we can give her this table to be with her friends. Or, if Marty Scorsese comes with six people, when Clint Eastwood or somebody else like that walks in, we seat them at the same table so they have something to talk about.”
Over at the 22nd Elton John AIDS Foundation's Academy Awards Viewing Party in West Hollywood Park, 1,000 donors will be treated to a more traditional, five-course waiter-served dinner while, yes, they watch the Oscar ceremony on big screens. The menu this year was designed by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. But while someone like that chooses the dishes each year, for a decade running now it's been up to chef Wayne Elias and his Crumble Catering company to buy, cook and serve all that food.
“It's my anniversary and nobody else's,” Elias said, laughing.
On a more serious note, Elias, who also runs the Rockwell Table & Stage restaurant in Los Feliz, added that the event is “far from about me.”
“It's about the foundation and raising money,” he said. “For that wonderful one night, they raise about $4 million, which is an amazing amount for any charity.”
Besides repeatedly pleasing the Rocket Man, Elias has served an assortment of celebrities like Britney Spears and Simon Cowell at the annual event.
“I think three years ago, we had Grace Jones for the celebrity entertainment,” Elias recalled. “She was best friends, unbeknownst to me, with Chaka Khan. From the point when I went to go set up her dressing room, I had Grace Jones and Chaka Khan on either side of me the whole evening; got them whatever they wanted.”
Elias' main concern this year, though, is making sure 48 cooks and 125 servers deliver five courses on time to everybody within the Oscar broadcast's three-hours-and-change window, seeing that all the desserts arrive by the time the best picture winner is announced. Quite a tall order, especially when you consider that each guest can order a beef, fish or vegan entree.
“You can't always push it,” Elias noted. “You have to wait until the guests are done eating their first or third courses or whatever. So you can only do so much, but I have never once not been done on time.”
For the 1,500 folks over at the post-ceremony Governors Ball, Puck will have 300 people in the kitchen fixing some 16,000 of those small plates.
“We serve smaller portions, that way you can eat five or six different things,” Puck said. “If you like something, you can eat more of that.”
Puck promises great steaks, lamb chops, lobster, oysters, 1,000 pounds of bittersweet chocolate and the de rigueur vegan choices. In honor of the late Tom Sherak, the beloved former academy president and first L.A. film czar who died in January after a long battle with cancer, his favorite Governors Ball dish also will be on the menu: Puck's chicken pot pie with truffles.
Besides the prime New York steak, citrus-poached sea bass and portobello mushroom with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes entrees at the Elton John party, guests will feast on half a dozen different hors d'oeuvres, tuna or tomato confit tartare, corn soup with fritters and chipotle creme fraiche, colorful salads with mustard vinaigrette and assorted fresh fruits and Meyer lemon cake for dessert. All of which will hopefully add up to a lot of contented celebrities, even if the vast majority of them won't be taking any golden statuettes home tonight.
“We all get so worked up,” Elias said. “We're feeding high-profile celebrities and we all look up to them. They're very talented and they're beautiful to look at and they have a lot of clout in the world of entertainment. But they're the nicest, humblest people that are looking to have a good meal and enjoy themselves and let their hair down like anyone else.
“Yes, I'm on my game and I am on, should I say, high-stress level watching that every detail is handled correctly,” Elias concluded. “But it's not intimidating for me. It's exciting to be around them.”