For more than 20 years, the inspiring chef has been creating a variety of Oscar-themed dishes for the famed Governors Ball.
Catering a gala for upward of 1,500 guests would be impossible for most people, especially with many of the guests on strict diets. But Wolfgang Puck and his army of chefs have become a well-truffle-oiled machine in the 20-plus years he's catered the Governors Ball.
“Timing is always the tricky thing,” says Matt Bencivenga, chef partner of Wolfgang Puck Catering And Events. Oscar producers keep the catering staff updated on the timeline, but the atmosphere is like ER doctors awaiting mass casualties.
“You know it's coming, you just don't know when. That's part of the adrenaline rush we love. Wolf is totally in control. He watches like a hawk, first saying 'No, no, no', and then, 'Open the floodgates! Go, go, go!'.”
Back when the Governors Ball was a formal sit-down dinner, timing was even more critical because all the guests needed to be served at the same time. A few years ago, Puck, who loves shaking things up, decided to switch to a tapas-style service.
“It's more like a party. People can stand around and mingle,” Puck says, noting that after sitting through a lengthy awards show people want to move around.
Smaller servings allow for more variety in the menu, but also let diet-conscious partygoers better manage their caloric intake. Eight hot and six cold dishes are typically offered. Last year Puck says his team made 16,000 individual plates!
“We have people who are vegetarian or vegan, so we have a lot of really good tasty dishes for them,” Puck says, noting a vegan mushroom risotto is easy and delicious. “But we're always going to have some red meat and fish.”
Bencivenga likes to incorporate different grains in place of more traditional carbohydrate-laden starches.
“The new things will include grains and healthier side stuff – simple salads, foods from the farmers market – maybe apple salads. Things that are clean, crisp and appeal to pretty much anybody,” he says.
Servers are trained to tell guests which foods are gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. One thing almost certain to be on this year's menu: Puck's famous black truffle chicken pot pies.
“We tried to take it off the menu once,” Bencivenga says, “but there were so many requests for it Wolf said, 'If that's what they want, we give them what they want'.”
Puck has a theory why the pot pies are so popular. “Sometimes it's raining or cold by the time people get from the theatre to the dining room, so they want comfort foods,” Puck says.
Even macaroni and cheese could make it onto the menu. “We also try to add a little luxury because when people come in black tie and ball gowns we have to have something with a little caviar or black truffles.”
The biggest splurges are at the chocolate-focused dessert buffet. “When it comes to desserts most people know it's going to be a bit decadent,” says Della Gossett, executive pastry chef at Spago. She's one of four pastry chefs planning this year's dessert buffet.
“At the Oscars we have small bites of everything. It's a nice way for people to have that decadent bite but not eat an entire dessert.” She'll have non-chocolate options as well. “We try to focus on having delicious little bites for everyone to enjoy whether they're gluten-free, dairy-free or whatever the case may be.”
Gossett says one sweet treat is a given: “We always have miniature Oscars painted in edible gold. We make about 6,000 of them.”
Puck appreciated that the Academy allows him to make last-minute menu changes based on the fresh produce and fish available that week. “It's good because we can do what we like, and people get excited about new things,” he says. “And if they don't trust me by now, I don't know when.” — Reuters