Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Beverly Hills, Calif. Oscar nominees have a lot going on in their stomachs during the ceremony -- knots, butterflies, maybe even an ulcer or two.
But once the envelopes are all torn open, the winners cheered and the losers consoled, it's Wolfgang Puck's job to soothe their hungry bellies.
The celebrity chef will spend Feb. 29 overseeing his 10th Governors Ball, the post-ceremony bash where Hollywood's elite gather to wine, dine and bite the heads off of little chocolate statuettes dusted with actual gold powder.
Puck makes 3,000 of them.
"So for the people who don't win an Oscar, they get one from us," he said while preparing a preview of the menu at his iconic Beverly Hills restaurant, Spago.
The only other Governors Ball staple that carries over from year to year: smoked salmon carved into Oscar silhouettes.
Otherwise, Puck starts with a fresh menu each time. But there are no movie themes -- no Lord of the Onion Rings or "Seabiscuit" sea biscuits. "We'd have to create five different dishes," he said. "Or else maybe you'd pick one that doesn't win and the others get upset."
This year, he said he was aiming for a surf 'n' turf style, "only more elegant": roasted filet mignon and Maine lobster, with celery root puree, two truffle sauces and a side of baked potato topped with cream and Iranian caviar.
The main course is garnished with grated black truffles from Perigord, France, at a cost of $800 per pound. He expects to use 15 pounds.
Appetizers include asparagus wrapped with prosciutto and marinated artichoke salad.
And for dessert, besides those chocolate Oscars, there's a 12-layer miniature chocolate cake topped with a hard sugar wrap designed like a blue ribbon and accompanied by a scoop of espresso ice cream and a sugary Oscar-shaped cookie.
In other words, enough carbs and calories to keep Hollywood's personal trainers working overtime from here to the Emmy Awards.
Puck will oversee 200 cooks, 453 waiters and 50 bartenders on Oscar night, serving about 1,650 people. "It's almost like the Army," said Puck -- but he shrugs when asked if he's the general.
He said that duty falls to Lee Hefter, his Spago executive chef and one of his trusted supervisors the day of the party. "I always call Lee the general because I can be nice and he's the tough guy."
Serving so many people simultaneously is the greatest challenge, but that also limits the menu. Puck said he can only serve food that can be prepared in huge quantities in advance while still staying hot and fresh.
Everything he cooks can be adjusted to be ready right when the show ends -- which is never on time.
He suggests that viewers at home follow the same time-preserving philosophy for their own Oscar-watching parties.
"Prepare something where you don't have to spend the night in the kitchen. A buffet is the perfect thing; you can make a stew or a roast which can sit and still be tasty. At the end, pass out some small desserts and you'll have a wonderful party.
"The most important thing is to get good wine and good champagne -- and have people dress up," he added. "Make it into an elegant party, not come like in sweat pants or tennis shoes. It is all about glamour."