Caviar parfait dusted with 24-carat gold. Housemade Pimm’s-and-kumquat chocolate bonbons. Edamame and black-truffle pot stickers. Caramel passion-fruit lollipops in the shape of miniature Oscar statuettes. These are just a few of the unconventional dishes set to be served at this year’s Governors Ball — the official after-party of the Academy Awards, held annually at the Ray Dolby Ballroom immediately following the ceremony.
Legendary California culinary magnate Wolfgang Puck returns to cater the ball for the 24th consecutive year. After so many years feeding some of the most famous names in Hollywood at the industry’s biggest celebration, guests have come to expect nothing but the best in fine-dining — from famed Puck menu staples such as wagyu sliders, smoked salmon and signature pizzas to new additions on the cutting edge of cuisine, including this year’s black bass small plate and Callebaut ruby chocolate.
“It’s the party of the year — bigger than the Super Bowl,” says Eric Klein, head of culinary with Wolfgang Puck Catering. “The reason we’ve built the reputation we have over almost 25 years now is that we’re always evolving, keeping it fresh. We’re always coming up with new ideas or new twists on classic dishes.”
Klein works closely with Puck to bring the whole event off — not just one big night’s work, he explains, but “an entire week of organizing and taking care of everything for this wonderful night.”
Klein oversees a crew of more than a hundred top trained chefs working nonstop to prepare fresh food quickly and consistently, at restaurant quality. More than 300 servers and busboys are on hand to whisk dishes out hot the moment they’re plated. Every single one of these men and women, Klein says, “will showcase what they do best” all night long.
Between guests, staff and crew, the Puck gang will feed 5,000 to 6,000 hungry diners on Oscar night. A service of that magnitude is no simple task — especially when quality is as important as quantity.
“Actually making the food properly is crucial,” Klein says. “We make everything from scratch. We don’t just cook things a few hours ahead and then warm it up when it’s time. Our chefs cook to order, plate each dish, and serve it on the spot. It’s incredibly intense.”
While the kitchen is hard at work, the diners, Klein hopes, will be having some fun. “The goal is not just to make delicious food, but to help everyone enjoy themselves.”
It’s with that light-hearted spirit in mind that some of the menu’s most memorably amusing items were born.
Everything-bagel pretzel bites, marjolaine cake pops, gianduja cupcakes and tiny taro tacos all keep the menu feeling playful and not too self-serious. There are comfort food faves, including chicken pot pie — a long-time favorite of Barbra Streisand, Puck likes to proclaim. And there are the many food items, from smoked salmon bites to those lollipops, shaped like Oscars. Few fixtures of the menu are as beloved as Puck’s signature chocolate Oscar statuette, coated, much like real Oscars, in gold.
The Oscars are of course a black-tie affair, so it’s essential for the meal to planned with convenience and neatness in mind — lest Puck and company be blamed for sartorial disasters.
“Eating is a delicate art,” says Klein. “Flavor and quality are the top priorities, but it’s very important to make the meal practical. You don’t want someone to walk in wearing a beautiful new gown and spill something down the front on the first bite.” Nothing too messy or prone to dripping, therefore.
In addition to wine and spirits, this year guests will have the opportunity to imbibe a different way, with Puck’s “cocktail-inspired” macarons. From the Negroni (flavored with orange, Campari, vermouth and gin) to the mojito (lime and white rum), it’s like a full-blown open bar in dessert form.
It’s just one more commitment to innovation and excellence — precisely the qualities Puck’s catering has long been respected for. For Klein, that sky-high level is the key to success — and worth every penny of the understandably steep expense. It’s not cheap, feeding thousands of A-listers truffles, lobster, caviar and Miyazaki wagyu beef.
“Some people come to us and ask us to cater a party, but they say it’s too expensive,” says Klein. “But we need to make sure we have ingredients of the best quality and pay the best people to make it happen. It’s not about us being expensive. It’s about us making the best possible experience for the diners. We don’t sacrifice anything. We have to get the caviar, the truffles. After all, if you can’t have caviar and truffles on Oscar night, when can you? This is Hollywood. It’s a night of triumph and celebration. Only the best will do.”