Everyone goes home with an Oscar at the Governors Ball — a chocolate one dipped in gold leaf.
The treat is one of the many classics on the menu created by chef, restaurateur and entrepreneur Wolfgang Puck, who will be behind the stove for an unprecedented 29th time at this year’s post-Oscars Governors Ball. While Puck himself will probably not be crafting the evening’s signature spicy tuna-filled sesame cones (more than 2,500 are made) or the Oscar-shaped matzo cracker topped with smoked salmon, he’s there to greet the anticipated 1,500 international attendees who are ready to eat and expecting their favorites.
“For us, it’s always the most important party of the year,” says Puck of the fete. Food trends and dietary restrictions are accommodated, but comfort food is what the audience craves. “Over the years, people ask for the chicken pot pie all the time. We think, they want it again? But we forget they didn’t have it for a year,” explains the chef. Fans of the dish include Barbra Streisand and Prince Albert of Monaco. Other oft-requested, classic items are the mini-wagyu beef burgers on brioche buns, macaroni-and-cheese with black truffles and wood-fired pizzas.
New to the mix is a food station featuring Britain’s iconic Beef Wellington. “We always try to have different people work with us,” explains Puck. This year executive chef Elliott Grover of London’s CUT restaurant at the 45 Park Lane Hotel will present his version of the traditional dish of beef fillet wrapped in a savory mushroom mixture and baked in puff pastry. Explains Puck, who predicts the dish will be a big hit for those who eat meat: “We always try to have different people work with us,” and promises, “We’re also going to make fish and chips a really special way, so they are crunchy and tasty.”
As with much of the ball’s menu, the fish and chips will be served in purposefully smaller portions, almost as a canape, so people can walk around while noshing. Finishing up the British theme will be an English trifle with sherry, served in small glasses and layered with “delicious fruit.” Despite concerns that trifle might not appeal to most, “Everybody likes it if you prepare it very well,” assures the veteran chef.
Puck and his team at Wolfgang Puck Catering, guided by Eric Klein, vice president of culinary, are aware they have to offer new dishes, as well as a panoply of vegan and vegetarian options. “We have five kinds of pasta, from agnolotti to pasta with truffles, vegan pizzas, the Chinese-spiced, Hunan eggplant over rice and a vegetarian version of West Hollywood’s Merois restaurant’s crispy rice crab salad,” he explains. Instead of crab, tofu is substituted and topped with a lime and honey vinaigrette.
Some 115 chefs from across Puck’s global restaurant empire work the event, with 10 designated cooks ready to handle any additional dietary requests. Among the many past memorable individual orders were a special pasta for director Martin Scorsese (“He was so excited,” recalls Puck) and a steamed whole fish with ginger, scallion and bok choy for “Brokeback Mountain” director Ang Lee.
His pep talk to staff is to the point: “I always tell them: you guys have to do the best job ever,” he says. The chef admits he rarely watches the Oscars telecast. “Sometimes I watch a little bit but I’m always nervous,” he explains. During the broadcast he reviews the numerous food presentations. “I watch more at the end because I know when it comes to best director, best movie, people will be coming out.”
Puck, along with catering chef Eric Klein, begin strategizing months in advance. “He puts the best people at what they are best at,” explains Puck. Wait staff is top notch, trained to be helpful and polite and to welcome guests who may be grumpy after not eating for so many hours, he contends. “Hospitality is just as important as the food, sometimes even more so,” believes Puck.
As with 2022’s go-around, the ballroom will be configured as a luxurious lounge (smaller tables and high tops) rather than seating arranged at formally set, grand banquet tables. “You can sit with the people you like,” says Puck. There will be close to two dozen tray-passed starters (risotto and lamb chops are name checked) alongside the small plates and overflowing dessert tables. Ice cream served in made-to-order waffle cones and salted caramel mocha Oscar chocolate eclairs are among the sweet delights.
Pairing nicely with the refined menu will be the limited edition Fleur de Miraval rose champagne (Brad Pitt is one the partners behind the brand), a white Bordeaux blend from the Clarendelle family of French wines, a Le Dragon de Quintus Saint-Emilion Grand-Cru and all manner of Don Julio tequila. Unlike past years, the Academy will be producing the ball in-house; Wolfgang Puck Catering also handles the viewing party for 1,000 at the Academy Museum.
Puck’s tenure as Hollywood’s top chef is unequaled. There’s no other chef who knows their schnitzel, is up to date on the recent regime change at Disney, has an animated show in development and counts film legends such as the late Sidney Poitier as friends. His flagship restaurant Spago, still buzzing after 41 years, will undergo a design refresh later this spring.
“I want to be busy for another 40 years,” he says, adding he hopes to continue at the Governors Ball at least until the Academy Awards’ 100th anniversary in 2028.
As for what Puck looks forward to most on Oscar night? “The end,” he says. “We sit down, we cheer everybody and thank everyone in the kitchen. If you win the marathon, it’s so great but you‘re so tired,” he notes. Adding, “But it’s a good tired.”