While you’re watching the Oscars, Wolfgang Puck is preparing to feed more than 1,500 Hollywood big shots at the Governors Ball. Here’s his routine.
Believe it or not, Wolfgang isn’t a movie buff — he sees only one or two a year. He got the gig cooking for the Governors Ball 18 years ago because celebs had been heading to his restaurant, Spago, instead of the Academy’s official party. Wolfgang has been cooking for the ball ever since, but he doesn’t think about the menu until about a month and a half before the big day. The classics — mini Kobe burgers, smoked salmon and those famous gold-covered chocolate Oscars — are always on the menu, but for the rest, Wolfgang is a procrastinator. “I work much better under pressure,” he says.
Once he pins down the menu, Wolfgang starts shopping for ingredients. But this isn’t your normal trip to the grocery store. Last year, Wolfgang phoned a fish supplier in Holland to get top-quality Dover sole. If he needs black truffles, he calls his guy in France. “We get the best ingredients and try not to mess them up too much,” he jokes.
As soon as nominees are announced, event planners send out invitations, and soon afterward, the special dietary requests start flooding in. Even though Wolfgang makes several main dishes (including a vegetarian one) and dozens more appetizers, he still has to accommodate picky eaters.
In the days leading up to the Oscars, Wolfgang spends more time in front of the camera than at the stove; his press tour includes as many as 10 interviews in a morning. The number one question he is asked: How do you decide on the menu? “This is like making a song or creating a painting,” he says. “You find inspiration, you decide OK and then you do it.”
An army of 300 cooks prepares the meal; the team includes sous chefs from Wolfgang’s restaurants and students from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. Some start prepping at 6 a.m., but Wolfgang arrives around 11 a.m. For the past two years, his 17-year-old son, Byron, has helped, as well. “I told him he has to start working more so that, in 20 years, he can take over for me.”
At about 3 p.m., Wolfgang makes an appearance on the red carpet before heading back to the kitchen. And just like all of the other stars in attendance, he dresses to the nines for the event: a bigwig fashion designer makes him a special chef’s jacket for the night.
During the show, Wolfgang and his team watch a live feed. The chefs use the broadcast to time their dishes. They’ve got it down to a science so that hot, plated dinners hit tables just before the guests arrive.
At the end of the night, the kitchen crew packs up the leftover food for Angel Harvest, which delivers it to shelters and soup kitchens. Wolfgang doesn’t relax until it’s all over. “There’s always something that could go wrong,” he says. His last order of business: “I have a nice glass of champagne, and that’s it.”
Illustrations by Kagan McLeod