Saturday, January 20, 2018
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Chef Wolfgang Puck dishes on this year's official Oscar bash

I

t's difficult to imagine the perpetually petite of Hollywood scarfing down chicken pot pie, even if it is laced with luxurious black truffles.

But chef Wolfgang Puck is confident that's exactly what they will be doing Sunday night at the Governors Ball, the official after-party of the 85th Academy Awards ceremony. By the time the bold and beautiful have gone through makeup and hair, walked the red carpet, and sat through three hours or more of speeches and clapping, they are starving. Many have been known to loosen their Lagerfelds and head to In-N-Out Burger for burgers and fries on the way home.

"They've got to be to the theater by 3 p.m. and who knows how long they drive to get there," Puck, 63, said earlier this week by phone from Los Angeles. "They've probably just eaten tea and toast."

And that's to help them squeeze into form-fitting gowns and uber-tailored tuxes. In past years, Puck said, the likes of Barbra Streisand and John Travolta have asked for seconds.

This is the 19th year that Puck has catered the Governors Ball, wedging in this high-profile job with his restaurant duties and on-air stints at HSN in Clearwater where he hawks his cookware and small kitchen appliances about eight times a year. (He has been known to frequent Cafe Ponte while on HSN duty.) He has also added Top Chef to his resume, joining the show as a judge for the Seattle season, which is now in the finals.

For the Governors Ball, Puck will have 600 servers circulating among 1,500 invited guests in the ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center, home to the Dolby Theatre, where the ceremony will be held. Two kitchens will house 300 cooks and their crews, though Puck's not sure any of this season's Top Chef contestants would make the cut to work in his kitchens.

"This year was not the best crop," he said. "There was a lack of basic skills."

But there was no scarcity of body ink.

"The difference between an old chef and a new chef is the tattoos. I guess to stay young, I have to get some tattoos," he said.

For the Governors Ball, Puck needs a crew with vast talents to tackle the 50 cold, hot and sweet items offered to Hollywood's elite. Yes, 50. Previously, the event has been a sit-down, black-tie affair but this year it'll be more like a cocktail party with cushy seats around low tables (think lounge) and small plates, among them shrimp fritters, spring rolls, beluga lentil curry and Puck's signature smoked salmon shaped like Oscar garnished with dill crème fraiche and caviar.

The food crosses cuisines more than the nominees cross their fingers, ranging from American comfort food (shepherd's pie and mac and cheese) to Asian fusion (Kobe beef sliders and Japanese baby peach salad) to Italian-inspired treats (caprese salad in an edible cone). Plus, there's a 24-foot chocolate buffet.

A far cry from Puck's first Governors Ball menu in 1994 when the main course was a choice of chicken or salmon and dessert was a caramelized apple tart with cinnamon macadamia nut ice cream. At that time, Puck was a rising culinary star. His Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills, still a favorite haunt of celebrities, was named the nation's best restaurant by the James Beard Foundation that same year. Last year, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the foundation. How appropriate that those awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world. Some of his proteges have also been honored, including pastry chef Sherry Yard who this year, as every year, is responsible for the desserts.

The beauty of this year's cocktail party set-up, said Puck, is that no one will have to sit with people they don't want to. For instance, Jessica Chastain won't be stuck next to Jennifer Lawrence, if she happens to lose the Best Actress Oscar to her.

"Last night I had Oprah Winfrey at the restaurant and she told me, 'I want to sit with good friends,' " he said.

In other words, don't pair me with some long-winded producer all night. Please, let it be Denzel Washington or Daniel Day-Lewis. Still, it's a very exclusive invite, reserved mostly for nominees and their guests.

By midnight, the Academy's chosen few will have left Puck's bash for parties hosted by Vanity Fair and Elton John, the other two big social events of the night.

And then the planning for 2014 — Puck's 20th anniversary as the official Oscar caterer — begins.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.

The telecast

The telecast will begin at 7 p.m. with red carpet coverage. The 85th annual Academy Awards program, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, follows at 8:30 p.m. E! will have red carpet coverage at 5:30 p.m.

WHO WILL WIN?

Times movie critic Steve Persall makes his fearless picks. See them now at tampabay.com/features/movies and in Sunday's Latitudes section.

JOIN US

Our Oscars team will be snarking on fashion (we'll have photo galleries, too), tweeting talker moments from the telecast (Seth who?) and analyzing the winners and losers. Be a part of the Twitter conversation by following and using #tbtoscars. Follow it all at tampabay.com on Sunday evening.

   
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