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March 2018

Behind the Scenes at the Oscars’ 2018 Governors Ball

by Tyler Davidson

Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck

Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck

Security was tight as the 90th Oscars award ceremony was revving up on Sunday, March 4, 2018.

Handlers from the Academy were assigned to escort and keep an eye on the content staff of Meetings Today who had been granted permission to work behind the scenes covering Wolfgang Puck Catering’s massive effort serving the Governors Ball, “the official Oscars after-party” with top celebrity clientele.

As far as catering events are concerned, it’s a really big deal.

Like a hybrid between the strategy of a war room and the unflinching coordinated charge of actual culinary combat, the action was sure to be fast and furious. Missions and the terrain of the battlefield would change without notice—the “haze of catering” would soon set in. Neither Wolfgang Puck’s crew nor Meetings Today—nor even the embattled staff of Academy handlers—could predict the outcome.

Following is a timeline of key events leading up to the scheduled launch of the catering offensive at 8:50 p.m. Pacific Standard Time in the Ray Dolby Theatre, as recorded by this fortunate media spectator:

12:30 p.m.: Our mission suffered a delay at the outset, as the other media outlet that was attached to us was late for our initial rendezvous. A lot of war is waiting for something to happen, they say, and this was our time to stand down. After negotiations with our handlers from the Academy, we were cleared to be escorted to the catering kitchen and promptly took our places, cameras and notepads in hand.

1:00 p.m.: In the most fortunate of chance encounters, the instant we enter through the back door of the kitchen, we run into Wolfgang Puck, with his game face on and his pace quick. The day’s catering schedule starts with pastries and twice-baked potato construction. A sense of calm prevails.

1:05 p.m.: The hoisting of the Governors Ball showpiece—a blended chocolate sculpture of Oscar-branded confectionery magnificence—is lifted off its mooring and moved in a processional toward the side door leading to the legendary red carpet. Wolfgang turned on his showman skills and perhaps “fed a chocolate frenzy” by tossing his 24-carat, gold-dusted, mini Oscar statuettes to the crowd.

The fire marshal has apparently complained about this potentially riotous act in the past, I’m told, but this is Wolfgang’s world and gold-dusted chocolate Oscars belong to the people!

I’d like to tell you how it all turned out, but we were confined to the kitchen.

2:04 p.m.: Things sort of muddle around until Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” plays over the kitchen’s sound system. To me, this signals things are getting real, especially as the distorted guitars kick in.

2:08 p.m.: Tomatoes—lots of tomatoes!—are being cut. Along with onions.

No crying on the dance floor, chefs!

2:19 p.m.: I notice an unattended blowtorch on one of the prep tables. What mischief could it render? My mother always told me to stand still and keep my hands in my pockets, so I followed her advice.

3:00 p.m.: A TV monitor is rolled into the room and the 90th Oscars logo is displayed on it. I hear this screen will serve as a scheduling tool for the chefs and the catering traffic cops to time their efforts.

3:17 p.m.: I hear the 24-carat gold dust on the mini chocolate Oscar pops tends to festoon one’s lips with a sparkling gold lipstick of sorts when consumed—or a face paint, even, if one is not cautious. I take the dive and grab a chocolate Oscar from a bag that seems to have been forgotten. Rumor confirmed.

3:30 p.m.: A line of delicious looking and fragrant Indian dishes appears and Wolfgang dips his spoon into each. A fortifying lunch is served. The staff in the back even gets a crack at the delicious subcontinent grub, too, along with some roasted chicken. You can’t work on an empty stomach!

3:56 p.m.: Chefs are all gathered and checking lists. Something must be up! Upon further inspection, they’re Oscars ballots and the team is selecting who they think will win.

No different than at Oscars parties all over the world!

4:05 p.m.: The prime, A5-grade Waygu beef comes out, garnering the attention of seemingly every chef in the building. It’s rumored that $40,000 was spent on this luxurious main ingredient, and after I tasted the finished product, I would have to say it was well worth it. One chef was cradling the rectangular raw cut of Waygu like a baby swaddled in a cloth. That demonstrates just how special this stuff is.

5:00 p.m.: The Oscars broadcast begins! Jimmy Kimmel appears on the TV monitor and the chefs start to mull by their food preparation stations, which have been cleaned to a sparkling-steel perfection.

6:35 p.m.: The always affable maître d’ Ramon Leon pops over to show off the luxe, plum-colored formal wear he told us about the previous night. Leon runs the show in the front of the house, make no mistake, and knows who everyone is and where everyone belongs in the entire building.

We’re in good—and stylish—hands!

7:59 p.m.: “Listen up!” Wolfgang Puck Catering Chef de Cuisine Connor Shanahan rallies the troops—a select crew of the top chefs from throughout the Wolfgang Puck Empire, all gathered to work the line on the most important day of the year for the company. The rules of engagement for the evening are communicated forcefully but in a spirit of camaraderie. We’re about 50 minutes from culinary D-Day.

8:07 p.m.: Mission accomplished! Right after our interview with Wolfgang Puck Catering CEO/Partner Carl Schuster, Wolfgang Puck himself walks by! Ever accommodating, he agrees to be mic’d-up for a quick interview with Meetings Today. As the old stove-top saying goes, now we’re cooking with gas!

8:30 p.m.: Wolfgang Puck and world-famous chef, and surprise guest, Jose Andres circle the room, rallying the troops at the foot of each of the prep tables and then working the room. No one is photo-shy in this kitchen, and an appearance by the general signals the battle is about to begin.

8:56 p.m.: And we’re off! The entirety of Wolfgang Puck Catering is off to the races, with a release of energy not unlike a steel coil recoiling. Chefs are plating dish after dish, catering managers are calling up servers and sending them out the kitchen door to the ballroom, barking orders in a state of controlled chaos. There are no hurt feelings in the kitchen, just people with no time for explanations.

9:14 p.m.: “Alma, I need vegan for Woody Harrelson!” A cry goes out for some of the standout, individual celebrity service that the ball is known for. Minutes later, the call goes out for four more vegan meals for the Harrelson table. Is there no satiating this man’s cruelty-free appetite?!

Our night in the kitchen soon came to an end, as we were only getting in the way at this point. We exited to shouts of “No talking on the line!” Reverberating through the room, keeping a lid on the boiler.

Our Academy handlers escort us through the back door and through the crowd in front of the main entrance to the Governors Ball. A few revelers clutched Oscars with big, toothy Hollywood grins.

This is how the other half lives.

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