As the red carpet heated up with high-fashioned actors, producers and directors outside Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Sunday, March 4, 2018, celebs of the culinary kind were calm and cool behind the scenes, preparing for one of the most famous after-parties on Earth: The Oscars Governors Ball.
For the 24th consecutive year, renowned chef Wolfgang Puck still has the leading role when it comes to all things palate-pleasing at the ball—whether classic or cutting-edge—as we discovered shadowing him and his ultra-talented team.
The sights alone, from chefs in action to gorgeously crafted dishes, were enough to spur endless Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts by anyone observing in the kitchen, and the orchestration of events couldn’t have been more impressive.
With around 1,500 guests, the ball may not be the largest event of the year for Wolfgang Puck Catering (WPC), but it certainly is its most high-profile.
“The Academy Awards is the biggest party in America, and [The Academy] lets us do what we want to do, so we make part of it traditional and part of it innovative,” Puck said when we caught up with him after making his red carpet rounds. “I think it’s always very exciting, and I saw so many of the big stars down there like Jodi Foster, Nicole Kidman and Warren Beatty. They always say, 'We’re going to come and enjoy your beef tonight and the chicken pot pie.'”
The black truffled chicken pot pie has been a staple of Puck’s for decades, as are other stars of the Governors Ball menu, including smoked salmon on lavash, mini burgers and chocolate Oscars sprayed with real 24-karat gold dust.
Yet aside from the classic comforts, Puck and his team create forward-thinking new dishes for the ball every year, and 2018 was no exception.
“This year, we flew in Miyazaki Wagyu beef from Japan, the best beef in the world, and we’re serving it with a spicy carrot puree and a ponzu jalapeno sauce,” Puck said, pointing out that the day before, director Guillermo del Toro asked if he would be making some beef for the ball. "He loves our restaurant, CUT, and I said, yes, and I'm going to make it spicy for you! He was excited."
Following our chat with Puck, Del Toro's film, The Shape of Water, ended up winning three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, so we could only imagine he saw it fit to celebrate by indulging in the Wagyu beef and some Pieper Heidsieck bubbly at the ball.
We certainly savored the A-5-grade meat, which indeed was so flavorful and tender, it felt like velvet butter on the palate, with just the right kick of pepper.
Meanwhile, in another innovative culinary win, WPC is the first company in the U.S. to spotlight Callebaut Ruby Chocolate, a brand-new, 100 percent sustainable varietal that is naturally rose-colored.
Eric Klein, vice president of culinary at WPC, couldn't have been more excited to rave about it
"In the same way we are celebrating the best at the Oscars today—best picture, best movie, best actor—we are celebrating the best in food. We are all about the quality," Klein said. "With the Ruby Chocolate, we are the first in the U.S. to have the privelege to serve it, so beautiful and fruity and light, to the elite of Hollywood."
Bars of the superb chocolate were prominently featured at the ball, but one dessert really stole the show: Ruby Chocolate Strawberry and Cream. This luscious and intricately presented treat consisted of Callebaut Ruby Chocolate, strawberry-hibiscus mousse, strawberry compote, vanilla sponge and mascarpone cream. It may have been the most-photographed plate of the night.
In all, there were 60-plus dishes on the Governors Ball menu. So inspired were we by the creativity and magnitude of the choices, not to mention the levity of the evening, we decided to launch our own Academy Awards of sorts Sunday, giving “culinary” Oscars to best foreign-language dish, best costume design, best supporting sauce and best visual effects, to name a few.
The exquisite attention to detail carries over seamlessly to the service aspect of the Governors Ball, which, instead of banquet spreads or plated sit-down dinner courses, calls for firing food fresh at timed intervals and passing thousands of small plates throughout the evening, hand-delivered to guests wherever they may be roaming, mingling, lounging or sitting. Carl Schuster, CEO of WPC, chatted with us about the success of the WPC concept and the inception of the catering company.
“Wolfgang and I met 23 years ago to partner on producing The Governors Ball,” he said. “He created the menu and the culinary, and I designed the service aspect. It was so successful that it was the nucleus of the start of Wolfgang Puck Catering. The whole concept is to serve exceptional restaurant-quality food in a catered environment. That’s how we started and that’s still what we’re all about.”
Check out the fun timeline story of our experience with the WPC team for Oscars 2018, along with some of our “Culinary” Academy Award winners and a slideshow of the 10 most Instagram-worthy moments. Be sure to also check out our April 2018 cover story featuring Wolfgang Puck Catering.