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THE CATERING RACE : Now It Can Be Told: What Oscar Eats


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has cast its votes, and the winners are . . . cinnamon-grilled chicken and red chile-glazed veal medallion.

That's what the stars will feast on at the Governors' Ball, the glittery celebration that follows the Academy Awards Monday night at the Music Center. There, Oscar winners shine, losers make the best of it, and everyone gets an extravagant dinner.

Earlier this month, academy tasters met to critique a set of menus proposed by Pavilion Catering. During what must have been an extraordinarily long and caloric lunch, they reviewed three nominees for each course. The academy always has two entrees, so panelists tasted three pairs of main dishes, plus elaborate accompaniments and garnishes. Then they had to find room for three spectacular desserts.

Veal was rigged to win no matter what they chose. One losing entree was a mixed grill that included a veal chop with green pumpkin seed sauce, lamb chop with mint aioli and jerk chicken breast with red banana-curry chutney. The other was Cornish game hen and blackberry relish paired with a veal medallion and wild mushroom ragout.

Once the academy chose the menu, it insisted that the contents remain secret until today. To get an advance copy, The Times had to swear in writing not to reveal the goodies beforehand. There were teeth in this edict. Because the recipes arrived before the pledge was signed, a red onion confit recipe was held as a hostage.

The confit goes on the main plate under the veal. On the other side of the plate is the cinnamon-grilled chicken breast perched on crisp sweet potato shreds over a pool of yellow mole sauce that is sprinkled with dried cranberries. A round of corn bread dressing appears at center, and a Southwestern-looking vegetable column goes at the top. The column is constructed of pencil-slim asparagus spears, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes and artichoke hearts wrapped in black-and-red striped pasta (black made with squid ink, red with sweet red pepper).

Food at this party is always substantial. It has to be to satisfy ravenous celebs who have sat for hours in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, not to mention the time they've lavished on dress, makeup, hairdos and getting there.

You wouldn't serve this group anything ordinary. It took Pavilion Catering eight pages to write the recipes for the two entrees and their accompaniments. And listen to Pavilion's description of the dessert: "An architectural chocolate presentation of three mousses. A tall white chocolate column filled with a milk chocolate mocha mousse. A milk chocolate column filled with a tropical fruit mousse. A bittersweet chocolate cylinder of caramel mousse presented on a painted plate with macadamia nut ice cream and caramel rum, raspberry and ollalieberry sauces." This is a party you'd want to crash for food, not autographs.

The logistics of serving are awesome. Monday night, the Music Center plaza will be covered with an enormous white tent imprinted with the academy logo. That's where the 1,700 guests assemble. Tented temporary kitchens will line three sides of the Mark Taper Forum. There, food will be cooked, plated and immediately sent to the tables. The only advance work allowed is sauce-making and vegetable chopping.

It will take more than 300 chefs, managers, waiters, floor captains, busboys, scullery people, runners and others to handle the dinner. The kitchen staff alone will number 125. A crew of 80 to 100 will staff 16 lines for dishing up the food. Getting those three chocolate columns onto the plates along with the three sauces and ice cream will take a crew of 75. Oversized black plates will show off the fancy arrangements.

Instead of a formal first course, the academy decided to start with finger foods so guests could munch while mingling. The ball planners suggested tried-and-true things such as cheeses and crudites. Pavilion countered with six stylish hors d'oeuvres--spinach "cannoli" with smoked trout; roulade of goat cheese, prosciutto and asparagus; purple potato with sour cream, black sturgeon caviar and salmon roe; Belgian endive leaves filled with finely diced marinated salmon, onion, dill and toasted coconut shreds; Chinese pea pods stuffed with smoked chicken, and smoked pheasant quesadilla with jalapeno Jack cheese.

The wines will be Jordan Vineyards' 1990 Chardonnay, 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1988 "J" Champagne, which will accompany dessert. There will also be a full bar.

Certain foods are taboo Oscar night. One is shellfish, which observant Jewish guests would not eat. Another is pasta, which becomes gummy when cooked in massive quantities.

The A food list includes fresh and smoked salmon, caviar, Parma ham from Italy, goat cheese flown in from Texas, chiles brought in from Jamaica and Yucatan--anything rare and troublesome to obtain.

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