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Oscar's Final Take of the Night

The Governors Ball is a year in the making, but these backstage luminaries won't see their names in lights. They just have to make sure they get it right.

March 23, 2000|Jeannine Stein

This year's menu includes an appetizer platter featuring marinated lobster salad, artichokes with white truffle vinaigrette and smoked salmon on Oscar-shaped matzos. The entree is a roasted chicken breast with wild mushroom risotto and black truffles, plus baby carrots and sweet peas, and the dessert platter includes rhubarb rugalach, gingerbread macaroons, hand-dipped espresso chocolates and a signature miniature chocolate Oscar sprinkled with gold dust. (Leftover food is donated to the charity pantry Angel Harvest.)

The kitchens also supply food for the pre-show reception and are responsible for feeding the backstage press, the police and security staff.

The crew, says Schuster, began to set up camp several days ago in the Shrine's kitchen for prep work. A refrigerated tractor-trailer truck parked outside holds the food. The produce arrives today. Friday there's more prep and then Saturday the major work begins. "Wolfgang doesn't like doing anything too far ahead," Schuster says.

Two field kitchens will be set up in separate locations near the Shrine, equipped with convection ovens, pizza ovens and stoves. Each is overseen by a kitchen manager.

Inside the party, the wait staff stands ready to serve. The floor is divided into four quadrants, each of which has a division manager. Within that division are four to five captains, each overseeing 16 to 20 waiters and waitresses handling eight tables. There are also waiters to pass hors d'oeuvres and take drink orders.

Problems the waiters can't solve are handled by VIP "floaters" provided by the academy, who are there if someone brings unexpected guests (if they're big stars they'll likely be accommodated) or if a guest forgets his ticket. Each floater has a security guard alongside to take care of situations such as crashers or unauthorized photography.

The captains rehearse their parts on Saturday, and waiters are briefed on particulars such as the menu and locations of the kitchens and the bar.

The Governors Ball is unlike most other banquets where each course is served at the same time. With guests table-hopping, saying hello to friends or chatting with the press backstage, one person could be devouring dessert while another is still nibbling on appetizers. That's why entrees are cooked to order so food isn't left to stand around.

But celebrities do not live by chicken alone. The kitchen is equipped to handle special requests, which account for about 10% of all meals served: kosher and vegetarian plates, steamed fish, steak. "A lot of people there are our regular clients," Schuster explains. "Wolfgang has been taking care of some of them for 20 years, and we've seen it all."

The staff tries to accommodate requests for items the kitchen doesn't have on hand. Says Schuster, "If it's at all possible and we have enough time, we'll send somebody out to get it, like to a neighboring restaurant. We'll do whatever it takes to accommodate people, within reason."

Then there are demands from the bigwigs backstage: "Someone likes popcorn without kernels, and we have to pick them out."

Jeannine Stein can be reached by e-mail at

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