Served with ceremony: The culinary trends at this year's awards parties
Tim Walker gets to sample delicacies including edible gold flakes and mojito mousse
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Friday 02 March 2012
Whether they've starved themselves of carbs to squeeze into their outfit, or ruined their appetites with pre-speech nerves, chances are that by the time the three-hour Oscars ceremony is over, Hollywood's great and good (and slightly less good) are hungry. On Sunday night, following the 84th Academy Awards, the guests repaired to the banquet hall above the Hollywood and Highland Theatre for the Governor's Ball, where the Austrian-American megachef Wolfgang Puck and his 350 staff fed them more than 50 dishes, including mini Kobe cheeseburgers, cold lobster tacos, chicken pot pie with shaved black truffles, Chinois lamb with coriander mint vinaigrette, and gold-wrapped baked potatoes with caviar – George Clooney's favourite, apparently.
Among the desserts was something called "3D chocolate", and if 3D turns out not to be the future of movies, then perhaps it's the future of puddings. For the dishes being produced at awards ceremonies today could soon be served at a wedding, birthday party or Bar Mitzvah near you. Event caterers Payne and Gunter have been feeding the Brit Awards since 2005 and, says the firm's operations director Bethan James, "An event like the Brits has a huge following – not only those attending on the night, but also through the increase in social media ... That filters through to the catering world and becomes a talking point, especially when you're striving to achieve something different, which is always our aim with the Brits."
This year, thanks to Payne and Gunter's 80 chefs, Adele et al started with porcini, spelt and broad bean "truffles", accompanied by homemade tomato chutney and crostini. ("I'm sure we'll have a number of requests for savoury 'truffles' presented in beautiful little boxes for future events," says James.) For the main course, a cannon of English lamb in green herbs on pea purée, with spiced red cabbage and a miniature lamb and mint Cornish pasty. Chris Martin probably went for the vegetarian option: wild mushroom ragout in a puff pastry case. And, to finish, Mojito jelly with tequila mousse and effervescent lime sugar. No doubt Bafta-winning actor Adam Deacon was joking when he posted a picture of his delicious-looking main course, and the message: "dinner at the brits. you know im going [to] nandos after innit! lol".
Puck, whose restaurant empire includes Spago – a Beverly Hills institution beloved of movie stars and their cut-throat agents – has been feeding Oscar guests for 18 years. Last year his winning dish was English Dover Sole, in honour of Best Picture victor The King's Speech.
The biggest event in the music awards season is the Grammys, for which Puck also did the catering in 2011. This year the honours went to leading Hollywood caterers Along Came Mary, whose boss Mary Micucci has provided menus for such large-scale events as the Democrat National Convention, and Barbra Streisand's wedding. The Grammys after-party this year was inspired by Rio Carnival, and featured five Brazilian "buffet stations" with names such as "Favelas fabulous" and "Copacabana nights", to feed 5,000 or more guests.
Micucci also catered for US TV's industry bunfight the Emmys in September, where she delegated food duties to a series of local Californian firms such as Bell Street Farm, which provided salads, and Full of Life, purveyors of "artisanal" flatbread pizza. Just as some ceremonies and individual awards carry a sponsor's name, so it is important for brands to be seen at the right after-parties. Grey Goose vodka, for example, provided cocktails at the Emmys, and also has a heavily publicised partnership with the Weinstein Company, to lubricate the guests at producer Harvey Weinstein's annual Bafta awards bash in London.
The extravagance of some awards dinners can be controversial. Celebrities and their colleagues at the Golden Globes ceremony in LA in January chowed down on pistachio-crusted pistou ravioli; Pacific sea bass marinated in miso and sake lees with grilled king oyster mushroom and braised prime short rib of beef; and chocolate delice almond crunch terrine. When it emerged that the dessert would be decorated with 23-carat edible gold flakes and a white chocolate ball sprayed with gold dust, anti-poverty activists were irate – especially as almost 50 million US citizens are presently categorised as experiencing "food insecurity". Maybe the Globes ought to go the route of the annual NME Awards, which last year served its attendees champagne as well as Domino's pizza.
A few guilty consciences might be quelled by the emphasis on the ethical in many of the menus. At the Grammys, for instance, all the produce was locally sourced, the seafood sustainably produced, the cooking oil recycled and the leftovers donated to food banks.
When Stella McCartney stunned London Fashion Week in February, showcasing her collection not with a catwalk show but with a celebrity-packed dinner and contemporary dance performance, she served a six-course vegetarian meal to reflect her advocacy of animal rights: saffron risotto, Hyde Park sweet chestnut, Sicilian blood oranges, Périgord black truffle and Wigmore cheese on toast. And you thought fashion people never ate.
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