In two decades of catering the Governors Ball after the Academy Awards, Wolfgang Puck has dealt with his share of near-disasters.
His first year, the rice for his black truffle risotto wouldn’t boil because wind kept whipping at the stoves in his outdoor kitchen. Another year, a bigger catastrophe took place when he lost electricity and gas mid-way through cooking for 1,600 guests. Puck, who prepares meals at the last moment so that his food is fresh, was in disbelief.
"So all of a sudden the electricity goes out, the gas goes down and I said, ‘No, somebody's playing a joke on me,’" said Puck. "And then finally 15 to 20 minutes later, it came on again. But it was the longest 15 or 20 minutes. I didn't know if I should get enough sternos to heat them or jump off the building.”
Watch the video below to see Wolfgang Puck talk about being fired from his first restaurant job
Despite these mishaps, Puck has the catering of one of Hollywood’s biggest parties down to a science. His staff numbers more than 300 and he starts on the menu in January. And now, after 20 years, he sleeps soundly the night before and only gets nervous about an hour before the party.
As the countdown begins to Sunday’s Oscars, the final week of preparation is crucial. Puck said he waits until Wednesday to purchase produce and fruits at the farmers' market, both of which are delivered Friday.
On Saturday, he cooks a hundred chickens, boiling them slowly with vegetables, for a celebrity favorite: chicken pot pie with truffles. It’s the only main course he cooks in advance.
On Sunday, he and his team must have hors d’oeuvres ready by 3 p.m. for pre-game snacking – mini pizzas, small croissants with anchovies, endive spears with a little crabcake on it. And then they watch the show intently. Puck insists they wait to cook until the last moment, as people begin filing out of the theater, “so that way it tastes right, and it's hot.”
There’s something for everyone at the three-hour Governors Ball. Besides the staples of chicken pot pie, smoked salmon with caviar and 24 karat gold-covered chocolate Oscars, the celebrity chef still cooks to order. Puck remembers Danny DeVito asking for a second helping of lobster. Last year, after Ang Lee won best director for Life of Pi, Puck cooked him a steamed fish that Lee told him was better than what he got in Hong Kong.
“George Clooney loves our beef,” revealed Puck. “If I give him a Cote de Boeuf and slice it, it will be perfect.”
Though this is his 20th year catering the Governors Ball, Puck’s history with the Academy Awards goes back much further. Super-agent “Swifty” Lazar held his glittering Oscars party at Puck’s flagship restaurant Spago for many years.
“From Cary Grant to Madonna to Michael Jackson and Paul Newman and Jimmy Stewart and Jack Nicholson,” said Puck, “You had all the old and the new young stars. So since then, I always was fascinated by it, and we always do it, a great Oscar party. Now at the Academy Awards, and before in our restaurant.”
Spago is the most well-known of Puck's fine dining restaurants. His culinary empire now spans the catering business, a casual chain of eateries, cookware, cookbooks, prepared foods, and also TV and Internet programming. But you will still find him almost daily in the kitchens at Spago and his other L.A.-based restaurants.
“I'm a chef and a cook at heart,” said Puck. “I love to go to the farmers' market, to the fish market, I love to cook food. And I think, to me, that's really my passion. I don't do email, I don't use a computer, but I use the stove."
ABC News' Brian Fudge contributed to this episode.
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