And the Award for Best Menu...

Who better to ask how to throw an Oscar party than Wolfgang Puck, probably the world’s most famous chef and the ultimate authority on Oscar entertaining. You’ll find Wolf right smack in the middle of the intersection of food, fame and awards shows. And when we asked him about feeding Oscar partygoers, he did not mince words at offering his winning formula and his favorite recipes. I mean, he may not have time to cook and watch the Oscars at home with you, but he does have a few secrets for what makes the perfect bash—because really, Oscars is all about the party!

Oscar parties are such an institution in the Hollywood landscape it’s easy to forget the concept did not exist before über-agent Swifty Lazar and Wolfgang began hosting their annual events.

Wolf threw his first Oscar party in 1983 at the original Spago in West Holly­wood because he had never had an official opening party for the restaurant when it opened in 1982. He closed the restaurant to the public, composed a special menu and invited friends and family. Before the evening was over, there was a line of revelers 300 deep trying to get in. The success of his Oscar fete was such that the champagne was running dry and people outside were screaming, “I’m so-and-so’s lawyer, I’m so-and-so’s dentist.” The lesson, Wolf realized, was that the food and drink should be carefully planned, because the Oscars makes for a long night.

Before Swifty and Wolf joined forces, Lazar’s annual fete had been a movable feast that began at his Beverly Hills home before moving to a succession of Los Angeles restaurants that included Mastro’s and Bistro Garden—as well as a one-off at Mortimer’s in New York.

In 1985, Wolf convinced Swifty he should have his party at the West Holly­wood Spago. With Lazar’s passing in 1994, the Spago Oscar parties came to an end, but Wolf’s connection with Oscar food didn’t. Over the years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had approached him to cater the post-Academy Awards Governors Ball. Even Wolf had to admit it was natural fit; he finally did the bash for the first time that year.

In the 15 years since Wolf has taken over the ball, the dinners have been held in three locations: the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Shrine Auditorium and, since 2002, the Kodak Theatre. Wolf cooks as close to service as possible, and setting up on the premises each year creates its own set of challenges. One year, ferocious winds blew out the flames on the stove while a black-truffle risotto was being prepared. No flame meant no risotto cooking, and the waiters were, well, waiting. Improvising, the crew put aluminum foil around the burners and got the risotto out in time.

Another time, Wolf needed to get back to the restaurant, and there was a terrible traffic jam, so Pierce Bros­nan and his then girlfriend, Keely, gave him a lift on their helicopter. “This was really like the James Bond thing,” he says with a laugh.

The first year he catered at the Kodak, 16 ovens were going full bore, filled with steaks and fish, when the electricity and gas went out. Oh, and 300 people were already there. Security wouldn’t let the electrician in because everyone had to be dressed in black tie, and he was dressed like a regular electrician. Eventually, whoever ran the Kodak found him, he turned one knob, and everything went on as planned. “Those 10 minutes felt like eternity,” Wolf recalls.

For the beginning of the show, Wolf starts with lots of hors d’oeuvres and champagne. “I like only champagne,” he says, “because it is the biggest party in Hollywood, after all, and when is a better time for champagne? I always serve trays of finger foods that can mostly be prepared in advance. I love a mix of flavors and tastes.

“One of my favorite hors d’oeuvres does not even need a recipe: Just slice peeled potatoes into quarter-inch pieces, toss in a bowl with olive oil and salt and bake in a 350-degree oven until the potatoes are golden brown. Put the potatoes on a platter and top with a little sour cream, dill and a dollop of caviar. Everyone always goes crazy for these and can’t get enough.”

Caviar doesn’t always mean big bucks. Wolf loves American caviars and uses all of them—white, black and golden.

I love Wolf’s tried-and-true hors d’oeuvres, not only because they’re delicious but because of their international influence: bruschetta with a trio of toppings (goat cheese and black-and-green-olive tapenade, roasted pepper and anchovy and, my favorite, tomato confit and parmesan); crunchy vegetable samosas with tamarind-date chutney; blini with crème fraîche and caviar; and potato pancakes with sour cream (or crème fraîche) and smoked sturgeon. Wolf uses a cutter to create an Oscar silhouette out of the smoked salmon that tops his blini.

His next secret to a successful party is a simple one: Hosts should have fun and enjoy the Oscars with their guests. Since most people don’t have a chef in their kitchen, look for a menu that can be prepared in advance. No last-minute cooking—it’s all about toss together, throw in the oven and serve. Not an easy feat, but he has a few recipes that work perfectly for this occasion.

As part of the main course, Wolf serves his famous chopped salad, which can be made ahead of the guests’ arrival. He loves this recipe because it looks festive and can be easily improvised. Wolf pairs the salad with a version of the gone-but-not-forgotten Chasen’s individual chicken potpies, chock-full of boneless chicken and vegetables in a perfectly seasoned sauce and tucked under a flaky puff-pastry crust. You can make these the day before and keep them in the fridge until it’s time to pop them in the oven.

Just about the time everyone needs a little pick-me-up—right before the big cat­e­gories are announced—Wolf recommends bringing out more champagne to toast the winners and enjoying a slice of one of his legendary desserts, the Marjolaine cake. This is a favorite for such occasions because it’s both classic and elegant. (He has even devised a streamlined recipe just for LA readers.) To give the cake a uniquely festive touch, Wolf suggests placing a stencil of the Oscar statuette—which you’ve cut out beforehand—on top and dusting it all with powdered sugar.

No matter who triumphs over at the Kodak Theatre, you can enjoy a stress-free gathering and claim the award for most delicious Oscar party ever.


Makes 25 minipancakes

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cage-free eggs
1 and 1/2 cups buttermilk or 1 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
4 ounces American sturgeon caviar

Heat an electric griddle or stovetop griddle or heavy pan over medium-high heat. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another medium bowl, beat the eggs and whisk in the buttermilk (or buttermilk and milk) and melted butter. Quickly whisk in the flour mixture and stir only until it is combined.

Ladle the batter onto the griddle by tablespoon for small, 2-inch pancakes. Cook until bubbles break through and turn over. Cook another 30 seconds to a minute, until nicely browned on the other side, and transfer to a plate. Place small dollops of crème fraîche on the blini and then top with caviar. Serve immediately.

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, Rutledge Hill Press, 2004

Serves 4, makes 12 to 14 latkes

1 pound organic russet baking potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, peeled
1 cage-free egg, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking oil, such as canola, peanut or safflower
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
Lemon juice
1/2 pound smoked sturgeon, separated into large flakes, skin and bones removed (you may substitute smoked whitefish, trout or smoked salmon)

Using the large holes of a box grater/shredder or the grating disk on a food processor, shred the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Grate in the onion.

Line a large bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer the mixture to the towel-lined bowl, twist the towel around it and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (alternatively, you can pick the mixture up by handfuls and squeeze dry.) Transfer to another bowl. Add the egg, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork until well blended.

Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a large, heavy skillet or in an electric fryer set at 350 degrees F. until it ripples and feels quite hot when you hold your hand over it. With a metal tablespoon, carefully place a spoonful of the mixture into the hot oil. Press down on the mixture with an offset spatula to form an evenly thick pancake about 3 inches in diameter. Add more spoonfuls, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook the pancakes until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning them over carefully with a slotted metal spatula. Transfer to a tray or platter lined with paper towels to drain. Continue with the remaining mixture. If not serving right away, allow to cool completely. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and heat in the oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the dill and the crème fraîche or sour cream. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

To serve, transfer the hot potato pancakes to a platter. Spoon a small dollop of the crème fraîche mixture onto each pancake and top with flakes of sturgeon. Serve immediately.

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

Serves 21

21 slices of bâtard or good French bread, sliced 1 inch thick
1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled

Lightly oil the bread on both sides and grill. Rub the bread with the garlic cloves.

Goat Cheese and Tapenade Bruschetta
1/2 cup goat cheese, softened
1 cup olive tapenade (recipe follows)

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except olive oil. Using the pulse button, process until coarsely chopped and well blended. Continue to process, slowly adding the olive oil. Reserve. Spread soft goat cheese on 7 pieces of bread and top with olive tapenade.

Roasted Pepper and Anchovy Bruschetta
1 cup roasted peppers, store-bought
7 white anchovies
1/2 cup goat cheese, softened

Spread soft goat cheese on 7 pieces of bread. Top with roasted peppers and white anchovies.

Confit Tomato and Parmesan Bruschetta
7 petals confit tomato (recipe below)
7 slices parmesan cheese
Olive oil to drizzle
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Place one slice of tomato confit on top of 7 slices of bread, then add the parmesan. Drizzle olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar on each piece.

Recipe courtesy Wolfgang Puck, Pizza, Pasta & More!, Random House, 2000

1 cup niçoise olives, pitted
1 cup small green French olives (Picholine), pitted
1/4 cup oven-dried tomatoes, drained (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon capers
1 garlic clove
1 anchovy fillet
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck, Pizza, Pasta & More!, Random House, 2000

Makes 1 and 1/4 cups

About 12 medium Roma tomatoes (2 pounds)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus additional as needed
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

In a pot of boiling water, blanch tomatoes. Drain and refresh in ice water. Drain. Peel, core, cut into quarters and remove seeds.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and arrange the tomato quarters on the tray, cut side down. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with thyme and garlic. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper and sugar, and sprinkle evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake until the tomatoes begin to shrivel, about 1 hour. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, transfer to a container. Pour olive oil over and cover the container. Refrigerate and use as needed.


2 whole medium-size tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

Blanch tomatoes in boiling salted water for 15 seconds. Remove from water and place in a bowl of ice water. Remove immediately.

Peel and quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds with a knife. Place tomato skin side up on a sheet pan; cover halfway with olive oil.

Sprinkle salt and sugar over each petal. Roast in a 225 degrees F. oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and reserve.

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

Makes about 4 cups, approximately 3 dozen samosas

2 pounds organic baking potatoes
1/2 cup ghee or clarified butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons organic jalapeno, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Sugar, to taste
1 cup fresh peas
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
3 dozen square wonton wrappers
1 recipe Tamarind and Date Chutney (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash and dry the baking potatoes. Bake the potatoes in the oven until done, about 45 to 60 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then split in half lengthwise to release steam. When cool to the touch, use a fork to mash and fluff the potatoes. Place in a mixing bowl and discard potato skins.

In a large sauté pan, heat the ghee. Sweat the onions, garlic and jalapeno for about 1 minute or until glossy. Add ginger, cumin and coriander. Cook another 20 seconds. Pour over mashed potato. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and taste to correct seasoning with salt, pepper and sugar. Stir in peas and cilantro. Allow to cool completely before filling samosas.

To form the samosas, place a wonton wrapper in front of you in a diamond shape. Spoon about a teaspoon of the filling just above the center. Using your finger, place a little water on the edges of the wrapper. Take the bottom part of the wrapper and bring it over the top, then lightly press down on the filling and seal the edges together to make a triangle. Repeat process until you have used up all the filling.

Bake the samosas in a 350 degrees F. oven for about 15 minutes or until nice and golden brown. Serve with Tamarind Date Chutney.

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

Makes 4 cups

14 ounces tamarind pulp
1 pound pitted dates
2 cups sugar, divided
10 cups water, divided

In a large saucepan, combine the tamarind pulp, dates, 1 cup of the sugar and 6 cups of the water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook while mixing until tamarind paste has dissolved into the water, about 1 hour, stirring every now and then.

Pass mixture through a food mill. Discard the pulp. Pass the puree through a chinois or fine strainer. Return the puree to the saucepan. Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Reduce until thickened. Transfer to a nonreactive container and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate until needed.

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck, Adventures in the Kitchen , Random House, 1991

Serves 4

Mustard Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup almond or safflower oil
Freshly ground white pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced fresh artichoke bottoms
Freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced green beans
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced radicchio
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced ripe avocado
1/4 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomato
4 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese
1 cup mixed greens of your choice (curly endive, chicory, baby lettuce), cut or torn into bite-size pieces

In a small bowl, combine the mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oils. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Whisk again when ready to serve.

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Season the diced artichokes lightly with salt and pepper and sauté until al dente, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

Blanch the carrots and beans by placing each into a fine mesh basket. Set the basket into a pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain, cool and add the artichokes. Add the onion, radicchio, corn and celery.

When ready to serve, dice the avocado and the tomato and add to the other vegetables. Reserving a little vinaigrette, toss the vegetables with the vinaigrette, sprinkle with the grated cheese and toss again. Correct seasoning to taste.

Toss the greens with the reserved vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the salad greens among 4 salad plates. Mound the chopped salad on the greens and serve immediately.

Note: you can be creative as to the vegetables you want to include or exclude in your salad. For example, you can use baby peas in season or diced Chinese pea pods or diced Italian squash, etc.

Adapted from recipe courtesy of Wolfgang Puck, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, Rutledge Hill Press, 2004

Serves 4

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 pound red-skinned potatoes cut into half-inch pieces
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 spring thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock or good quality canned chicken broth
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup shelled or frozen peas
Approximately 1/2 pound frozen puff pastry, defrosted following package instructions
1 cage-free egg

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and toss in a mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of the flour until evenly coated. In a large skillet over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the chicken pieces, reduce the heat slightly and sauté, turning them occasionally, until light golden and thoroughly cooked, about 5 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Add the remaining oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter to the pan and then add the potatoes, carrots and onions, and sauté until they begin to look glossy and bright, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme and bay leaf, and sauté, just until the vegetables begin to color slightly, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Add the wine, turn up the heat, stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits and simmer until the liquid reduces by about half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and 1 cup of the cream. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and simmer briskly until the liquid reduces by about half again and is thick and creamy, about 15 minutes. Remove the sprig of thyme and the bay leaf.

Stir in the reserved chicken pieces and the sherry. Combine the remaining butter and remaining flour and stir this paste into the mixture. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Gently stir in the peas. Transfer to 4 large individual ovenproof 2-cup soup bowls, 4 ramekins of the same size or a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the filling is cold, at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Make sure the puff pastry is no thicker than 1/4 inch. With the tip of a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 4 circles that will overhang the rim of the serving bowls or ramekins by about half an inch; for a single large baking dish, cut 4 circles that will cover its top or use one large sheet.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg and the remaining 1 tablespoon cream to make an egg wash. Brush the tops and outsides of the rims of the bowls. Place the bowls, ramekins or baking dish on a baking tray and place the puff pastry circles on top, pressing them gently over the sides of the dishes. Pierce the tops with the tip of a paring knife. Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash. Carefully transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbling hot and the pasty is a deep golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.

Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, Rutledge Hill Press, 2004

Serves 8

6 cage-free egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 and 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts, finely chopped

Ganache Glaze and Filling
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Whipped Cream Filling
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon sugar

To make the meringue: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Coat a 12 x 15-inch baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. Lightly spray the parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large stainless steel bowl with a hand-held beater, beat the egg whites until they begin to foam. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whip the egg whites at medium speed until they form soft, slightly drooping peaks when the beaters are lifted out. Turn the speed to high and continue to whip the egg whites as you gradually add the superfine sugar a tablespoon at a time. Beat until the meringue is shiny and holds stiff, upright peaks when the beaters are pulled out. Take care not to overbeat.

Fold in the chopped hazelnuts. Scrape the meringue onto the baking sheet and, using an offset spatula, spread in an even layer over the entire surface of the pan. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until light brown and crisp.

Turn off the oven and leave the meringue for 1 hour with the heat off. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When completely cooled, remove from the baking sheet and, using a serrated knife, carefully cut crosswise into three equal pieces. Set aside on sheets of parchment paper.

To make the ganache: Chop the chocolate into quarter-inch pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan or in the microwave and pour over the chocolate. Gently tap the bowl on your work surface so that the chocolate settles into the cream and allow it to sit for 1 minute. Using a plastic spatula, stir the mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl until the chocolate and cream are nicely blended and completely smooth.

Divide the ganache into two equal parts. Add the corn syrup to one half and set aside. Fill a large bowl three-quarters full with ice cubes and water and place the bowl of remaining ganache in the ice bath to cool. Stir over the ice water, using a rubber spatula, until the ganache is thick.

Place one piece of the meringue in a serving platter and spread one part of the cool ganache over it in an even layer. Top with another sheet of meringue.

To make the whipped cream filling: Combine the heavy cream and crème fraîche with the sugar and beat until fairly stiff.

Spread in a thick, even layer over the second sheet of meringue. Top with the last sheet of meringue.

Stir the glaze, and if it has cooled too much to pour freely, heat at 50-percent power in a microwave for 25 seconds. Pour the glaze over the top layer to drip down the sides.

Set aside the marjolaine and allow the glaze to cool and set. If you wish, trim the edges with a serrated knife. Your marjolaine is now ready to slice with a serrated knife and serve. If not serving right away, store in the refrigerator.

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