And the Oscar goes to… saving the planet!!!
The Academy Awards, known shortly as the Oscars, is following the trend and joining the vegan-vegetarian van. Previously, the Golden Globe’s Award ceremony gala dinner went 100 percent vegan, featuring every single dish totally plant-based. We were expecting the Oscar to do the same; well they did so, but with a few exceptions, they went only about 70 percent.
There are a few classic oldies they cannot just omit from the menu, declares celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who has been responsible for the catering of the whole event for 26 years, more than a quarter of a century. There are certain classics that the chef feels are like signature dishes of the ceremony. The indispensable trio is the twice-baked gilded potatoes topped with Beluga caviar (rumored to be a favorite of Brad Pitt), black truffle chicken pot pie (Barbara Streisand and Meryl Streep are fans) and Oscar-shaped smoked salmon topped pizza (signature dish of the chef). Notice that these classics are actually simple comfort foods like baked potatoes, pot pie and pizza, but of course, they have the chef’s magical golden touch, with all the glitter and sophistication added. Then there is the phenomenal Miyazaki wagyu beef with gold potato purée & crème fraîche, which will apparently be staying despite the wave of vegan vogue sweeping LA nowadays.
When we delve back to the history of Oscar food, we see that it was not at all gold and glitter, but rather dim and dull when it all started. The first award ceremony was held at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, followed by a glamorous dinner with all the tuxedos, flowing gowns and twinkling jewels, but with an unexciting menu. Hors d’oeuvre consisted of celery sticks, olives and nuts, and the menu was short: Soup (consommé Celestine), two main choices (filet of sole sauté au beurre or half broiled chicken on toast) with two veggies (string beans and French fries then named long branch potatoes), lettuce and tomato salad and two scoops of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) on cake. Apart from the new string beans and salad, there is nothing that vibrates with seasonal freshness, and it is far from being vegan. There were only 270 diners at the Blossom Ballroom who paid 5 dollars for their ticket for the black-tie celeb event. Apparently, the food scene has dramatically changed since then, pretty much in line with the change in the word of movies.
During the war years there were no dinners included, later when dinners were re-introduced, for years the food remained unnoticeable. By the 1980’s things took a turn with something new and exciting: Lazar’s Oscar party. The legendary talent agent Irving Lazar, known by the nickname “Swifty” began giving parties in parallel to the Academy Awards. Actually, many of the celebrities started skipping the dinner, as they were dying to go Lazar’s, simply referred as “The Party,” it was definitely the place to be. By the nineties, The Party was held in Spago, and when Lazar passed away in 1994, there would be no party without Swify. At that point, they proposed Spago’s chef Wolfgang Puck to take over the dinners, and that is when the real transformation started.
Puck eventually changed the sit-down table arrangement, introduced buffets and walk-around small plates, bringing a more dynamic party atmosphere. The menu became diverse and eclectic, reflecting the global influences on Californian fusion cuisine, but not focusing on a certain country. However, there has been one acceptance. Puck met with Turkish chef Cihan Kıpçak in his Istanbul branch, Spago by WP at St. Regis Hotel. Kıpcak got invited to contribute to Governors Ball dinner with Turkish tastes. For two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019, there was a parade of Turkish flavors, with Kıpçak’s own refined touch, ranging from Adana kebab, to Antep baklava, from stuffed meatballs (içli köfte) to fried mince meat stuffed dumplings with garlic yogurt (yağ mantısı). His menu also included totally vegan Turkish specialties such as rice and sour cherry stuffed grape leaves (vişneli yaprak sarma), a favorite of Ottoman royalties. Kıpçak was invited this year too, but though he considers this an honor, he had to decline, as his schedule did not permit. He now owns the title of the first and only Turk who has declined Oscars. The tastes he offered to the starry world did twinkle a few stars in the lavish buffet and I do hope they will
Fork of the week
When Oscar nominees were announced I had one sure winner in my heart. Honeyland is nominated at both the international and documentary category. I will surely be writing a whole article about the film, how it is shot contains a story in itself, but also lots have to say on what it stands for. It is the story of Hatice Muradova, a Turkish origin lonely woman who looks after her old bedridden mother living in remote mountainous region of North Macedonia. Her only means of earning life is by beekeeping. Her deep connection with nature and the bees is heartbreaking; especially when life is totally altered when another family arrives with their seven young mouths to feed arrives in this remote land of honey. Her naïve honesty, her integrity true to herself and to the bees will hit on your face like a strong slap, especially when she utters the words “half to you, half to me”, speaking to the bees as she collects only half of the honey, and leaves the rest for the sustenance of the bees. Hers is the true approach to saving the planet, so my Oscar goes to Hatice.
Cork of the week
Apart from all the glittery food, true shine comes from the drinks. Not to mention all the champagne flowing, this year has a true star behind the bar. Charles Joly will be preparing his signature cocktails, the great mixologist who had been the first American to win Diageo World Class Competion, Oscar of bartending. I had the privilege of tasting many of his creations at the 2014 London competition, I can swear on his tequila based mixes, that will bring sunshine from another hero of mine, the lovable master distiller Enrique de Colsa, once the protégé of the legendary Don Julio González-Frausto Estrada.