If you are one of the 18,000 lucky musicians, celebrities, entourage members, press agents or sponsors attending the 57th Annual Grammy Awards this Sunday, you might be eating from a selection from one of the Staples Center's two distinct suite menus for the evening. Thousands of plates of bacon caviar dip with sweet potato chips, jumbo prawns on a bed of creamy peppered grits and beef tenderloin with smoked potatoes in a green garlic aoli are already being crafted by Staples Centers' executive chef Joseph Martin and the arena's 160-deep kitchen staff in preparation for the star-studded evening.
Martin is one of The Grammy's most unsung heroes, a Ritz Carlton-trained chef who cranks out custom menus of whimsical and innovative dishes that defy the Staples Center's corporate image. This year’s Grammys will mark his fourth as culinary commander of Music’s Biggest Night, but he's no stranger to cooking for a crowd. As executive chef of Staples Center, its his job to conceptualize tasty menus for big-ticket events all year long.
Still, Martin says The Grammys is truly a unique night for food. “The budget almost goes out the window, so we can get really creative,” he said at a guided press preview of the food he will be serving this weekend. “The only other Staples Center event that comes close to rivaling the Grammys with this kind of energy is the Stanley Cup Finals.”
When Martin describes the final prep on Grammys night, you can see excitement in his eyes. “It’s a last minute push. These tables will be loaded with individual plates,” he smiles and gestures to a long row of stainless steel prep tables where a man is busy assembling ahi tuna BLT sandwiches, carefully layering ingredients with an expert hand.
Like other special events of this size, menu planning for the culinary chaos that is The Grammys begins months in advance, and it's a delicate play between meeting diners' most basic wants and challenging their expectations with new ideas and bold flavors. Multiple menus run simultaneously for the various levels of clients in attendance, each one crafted as a distinct program. Most celebrities, for example, will be rocking out with a secret Italian menu at the after-party,
After years of dealing with the picky palates and dietary restrictions of the Staples Center's most distinguished guests, nothing surprises Martin anymore. Whether it’s accommodating a fad diet or specific sourcing instructions for a piece of salmon (all of which has happened), this chef and his team have been through it all.
Martin said his goal for the Grammys suite menu was to create food that was “conducive to noshing in a nice dress.” His bacon caviar dip epitomizes the philosophy. “Nobody's done it before but the combination works so well,” he says. And he's right — the dish tastes as rich as the nice dresses he envisions.
Martin also works with top-level bartenders to create custom cocktails for each event. For those looking to imbibe on Grammy night, cocktails will be shaken out by 2014 Global Bartending Champion, Charles Joly. The two signature drinks are A Good Goodnight, which pairs Charles Goodnight Bourbon with port and coffee liqueur and the Sunset Margarita, which uses the $30-per-shot Don Julio 1942 anejo tequila and St. Elizabeth all-spice dram. Best of all, drinks are served with intricately crafted gramophone ice cubes.
Despite the months-long intensity that goes into creating opulent meals for music industry's biggest names, Martin and his dream team are poised to deliver another delicious performance (albeit backstage) for the upcoming Grammy Awards. From artfully curated charcuterie to perfectly set panna cotta, the Staples Center chef doesn't let the magnitude of an event compromise flavor or plating. Expect perfection in every bite, and expect future dishes to push the envelope even further.
After the media event, in the elevator on his way down to the main Grammy stage, Martin muses about next year's menu possibilities. “Maybe I'll make my own mayo,” he says.