As soon as the doors to the Emmy Awards Governors Ball at the L.A. Convention Center opened Sunday night, the band started to play. Songs like Coldplay's "Clocks," "Bésame Mucho," and suddenly a fast and frenetic tune like something out of "Riverdance." Back in the kitchen -- actually an enormous room lined with long tables -- the staff worked at the same pace as the musicians. Their immediate task? To plate and serve the second of three courses from Patina Catering to 3,800 guests, including television's hottest current stars.
Teams huddled around scores of folding tables, working assembly-line style to plate each dish within seconds. The "fries" went first -- thick like fish sticks, and stuffed with risotto and mushrooms. A second person added meat -- beef tenderloin prepared sous-vide, two slices per plate. Creamed spinach and parsnip came next, tapped out of round foil molds and topped with pearl onions. Next, red wine sauce was drizzled over the meat. Finally, someone wiped the rim and added purple micro-greens. The plate was complete. Within 50 seconds, it would land on a dining table.
Patina chef Joachim Splichal rushed from table to table, supervising. "You have to slow down!" he commanded one table. Then: "Hurry up!" "Being in time is the most important thing," Splichal told Squid Ink. His staff needed to plate and serve the second course in 30 minutes.
The appetizers had been set in the ballroom an hour in advance, thanks to 656 servers. (The avocado and smoked salmon salad had been prepared ice cold and kept under air conditioning, Splichal said, so it could remain in perfect condition for an hour or longer.) As soon as the appetizers were gone, the dessert team began adorning white chocolate raspberry cakes with mint and raspberry sauces, fresh raspberries, star flowers, and raspberry macaroons. The whole job would take about two hours.
But what's two hours when the menu took a year to develop? The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Governors Ball Committee commissioned food to fit the event's theme -- "A Romantic Rhapsody in Red" -- and endured what must have been agonizing tasting sessions before confirming the final menu. One decision was easy: Beef has been on Patina's menu for each of the 17 years that it has catered the Governors Ball. "It is the item that pleases everybody," said Splichal. Of course, Patina is willing to bend to special dietary requests. Every year, runners are stationed at nearby markets, should Patina receive last-minute special requests. "Maybe they like jello," Splichal said.
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An event that relies on 3,800 avocados, 1,425 pounds of beef, 600 pounds of smoked salmon, and 300 pounds of mushrooms, among other gigantic quantities, inevitably ends up with extra. Patina delivered its leftovers to the L.A. Mission, a homeless shelter in downtown's Skid Row. And next week, it will begin planning next year's menu.
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