What Happens to the Leftover Caviar Potatoes from the Oscars?
The Hollywood elite who are invited to the exclusive Oscars afterparty aren’t the only ones who dine like aristocracy after the awards show. A lot of the food ends up feeding the homeless on Skid Row.
After this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, the stars attending the Governors Ball will be greeted by bountiful presentations of oysters, multiple Jamon Iberico legs, 24-karat gold covered chocolate Oscars and uni with eggless custard, dashi, unagi glaze, and bright little bursts of finger lime.
Around 200 chefs and 850 service and support staff will pass food to 1,500 guests, offering some of the most expensive ingredients in the world, including 15 kilos caviar, 35 pounds of black truffles from Burgundy, and 240 kilos of Miyazaki wagyu beef. The latter is so rare only 18,000 of the 28,000 Japanese Black cattle handled by JA Miyazaki meet the criteria to get the moniker.
Puck’s chefs order a staggering amount of luxury ingredients for their passed hors d’oeuvres and over-the-top displays. Unsurprisingly, there’s a whole lot leftover at the end of the night.
Though chefs and consumers have increasingly become attentive to limiting food waste—estimated to account for 30% to 40% of the country’s food supply—Puck and his team has been at the forefront of food recovery for years.
“Wolfgang’s restaurants were some of the first to come aboard,” says Brette Waters program director for Chefs to End Hunger. “Pretty much all of his restaurants and operations donate to us.”
In 2018, Wolfgang Puck Catering donated a total of 8,540 pounds of food to Chefs to End Hunger. The nonprofit arm of gourmet food distributor LA & SF Specialty, the organization facilitates donations to Midnight Mission on Skid Row as well as other Southern California homeless services and hunger relief organizations like World Harvest Food Bank in Los Angeles and Bracken’s Kitchen in Garden Grove.
Last year, the team recovered an estimated 250 pounds of excess food—enough for around 208 meals, according to USDA conversion rates—from the Governors Ball.
“If all the Oscar nominees and people who come to gala are eating premium food, I think the unfortunate should eat the same thing,” says Eric Klein, VP of Culinary for Wolfgang Puck Catering, the official Governors Ball caterer for the past 25 years. “Black truffle chicken pot pies, baked potatoes with caviar, all the leftover dishes gets sent to them.”
Founded in 2012, Chefs to End Hunger uses LA & SF Specialty’s existing logistics and longstanding relationships with chefs, restaurants, and hotels in California, Nevada, and Arizona to get high-quality food “waste” to those who need it.
Participating chefs and restaurants, which include other big L.A. names like James Beard Award winner Susan Goin (Lucques, A.O.C., and more) and Neal Fraser (Redbird), get labeled Chefs to End Hunger boxes, each one containing three aluminum pans. At the end of the day, the chefs pack up their remaining prepared food and whatever else they’d like to donate and leave it in their walk-in. The next day, when their LA & SF Specialty order gets dropped off, the restaurants hand over the boxes to their delivery person, who sticks them in the back of the refrigerated truck and brings it back to the refrigerated warehouse at the end of their run.
While the national good samaritan law, the 1996 Federal Emerson Act, indemnifies donors who are handing over products in good faith, Chefs to End Hunger is diligent in ensuring the food is kept according to proper safety guidelines the entire time.
There’s absolutely no break in the cold chain through the entire logistical process. Every box has a bar code and every pallet has a dated master code related to those boxes that can be scanned to keep track of the contents, its point of origin and when it arrives and leaves the warehouse. At least one of the partner agencies comes to the warehouse every morning to pick up boxes of food. “Our main objective is to handle the food over as quickly as possible to organizations that can maintain food safety, as well,” says Waters.
Chefs to End Hunger’s unique system is helping to keep a lot of food out of landfills, which are the third largest source of methane in the United States, much of which is due to quickly decomposing food waste. And the organization is helping to make a decent dent in feeding the 2.4 million food insecure individuals in Southern California.
Throughout 2018, the nonprofit collected 3.2 million pounds of prepared food and whole products from its donors, providing 2.6 million high-quality meals to its partner organizations.
That often includes dishes like filet mignon, lobster tails and, after Oscar night, Puck signatures like tuna cones, agnolotti, and pastries.
“We can’t make anyone take advantage of our resources, we can only make our environment more attractive to people so they ask for help,” says Midnight Mission volunteer manager, Joey Weinart. “What better way to make us attractive than these gourmet meals from Oscars night? It gives us the ammunition to make it happen.”