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Emmys 2012: Behind the Scenes at the Governors Ball Kitchen

Chef Joachim Splichal’s Patina catering team pulled off a high-stakes deluxe dinner for 3,800, including the newly crowned winners from “Homeland” and “Modern Family.”
Patina Group

The numbers are enormous, the logistics dizzying. Noted L.A. chef Joachim Splichal and his Patina Group’s catering staff were dealing with 3,800 California avocados, 1,425 pounds of filet mignon, 600 pounds of smoked salmon, while 500 pounds of white chocolate stood at the ready. 6,300 bottles of Beaulieu Vineyard wine were waiting to be uncorked. 205 cooks had been summoned for the task, along with 10,000 pieces of china.

Splichal, for the 17th year running, was catering the Emmy Governors Ball, held on Sept. 23 immediately following the ceremony. At this point he’s unfazed. The lengthy tenure helps. “We have a timeline, we never change it,” he told The Hollywood Reporter while the massive dinner service got underway.

The menu-planning process takes months, as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Governors Ball Committee whittles the nearly 70 options Splichal provides down to a final appetizer, main course and dessert. His key over-arcing annual advice to the rotating committee members is unsurprising: Avoid raw garlic.

Prep work begins two days before showtime, with cooks making sauces and chopping produces in Patina Catering’s own kitchen. On the day of the Emmys, they assemble on-site at long tables, plating row after row of dishes – this time around, for instance, smoked salmon avocado sphere appetizers with crisp vegetables, fresh hearts of palm, cucumber, apple, red radish and heirloom tomato vinaigrette.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the kitchen, chefs start rolling out carts piled high with the hot components for the main course of roasted tenderloin, mushroom risotto fries, parsnip creamed spinach, pearl onions and red wine sauce. As entrée orders begin trickling in, a flurry of activity engulfs the main course stations. Servers file into the kitchen and line up at one of the service stations with their orders.

Each station has a platoon of chefs who pass a circular white plate down the line in a matter of seconds after they finish adding each component in the main course, beginning with the risotto fries and slices of beef, then ending with a spoonful of sauce and a sprinkling of garnish. Runners rush back and forth between the stations and carts, taking away empty trays and replenishing them with more food. As soon as the silver covers are placed over the plates, servers hurry back to the front of the house to ensure that the food is still steaming when it reaches the guests. Amid all of this, Splichal circles around each station, occasionally stepping in to fuss with a dish.

Some of the entrée lines carry alternative fish and vegetarian options — this year: arctic char, sweet corn ravioli — for attendees with dietary restrictions. The kitchen is also prepared to handle unexpected requests that it cannot automatically fulfill. Splichal recalls attendees asking for JELL-O and even a Weight Watchers meal in the past. A number of staffers are stationed at nearby grocery stores over the course of the dinner service, ready to purchase such off-menu miscellanea and rush it back to the ball.

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