Hollywood Stars, Execs Dish on "Hit or Miss" Awards-Show Food as Season Wraps

PGA Food_Split - Publicity - H 2019
Nadine Froger

From the Emmys to the Oscars, insiders dish on the food served during awards season.

One would think the dinner spreads at the various awards celebrations throughout the first two months of the year would, as a rule, be sumptuous banquets befitting both established and newly minted Hollywood royalty. And yet, as Tinseltown’s Movable Feast veers from venue to venue and hotel ballroom to hotel ballroom, nominated connoisseurs can occasionally be heard grumbling about the rubber chickens and food fit for a conventioneer’s palette.

Consider the reaction of GLOW and Orange Is the New Black showrunner Jenji Kohan, who, while accepting the Writers Guild of America West Awards’ Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award via digital video, mentioned her fears about the dinner menu as one of the reasons why she skipped flying in from the East Coast to claim her trophy (being in the midst of shooting the Orange series finale was another).

“The food at these things is often really mediocre,” Kohan said to the crowd assembled in the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s International Ballroom, “but I eat it anyway and then I go into this spiral of regret and anger and sadness over having to eat crap when I could’ve eaten something really good.”

“Terrible” is the one-word summation Alison Brie offered on the overall state of awards show cuisine — “the dry fish,” she chuckled — after making the rounds recently for GLOW.

Domee Shi, the filmmaker behind the food-themed Pixar short Boa, also admits that the gala menus can be “hit or miss,” and while she was impressed with the spread at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon, “I didn't even notice because I was just so distracted by everyone around me. I was, like, putting things in my mouth, and I couldn't quite process it. it was just sensory overload.”

The Nominees Luncheon is one of the many events that have taken place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, which has also provided the dinners for the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild of America Awards, the Artios Awards and the Writers Guild West Awards. The Ray Dolby Ballroom is another regular stop: this year, it was the scene of the Directors Guild of America Awards and the Academy Awards’ annual Governors Ball. Wolfgang Puck Catering traditionally provides the menu for Governors Ball and also served up the food at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium.

Patricia Arquette said that the long slog of doing interviews on the red carpet can often impact the dining experience — something at least one forward-thinking famous face came prepared for this year. “At the Golden Globes, they take away all the plates if you're not there,” said Arquette. “So all the talent gets there and then there's no food, there's just a bunch of champagne. So that's why Melissa McCarthy smuggled in a bunch of sandwiches and sent them to everyone's table.”

“I was in a dress where I couldn't go to the bathroom in for 14 hours one year,” said awards-gala regular Betsy Brandt. “You're still like, ‘I'm gonna eat that because I have to. I have to.’”

But even menu-jaded attendees like Brie have found dinner selections that suited their palette. “I have to say I was just at the Producers Guild of America Awards, and I would rate that the best food at the awards shows this year,” the actress said. “And here's what they did, which was a strange choice: they served it family-style, which was pretty problematic in terms of people wearing fancy outfits and serving themselves, but there was a Moroccan theme and the food itself was way better…I was like, 'I should come to this every year.'"

Jane Fonda, an awards gala veteran for decades, even included a shout-out to the Moroccan feast during her acceptance speech at the PGA fete. “We could be in Marrakesh — the food is unusually good,” said Fonda. “I think it's because women organized this.”

Still, more inventive departures can’t please everyone, for reasons that can’t be anticipated. Free Solo subject Alex Honnald had a different reaction to the PGA spread: “We had a traumatic three-week experience in Morocco, where we ate tajine every single night for three weeks and we all had horrendous digestive issues, and I think I'm pretty much incapable of eating tajine,” he said. “At the PGAs, I was like, ‘Oh. Tajine.’”

But ultimately, meal quality is rarely a major consideration for many attendees. “I'm an actor — any food is always good food,” laughed If Beale Street Could Talk's Colman Domingo. “A lot of times I feel like I'm talking so much that I barely eat. The food’s sort of, like, decorative.”

“You don't eat, really — you drink in moderation, and you have a bite, maybe some bread, and then you eat later,” said Patricia Clarkson, who has a solution ready at the end of the night: “I come back to the Chateau and have something good.”

And in case Kohan was wondering, according to her fellow honoree Adam McKay, the selection at the WGA Awards did not disappoint, exactly. “That food was great, by the way,” McKay said from the stage. “Okay, it was tasty — it wasn’t great.”