Awards Season

This Is What It's Like to Eat at Emmy Night's Biggest Party — and Go Behind the Scenes in the Kitchen

The 70th annual Primetime Emmy awards bash totally reinvented its dinner this year — and I ate my way through it.

As a longtime event reporter in Los Angeles, there’s one fun fact I've been able to repeat from memory for years: "The Emmy Governors Ball is billed as the largest formal sit-down dinner in the country." That’s been true of the Television Academy's official awards after-party long as I can remember — but times change. And when I learned the A-list bash following this year's 70th annual Primetime Emmy awards was going to get a totally different take on a tried-and-true routine — well, I knew I'd need to check it out for myself.

Indeed, this year about 4,000 well-heeled attendees — hungry after sitting for the long telecast — found something way better than a formal sit-down meal. Instead, the event's longtime producer Cheryl Cecchetto and her Sequoia Productions team, as well as returning chef Joachim Splichal and Patina Catering, scrapped the formality, in favor of a more relaxed atmosphere including lounge-style seating groups and more of a social, meandering atmosphere — same impeccable level of service, but no banquet rounds, no fussy coursed-out meals, no ho-hum routine for its own sake. And for the first time ever, the ball went alfresco — under the stars atop L.A. Live's Event Deck.

(The move recalled the format changed announced for the Oscars this year — award show organizers are getting the idea that people are sick of the tired old routines attached to these things.)

Patina offered literally dozens of fine-dining dishes in all. Think tabletop snacks, tray-passed hors d’oeuvres, and small plates, in addition to stationary small-bite stations  — like a carving station from the storied Nick + Stef’s Steakhouse, and a farmers’ market-style edible garden. 

Among the standouts was Patina's signature baked potato DIY bar — with shaved summer truffles for days...

...brown butter gnocchi; hand-carved flat iron steak with red wine bordelaise; cave-aged mini gruyere popovers; Nashville hot fried chicken sliders with dill pickle and savory purple cabbage slaw; Angus beef sliders with aged cheddar, caramelized onions, and tomato aioli; Filipino barbecue chicken skewers with scallion salad and banana ketchup; grilled cheese served on top a shot of heirloom tomato soup; and olive oil poached salmon with lime soya onions, puffed wild rice, and soft herbs; and on and on.

Of particular interest to me was the huge array of vegetarian and vegan items — new and noteworthy this year — including a take on ceviche with lime-marinated cashew, hearts of palm, cucumber, leche de tigre, avocado mousse, and crispy blue corn that tasted light as air. A farmers’ market edible garden station served five salads with locally sourced best-of-the-season produce, such as Valdivia Farms heirloom tomatoes and peaches that tasted like candy. Plus: There was a take on canned beets in a fancy lucite "can" that almost outsmarted me. (With the help of a server, I got it open at last — and the effort was worth it.)

Obviously I left room for dessert! Hello hazelnut chocolate feuilletine, chocolate rocher, strawberry rhubarb tart, chocolate bread pudding, an endless supply of Lindt chocolate truffles in towering vessels for the indiscriminate taking (hey, special occasion, right?)...

And I didn't even mention the booze yet.

Napa Valley winery Sterling Vineyards was back as the official wine sponsor, serving bottles including two soon-to-be-released wines: the new, luxury tier 2015 Sterling Vineyards Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon and ultra-limited flagship 2015 Sterling Vineyards Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon that was well worth a trip (or several) to the bar to ask for it by name.

To my mind, the standout drink was a golden cocktail — the night's signature drink — with Ketel One vodka, Verjus Rose, grapefruit, Mediterranean spice, served with a gold straw and a stick-shaped ice cube, with a flower frozen inside, that kept the length of the glass cool. Tangy, summery, and deceptively easy going down.

But let's rewind the whole night for a moment: About a half hour before the doors to the party swung open, as the final awards were being read at the ceremony, I got a walkthrough of Patina's on-site prep kitchens, and one thing amazed me.

It wasn't just the massive spread of truffles just waiting to be shaved, nor the hundreds upon hundreds of impeccably plated dishes all set to go. (Although it was that too.)

But it was the almost eerie calm among the staff, as if it was no big deal that a crowd of A-list guests with incredibly high standards was about to descend on the scene.

Chef Joachim stood calmly by as if it was any ordinary day — and when I remarked on his chill, he explained it's his 23rd year at this gig, so what's the worry. 

Moments from doors, one blasé staffer preparing the carving station compared the event's new format to all the previous years' seated dinner, and summed it up this way: "Oh, it's buffet. This is nothing."

Photos: Alesandra Dubin

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