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Suzanne Goin and JoBeth Williams dish on feeding the Screen Actors Guild Awards

Ever wonder what it takes to feed 1,250 hungry, possibly nervous celebrities? How does the chef come up with the menu, how many cooks does it take to pull it all together? This week, I was privileged to interview both Jo Beth Williams (Academy Award nominated actress and head of the SAG Awards ceremony’s planning committee) and Suzanne Goin (James Beard Award winning chef and owner of Lucques, AOC and Tavern, and caterer for the ceremony) to gain a behind the scenes peek into that process.

The process began with Williams giving Goin a set of specific parameters the planning committee was looking for in their menu.

They didn’t want to serve a full meal. The food needed to be good at room temperature, as it’s served pre-plated at the table and sits during the ceremony. And, of course, in the world of Hollywood celebrities there are always dietary concerns, vegetarians of various stripes, and because of the gowns and finery, the food needed to be easily eaten, always a concern.

“Suzanne went out of her way to create food that’s easily eaten,” Williams adds. “It couldn’t be too rich for people who are nervous because they are nominated, and may have to get up and give a speech. And in spite of all these concerns, the foods still needs to taste fresh.”

Parameters were fine with Goin.

“I actually like it when clients give me a good amount of direction. It helps me to be able to give them what they want.”

They also requested four separate dishes, that would make a full meal.

“ I thought of them as a four course menu in tasting size, four items that could stand on their own as well as work well together.” Goin says.

She also has her own set of parameters. “I cook very seasonally and very locally, which some people could consider a little restrictive, but I actually like that. It helps focus the creativity.”

The process is intuitive, usually with one dish coming first. In this case it was blood oranges which have just come into season, and because as Goin says “I love them so much. They’re so refreshing, and a nice break” working against that “rubber chicken” tendency in big event food.

From there it was a dialogue with herself, i.e. “if I have an item, like olives in the first course, I should add something else later as an alternative, or to complement.” She wanted all the items to go together well, but different enough to stand to on its own.

For the SAG Awards menu, starting with the fresh, bright tasting blood orange salad, required “something heartier and more savory, something in the grain or legume category to act as a satisfying counterpart.”

The next step was building in two protein items, the King salmon, and the lamb. Goin says she was surprised they selected lamb, but it was a wonderful choice. She uses tenderloin of lamb, again, making it easier to eat, as it’s less chewy than other cuts.

To put it all together and on to the tables, three of Goin’s main kitchen staff will lead the preparation, along with 10 on call staff who will begin working on Friday for Sunday’s event. At the ceremony, there will be a kitchen staff of 24 who will plate the meal which will then be pre- set at the tables.

Ah- and so you can live vicariously, here’s the simple, yet elegant, menu they’ll be enjoying.

Blood Oranges with Arugula, Dates and Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Beluga Lentils with Carrots, Pine Nuts and Feta

Slow Roasted Slamon with Cucumbers, Yogurt and Ginger Mint Chutney

Slow Roasted Lamb with Chikpea Purée, Black Olives and Feta Salsa Verde

Fresh Baked Crostini with Parmesan, Thyme and Parsely

Dry Creek Vineyards exclusive SAG Awards Cabernt-based 2008 Cuvée and Dry Creek Valley 2009 Sauvignon Blanc will accompany the meal.

The SAG Awards will be simulcast live on TNT and TBS from the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center on Sunday, January 30th at 5 P.M. PST

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