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Documentary explores world of catering to stars

  • HBO MAX / AP
                                A chef with Wolfgang Puck Catering puts finishing touches on a charcuterie board in a scene from “The Event,” airing on HBO Max.

    HBO MAX / AP

    A chef with Wolfgang Puck Catering puts finishing touches on a charcuterie board in a scene from “The Event,” airing on HBO Max.

Cooking a meal for a big group is always stressful. So just imagine cooking for over 1,000 guests. Now make those guests white-hot celebrities like Brad Pitt.

That’s what usually faces chef Wolfgang Puck’s catering business, tasked with preparing hundreds of plates of miso-glazed salmon or slow-braised short ribs at buzzy events.

Usually cameras are trained on the celebrities at such shindigs, but with the new HBO Max series “The Event,” which debuted last week, they have captured the cooks and servers toiling behind the scenes.

“I do think we tend to take catered food completely for granted,” says John Watkin, who with frequent collaborator Eamon Harrington co-directed the documentary series and served as executive producer.

From the Screen Actors Guild Awards to HBO’s premier party for “Westworld,” the four-part series shows the intense planning and details that go into high-profile catering.

With complex dishes and makeshift kitchens, something is bound to go wrong, and that’s one of the lessons home cooks can learn from the series — flexibility. As one chef notes: “To me, catering is all about adjusting.”

That was evident last January at the Screen Actors Guild awards in Los Angeles. Puck’s team had created a dish for 1,280 that included pan-roasted chicken with turnip ginger puree and gooseberry salsa verde alongside miso-glazed salmon with sticky rice and sesame cucumbers.

Then, just days before the event, the chefs got a stunning bombshell from organizers: The awards show had decided to go vegan. Puck’s caterers quickly canceled orders of 250 pounds of salmon and 300 pounds of chicken, pivoting to making a paella rice dish with kale and squash, charred baby carrots with a harissa glaze and a bean salad with arugula, olives and baby peppers.

Cameras captured the painstaking building of the dish on plates lined up for yards, element by element, often with a tiny leaf added at the end with tweezers. “It sort of moves along like an assembly line. But the quality of the product is so high it’s like doing assembly lines of the most expensive Mercedes you can buy,” says Harrington.

Viewers also watch the butlers’ meetings, when waiters are told to take advantage of two-minute commercial windows during the show by swarming to clean tables and take drink orders. “Watch your thumbs! No thumbs on the plate!” they are warned.

As much as the servers were challenged, so were the filmmakers. “It was so frenetic,” says Watkin. “There’s so much happening so fast and trying to find ways of capturing all that and making sure we got cameras in the right place and making sure we’re making the shots that we want to make — it was really challenging.”

Every event was likely to attract Puck himself, who is just as much of a celebrity as the guests. The chef often got busy — tasting, advising and even working a cooking station. “You don’t know if he’s coming for 15 minutes or if he’s coming for two hours. But while he’s there, he becomes the center of attention,” says Harrington. Puck didn’t interfere with the series; his only request was that his food “look good.”

In a separate interview, Puck admitted his personality isn’t always a perfect fit for the world of catering. “I’m a guy who does everything at the last moment. I often create chaos because I change my mind in the last moment.”

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