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Denise Vivaldo Headshot

Serving Oscar

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OSCAR
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I could see out of the corner of my eye that the last delivery of rentals had arrived. It was 2:00 PM. Kenny was right on time. I just had to get two of my boys to unwrap the last 400 dinner plates into the red kitchen. There, I thought, 1,700 dinner plates divided between the four kitchens. I'm so organized. I'm so good. We'd only be feeding 1,600, but with this crowd we had to have some extra plates for those last minute and inevitable special orders. Each kitchen had been warned, "No matter what a star asks for... off the menu... just put a timbale of rice on the plate and some artfully placed asparagus and a fancy garnish... they aren't going to eat it, they just want to order something special because they can."

No one was more surprised than Kenny when the truck lift gave way and those last 400 dinner plates went smashing to the ground. They just don't make china the way they used to. I didn't even turn around. I didn't want to see Kenny's face. He was going to have to go to his competitor and beg for 400 dinner plates. Well, we've all taken hits for the team. Hopefully there's no evidence (photos), please. Not my problem.

My problem was serving the food. Even with 300 waiters I was short handed, and I knew it. Getting the entree course to the table when it was still hot was going to be a bitch. Funny, now when I look back I was but a girl with a dream.

During the 80's I was the kitchen director twice for the Academy Awards dinner. Yes, BW... Before Wolfgang. Actually, the company I worked for kind of handed the gig to Wolfgang. I'm not sure they meant to... but that is such old news.

Anyway, in 1988, I had big hair and looked like Barbie Benton. I have the tapes to prove it. I mean tapes of me working... I mean cooking. I mean, I was dressed!

There I was with one of my best friends from cooking school, she was the executive chef and we were in charge of serving 1,600 fancy, famous people dinner after the awards ceremony. About 6,000 people used to sit in the Shrine Auditorium and watch the ceremony but only 1,600 got to eat. The studios bought the tables and passed out the tickets. No ticket, no dinner. The Board of Governor's Ball is a fundraiser for the actor's old age home, so almost everything is donated. Flowers, décor, swag... that year we, the catering company, were one of the few vendors getting paid. It wasn't much, but all we really wanted was the prestige of saying "Well, you know last year we catered the Academy Awards..." We thought we were something.

They were trying to renovate the dinner for Hollywood's biggest night. It had been at the Beverly Hills Hilton for years but A-Listers were no longer staying for dinner. They were fleeing after the ceremony and going to Swifty Lazar's party. Who could blame them? It offered better food, more fun and a much wanted luxury soiree.

I think the Shrine was the only venue big enough at that time to accommodate the award ceremony and the dinner. I'd never been there before I was hired. It was an amazing dump. The rats at the Shrine were so big they were mistaken for raccoons. There wasn't an exterminator in town that had that kind of clout. Sometimes in the morning, the little bastards were still screeching while stuck to the rat sticky pads lining the base boards. Oh crap, I'd think, somebody call PETA before I have to kill these mofo's.

After months of planning, ordering, and worry, it worked. The waiters picked up the plates and the four kitchens were able to serve the entire dining room at the same time. Kenny had gotten more plates and none of the waiters even mentioned the third degree burns on their hands.

For crying out loud, we were at the Oscars.



Denise Vivaldo is writing a memoir of her years cooking in Hollywood. The working title is, No Blindfold, Honey, I Can Chew the Bullets.

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