updated 02/24/2012 AT 11:00 AM ET
•originally published 02/26/2012 AT 4:45 PM ET
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck will be in charge of feeding nearly 2,000 guests at the Academy Awards ceremony this year, his 18th consecutive year as the official Oscars chef. This year, he has a comfort-food bonanza planned – though past plans haven’t always gone so smoothly, as he tells PEOPLE:
What do you have to do to take care that the menu doesn’t seem to favor a particular nominee?
Puck: We don’t pair our menu to movies or actors who are nominated. From our smoked-salmon Oscars to the ever-popular 24-karat-gold-covered chocolate Oscars, the menu is always something that stands alone. After all, it’s not about one movie, it’s about the Oscars.
Is there a particular Oscars dinner that you’ve done in the past that you use as the bar for future Oscar dinners?
Puck: Every year is just like opening night at the theater. I don’t look at the past – I only look at what will be great this year. It’s difficult to serve 1,600 people at the same time, so we have to plan our menu carefully. This year, I’m very excited because the whole structure is different – it will be a party with couches, low tables, and we’ll serve a lot of different dishes on small plates like a small chicken pot pie with black truffles, chinois lamb chops with mint-cilantro vinaigrette, macaroni and cheese, braised short ribs, crispy sea bass in puff pastry, and many more.
Any near disasters?
Puck: The food at the Oscars has always been first-class, yet there were some times when it got really hairy in the kitchen. Like one of the times at the Shrine Auditorium where the kitchen was outside in the parking lot and it was rainy and windy. We couldn’t get anything to boil and we were making black-truffle risotto for 1,600 people. Or, the first time at the Kodak Theatre where in the middle of serving the main course, the electricity went out and we still had 800 steaks to cook. We handled it really well and nobody in the dining room had the slightest idea that there was a problem in the kitchen.
How do you handle special requests, food allergies and dietary restrictions?
Puck: Since we have over 300 chefs in our kitchen, we can handle any special request. If somebody wants just a simple grilled chicken or piece of fish, or a plain pasta or risotto – we have the ability to satisfy every palate and every dietary restriction.
What will this year’s pre-Oscars family meal – the simpler meal the chefs serve to the kitchen and wait staff before the event – be?
Puck: We always serve a wonderful family meal before the Oscars because we all know everybody has to work very late. The menu changes because it’s not a one-day event. The crew feed is really for the whole week so we serve a week-long family dinner for thousands.”
The 84th Academy Awards will air live from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC