Behind the Scenes at Elton John's Oscar Party
All over the nation, people are getting ready for Oscar-night parties. But not everyone is expecting 900 guests, like gay Los Angeles chef and caterer Wayne Elias.
Elias is in his eighth year of catering the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Academy Awards Viewing Party, one of the most stellar events of the season and one that raises much-needed funds for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, plus efforts to fight stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.
For Elias, executive chef of Crumble Catering and the restaurants Vermont and Rockwell Vt. (all co-owned with Chris Diamond), the gig is an opportunity to work for a cause that’s extremely important to him. “I have lost friends and lovers to the disease and have been passionate about the cause for 25 years,” he says.
Sir Elton has become one of the cause’s major benefactors. His U.S. foundation, established in 1992, and its U.K. counterpart, set up in 1993, have raised more than $225 million for projects in 55 countries to date. The Oscar party, a major source of those funds, draws a crowd that includes many top celebrities to enjoy fabulous food in a sumptuous setting.
Elias partners with a celebrity chef every year, and this year it’s Iron Chef Cat Cora — and as a lesbian, she’s “family,” he adds. Elias has created the menus for the pre-dinner cocktail hour and post-party reception, and Cora, with his guidance, the five-course dinner menu. “She’s very easy to work with,” he says.
The cocktail reception will feature Elias’s signature grilled cheese sandwich, which instead of your mother’s American singles on Wonder is Gorgonzola and mascarpone with pears on raisin bread, along with other tempting morsels. The dinner entrée will be a choice of Basque-rubbed tenderloin of beef or pan-sautéed sea bass with lemon couscous, and Cora has come up with delicious appetizers, salads, and desserts as well. The post-party offerings will be one buffet of sweets, including miniature red velvet cupcakes and heart-shaped cookies, and one of savory “comfort food” treats, such as hamburgers, steak fries, and onion rings.
The party is at a new venue this year, West Hollywood Park, across from its former home, the Pacific Design Center. “That is going to be so fantastic,” Elias says. “It’s so much larger.” It allows for accommodation of a substantially bigger guest list; the expected attendance is 200 more than last year’s.
Although Elias spends much of his time in the kitchen at the event, he does get to mix a bit with the stars. Before the first dinner course is served, he comes out to greet Sir Elton and his partner, David Furnish, and have a picture taken with them, and after dessert he has the opportunity to mingle. Seven years ago he met Elizabeth Taylor, for whom he created a birthday cake, as she celebrated that occasion at the party. Other luminaries he’s met over the years include Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine.
Crumble Catering’s clients have included a variety of other LGBT and AIDS organizations, such as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Trevor Project, Aid for AIDS, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The company also caters many premieres for Warner Bros. and Disney, events for local hospitals, birthday parties, and weddings. The Oscar party is a particularly big job, but it’s one Elias and his colleagues are thrilled to do. “It’s wonderful to be part of such a great organization to help the cause,” he says.