Photo Credit: Courtesy Feinstein’s
You can catch renowned vocalist Paula West, called “the finest jazz-cabaret singer around” by JazzTimes, performing at Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko San Francisco through March 9—but not on Sunday, Feb. 22. “I’ve never done a show on Oscar Sunday,” she says with pride. That’s because she has more important things to do on the night of the Academy Awards—like throw her annual Oscar viewing party, which has become nearly as celebrated as her voice.
What began as a small affair with 30 people in her one-bedroom San Francisco apartment has more than doubled in size and moved to her friend Joske Thompson’s loft. “We just used to watch the Oscars,” West says. “Then we had a very dear friend of ours die in 2007, and we decided to fry some chicken.”
West’s Oscar viewing bashes have become known for their chicken, hormone-free and from Whole Foods though the pieces are so big, “you would think they were pumping their breasts with something,” she says with a laugh.
If you’re thinking of throwing your own Oscar viewing party this Sunday, the singer says give some serious thought to what you’re going to serve. “Make something that you’re comfortable making—or if you’re not going to make it, know where to go to get things so it is something memorable,” she advises.
West takes us through her memorable Oscar viewing party and offers more advice on the guest list, time to start, when to serve and more.
The guest list
“I have around 70 people. You always invite some new people every year. It’s always an interesting mix of people. It’s very diverse.”
“I always request that the guests arrive about an hour earlier so they can unwind, fill out their ballot, get their cocktail and watch the red carpet. They have a lot of options to do before the actual TV production starts. They can mingle or they can go up on the roof and enjoy the view, depending on the weather.
To get people in the mood, West puts down a red carpet outside the front door and asks people to fill out Oscar ballots, which she has printed in case people didn’t fill theirs out in advance of arriving. It costs $10 to enter a ballot in the pool with one winner who takes all. “People have won $700,” says West. “Usually it’s someone who comes for the first time who ends up winning and they say, ‘Oh, I had a fantastic time.’ That makes it fun too.”
The charitable West, an honorary chairperson for Lava Mae’s inaugural Showered with Love: the Un-Gala on April 4—an organization that provides mobile showers for the homeless—has turned some of her Oscar parties into benefits, including one to raise money for President Obama and another to help disadvantaged people with their finances.
“I always have snacks placed on various tables. Prior to the main meal, I always pass around sloppy joe sliders so people have something in their stomach while they’re drinking.
“Have plenty of chairs available because sitting down makes it so people will be quiet and listen to the TV. It’s important that people actually be able to watch the show. I just don’t like plastic and paper for the most part. I always have cloth napkins and glassware. You can use the stemless glasses for cocktails. I have the silverware wrapped in the cloth napkins.”
“You should always have a bartender. I have a full bar and do wine, champagne and cocktails. It just gets messy (if you have guests making their own drinks.) People don’t know where things are. The bartender knows where everything and knows how to serve fast.”
“I always serve the food 30 to 45 minutes into the program. By then, whoever is hosting the Oscars has done his or her monologue and they’ve presented a couple of big awards. There’s a little break there.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy Paula West
“I have a tradition of serving the same meal and people look forward to it. Everything is made from scratch except the desserts. You can prep some things but most is made that day. The menu is fried chicken, waffles, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, jalapeno cornbread, haricot vert and roasted beets. A good friend, David Funk, has started making a fabulous cole slaw for us too. We kind of keep it on that down home theme.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy Paula West
“I buy 24 or 25 fresh chickens and have them cut it up. I brine the chicken a few days before. You just don’t fry chicken. I brine it to make it tender and moist. Chicken breast is usually dry but if you brine it, it’s as moist as the dark meat. We have these Cajun fryers and the oil takes 60 to 90 minutes to heat up. We start cooking the chicken a couple of hours before. We’re still cooking during the show. We always use a meat thermometer to make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. That’s important because you can’t necessarily tell from the outside.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy SusieCakes
“I get the pies from Green Chile. The owner is Trevor Logan. He has different pies like green chile apple pie, lemon buttermilk and banana cream pie, and the hard thing is always narrowing down what I want to order. They’re absolutely fantastic pies. I just order them from there because I couldn’t do a better job of making them. I also get a couple of red velvet cakes from SusieCakes. We serve the pies 40 minutes before the ceremony is over, after people are wiped out.”
“Always make more because people want to take some home. My guests look forward to taking some of the chicken home. Always have some brown paper bags, along with Tupperware and Ziploc bags.”
“Hire a couple of people, or have friends, clear the plates so guests don’t have to get up and do that while they’re watching the awards.”
The woman who has watched the Academy Awards for as long as she can remember and records the show so she can watch it when she goes home from her party, admits that her annual Oscar party is quite an undertaking, “which is why it is only once a year,” she says. “It’s hard work but it’s fun. As long as they have the Oscars, I’ll do this.”