For the past 20 years, Joachim Splichal, The Chef and founder of Los Angeles’s Michelin-starred eatery, Patina, has been serving up gourmet treats for 4,000 elite members of the entertainment industry (in under an hour, no less) at the annual Emmy Awards’ Governors Ball—the largest seated and catered meal in North America. Although you won’t see the German Patina Restaurant Group founder and James Beard Award winner schmoozing with the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Jon Hamm or Ryan Murphy post-meal at this year’s “Reigning With Radiance”-themed gala—he likes to relax with a glass of wine at home after such a massive undertaking—you will find that this philanthropic chef makes sure that the leftover, uneaten meals he prepares are sent straight to Los Angeles’s Midnight Mission. The master restaurateur reflects on the past 20 years preparing for television’s biggest night, offering us a sneak peek at this year’s menu.
It’s your 20th anniversary of catering the Emmys’ Governors Ball. What will you do to commemorate it?
I didn’t even know it was the 20th anniversary! I don’t think we came up with something special. Should I fake it? You can’t adventure into something new with 4,000 people: it’s impossible.
What are the oddest requests you’ve ever had in all the years you’ve been catering the Governors Ball?
Pancakes and yogurt; we had Weight Watchers [requested] one time. Whatever they want, we deliver. We have two people at the [supermarket] who are just there to deliver what is requested. They’re all crazy, those actors! When there are 4,000 people out there and one person asks for Weight Watchers, it’s hilarious in a sense.
Aside from the sheer scale of the undertaking, how does the fare you serve at the Governors Ball differ from what you serve at Patina?
It’s very different. At Patina, every dish is prepared at the last second. The ingredients are not higher quality, but there are a lot of farm-driven ingredients, and you cannot do that for 4,000 people. Patina is a little bit more refined; there are a lot more details to the dish. At the Governors Ball, we can’t have more than five steps, because it will take too long to send out. At Patina, we have 18 steps, with 12 guys in the kitchen.
Tell us about the undertaking of such a massive event; how do you set it up?
We set up 15 stations—15 individual kitchens—and every station services 260 people; we have about 200 chefs. It happens in 60 minutes and then, boom, it’s over.
How many months does it take to plan?
We begin planning the menu in January and doing a little bit of testing, and then in April the committee comes in. We give them 20 options, they go down to five, and then in May, it’s decided what they want to eat.
Do you get to actually enjoy yourself and join the party, or are you in the kitchen the entire time?
I drive home and have a glass of red wine and that’s it. It’s a huge push. I don’t like the partying. It’s so much effort to get this all done that I don’t have the energy at the end of the night.
Do you have a fondest story or best memory from years past?
One time, we had a food fight with Cybill Shepherd. It was all staged. Ten years ago, we threw guacamole and red sauce and gazpacho and filet of beef. She won.
Any plans to open new eateries in 2015/2016?
We have a couple of restaurants coming to Disney Springs in Orlando. We’re re-opening Nick & Stef’s this month with totally new décor. There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s a very busy time.
Where are you personally eating these days in Los Angeles?
I like to eat at Nobu Malibu, downtown at Baco Mercat and I love Union in Pasadena. I like local, homey neighborhood places.
How do you think the Los Angeles culinary scene has changed since you first opened Patina in 1989?
It has changed tremendously. When I started, restaurants were big investments—two to 10 million dollars—driven by a chef. Now, you have chefs that open restaurants for $300,000. They find all different antiques and give [their restaurants] flair, and the food is very good and natural. What’s tremendously in is farm-to-table, which is totally different than it was when I started. L.A. is really a town of neighborhood restaurants.
You’ve cooked for some of the biggest stars in the world. Who has it been your greatest personal pleasure to serve, and what did you serve them?
For a chef, it’s an honor to cook for celebrities. I’ve cooked for four presidents, but I think the biggest pleasure was [serving American diplomat and political scientist] Henry Kissinger. He was a regular; he always came and sat at the same table with [former Paramount Pictures CEO] Sherry Lansing. He had certain dishes he loved, like the lasagna with black truffle mushrooms. He loved to eat. I was [also] honored to be asked to cook for [the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge]. It was very, very complicated. We had to go through eight different tastings to get the food they wanted. They came for an hour-and-a-half and boom—they were in and out and gone. For a chef, it’s a nightmare because you can’t really plan—everything is on their agenda. They were very picky about the way they wanted the food. It was a huge production.
Given that you’re catering the Emmys, what shows are you currently watching/a fan of?
I don’t really like the cooking shows. I like [watching] Anthony Bourdain, but I don’t watch very much TV; I’m pretty busy. If I’m watching anything, it’s CNN.