Special Events

Lights, Camera, Oscar!

AND THE WINNER IS... the 71st Academy Awards Governors Ball-that annual salute to the power of movies, celebrity and the truly grand event.

Cheryl Cecchetto has spearheaded production of the Governors Ball, which directly follows the Oscar presentations, for the last 10 years. The founder of Los Angeles-based Sequoia Productions sees her big challenge as creating a "surprise" each time: "Seventy-five percent of our clientele is the same every year." She adds: "No other event is hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is the first place the celebrities go with their Oscars." Her goal: to make the Governors Ball "the No. 1 party."

To make the March 21 event a surprise, Cecchetto says she "flipped" the theme. In contrast to the "Italian mosaic" look of 1998, this year's gala featured an enchanted romantic grotto. But she stuck with the team of Wolfgang Puck Catering and Restaurant Associates to carry out the menu creation and service. "We go with the best," she says.

RHAPSODY IN BLUES The mastermind behind the romantic look of the ball was Douglas Johnson, founder of Design by Douglas, Los Angeles. Design today "is always so galactic, with lasers and projectors," he says. "My whole thing is to return to beautiful romance."

He romanced the Governors Ball by draping the tent on the plaza of the Los Angeles Music Center with 34,000 yards of fabric specially dyed in watery blues and greens. Sheer swags contrasted with linens, giving a sense of limitless depth. Guests entered through an arbor of pepper trees that had been sprayed with silver gray flocking to resemble ash trees, then draped with moss. The ghostly trees were accented with pinlights. In the center of the tent (the work of Academy Tent and Canvas, Los Angeles) stood a baroque bar.

The stately rectangular tables-seating from 8 to 14 guests-were covered in aqua crushed velvet on the center tier and blue crushed velvet in the lower dining area. The chairs were covered with a muslin underlay and sheer overlay. "Everything went through the dye machine many, many times" to get the effect he wanted, Johnson says.

The tabletops featured platinum-rimmed plates with a baroque border, clear-body chargers with a platinum-beaded rim, and silver-plated baroque flatware; some flatware had faux ivory handles. Each setting boasted a baroque picture frame with a copy of the evening's menu. Unique Tabletop Rentals of Bellflower, Calif., provided the settings.

The centerpieces had an Old World elegance. Mark's Garden of Sherman Oaks, Calif., leaned heavily on dried florals along with fresh, all dripping out of ornate vases. The arrangements included dried amaranthus, eucalyptus and hydrangea along with fresh hydrangea, blue thistles and Limona roses with succulent accents.

STAR-POWER SERVICE A team of 100 chefs and 400 servers from Restaurant Associates, which provides foodservice at the Music Center, produced the menu designed by Los Angeles-based Wolfgang Puck Catering.

To serve the 1,700 guests, Restaurant Associates created temporary kitchens outdoors along the perimeter of the Music Center, explains senior account executive Barbara Brass. The meals were prepped in the indoor kitchens and then loaded into rolling carts, which in turn were loaded into trucks. The trucks were given a police escort around the block to the temporary kitchens for cooking, plating and service. The desserts were created by Puck's pastry chefs at his restaurant Spago and brought to the Music Center.

New York-based Restaurant Associates, which offers catering services to cultural centers and corporate clients, takes pride in its reputation for fine service. "Maintaining consistent elegance is part of our integrity," says Brass.

Restaurant Associates broke the dining room into 19 sections, each section with at least 17 staffers. The servers were supervised by a cadre of division managers and captains.

Part of the challenge of the Governors Ball is that "nobody sits down!" Brass exclaims. And with celebrities unafraid to ask for whatever course strikes their fancy, "We're constantly at different stages of service." To cope with the problem, the antipasto platters stay on the tables all evening, and servers jump for guests' requests. "We overproduce events," Brass says. "But we haven't messed up yet."

Cecchetto knew quickly that this year's Governors Ball was a hit:

"I could sit on an ottoman in a corner with a glass of champagne."

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