FILE - Chef Wolfgang Puck right, and his son Byron make a pasta dish at the Governors Ball Press Preview for the 92nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2020. A new four-part documentary series, “The Event,” shows the intense planning and details that go into high-profile catering. The series premieres on HBO Max on Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

‘It was so frenetic:’ HBO Max follows Wolfgang Puck Catering

‘It was so frenetic:’ HBO Max follows Wolfgang Puck Catering

NEW YORK — Cooking a meal for a big group is always stressful. So just imagine cooking for over 1,000 guests. Now make those guests white-hot celebrities like Brad Pitt.

That’s what usually faces chef Wolfgang Puck’s catering business, tasked with preparing hundreds of plates of miso-glazed salmon or slow-braised short ribs at buzzy events.

Usually cameras are trained on the celebrities at such shindigs but with the new HBO Max series “The Event,” they have captured the cooks and servers toiling behind the scenes. It starts airing Thursday.

“I do think we tend to take catered food completely for granted,” says John Watkin, who with frequent collaborator Eamon Harrington co-directed the documentary series and served as executive producers.

From the Screen Actors Guild Awards to HBO’s premier party for “Westworld,” the four-part series shows the intense planning and details that go into high-profile catering.

With complex dishes and makeshift kitchens, something is bound to go wrong and that’s one of the lessons home cooks can learn from the series — flexibility. As one chef notes: “To me, catering is all about adjusting.”

That was evident last January at the SAG awards in Los Angeles. Puck’s team had created a dish for 1,280 that included pan-roasted chicken with turnip ginger puree and gooseberry salsa verde alongside miso-glazed salmon with sticky rice and sesame cucumbers.

Then the chefs got a stunning bombshell from organizers just days before the vent: The award show had decided to go vegan.

Puck’s caterers quickly cancelled incoming orders of 250 pounds of salmon and 300 pounds of chicken, pivoting to making a paella rice dish with kale and squash, charred baby carrots with a harissa glaze and a bean salad with arugula, olives and baby peppers.

Cameras captured the painstaking building of the dish on plates that stretch for yards, element by element, often with a tiny leaf added at the end with tweezers.

“It sort of moves along like an assembly line. But the quality of the product is so high it’s like doing assembly lines of the most expensive Mercedes you can buy,” says Harrington.

Viewers also watch the butlers’ meetings, when waiters are told to take advantage of the 2-minute commercial window by swarming to clean tables and take drink orders. “Watch your thumbs! No thumbs on the plate!” they are warned.

As much as the servers were challenged, so were the filmmakers. “It was so frenetic,” says Watkin. “There’s so much happening so fast and trying to find ways of capturing all that and making sure we got cameras in the right place and making sure we’re making the shots that we want to make — it was really challenging.”

In the second episode, 1,200 business venture capitalists and business bigwigs gather for the Upfront Summit at the Rose Bowl for a two-day event that requires catering for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner.

The Puck crew had to deal with a few curveballs, including high winds, not enough servers and the so-called “quiche incident” — in the rush to get the quiches plated, there wasn’t enough time to let them rest so many ended up being messy. “It’s not about the fumble. It’s how you recover,” the film quotes Barbara Brass, vice-president of catering sales.

Watkin and Harrington began the project last January, only a few days before the SAG awards — “It was a baptism by fire,” says Harrington — and grew to having three or four camera crews per event. The Rose Bowl event was the most physically taxing: “We got our 10,000 steps times three or four probably every day on that show,” he added.

Every event was likely to attract Puck himself, who is just as much as a celebrity as the guests. The chef often got busy — tasting, advising and even manning a cooking station. “You don’t know if he’s coming for 15 minutes or if he’s coming for two hours. But while he’s there, he becomes the centre of attention,” says Harrington. Puck didn’t interfere with the series, and his only request was that his food “look good.”

In a separate interview, Puck admitted his personality isn’t always a perfect fit for the world of catering. “I’m a guy who does everything at the last moment. I often create chaos because I change my mind in the last moment,” he says. “I also know in catering, it is really important to be organized so having a good team is very important,”

The film crews showed up on big days with the cooks — sometimes as early as 5:30 a.m. — but there were some benefits. Watkin and Harrington felt obliged to try all the food. After all, they had to know what they were describing. Watkin recalls taking a few bites of the messy quiche — and losing his mind.

“I’ve never taken heroin, but I think that the experience of eating Wolfgang’s quiche must be very similar to what it’s like when you get a shot of heroin in the arm,” he says, laughing. “I immediately had this total feeling of ecstasy and then I immediately had to chase the high. I had to have another piece of quiche.”


Mark Kennedy is at

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A Suncor logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Thursday, May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Body of worker whose bulldozer fell through ice on inactive tailings pond recovered

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Oilpatch giant Suncor says the body of a… Continue reading

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

Most Read