Oscar Banquets

Oscar night looms. Commentators are dusting off their pre-show red-carpet patter, craftsmen are fashioning gold-plated statuettes, Price Waterhouse officials are counting ballots in secret sessions, and Hollywood is preparing to dazzle its colleagues and the general public with its annual orgy of self-congratulation.

Today Wolfgang Puck and his minions are working on the food for the Governor’s Ball. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this year’s menu will feature my favorite edible for ANY occasion—lots and lots of finger food, served buffet style. I would LOVE to taste Puck’s lobster tacos, not to mention the gold-dusted chocolate Oscars now being fashioned.

The first Academy-Awards banquet was less elaborate than the one planned for tomorrow evening. Held in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel in May of 1929, it fed about 270 people instead of the 1500-odd nominees, presenters, and guests expected this year.

The overall ambiance, according to later recollections, was one of a small community celebration. First best-actress winner Janet Gaynor said decades after the fact, “It was just a small group getting together for a pat on the back…. Hollywood was just one big family then, and [the award] was a bouquet—thrown to me, I think, because I was new and because they thought I had certain freshness. It was nothing then like it is now.”

Janet Gaynor in "Sunrise," one of the three films for which she won the best-actress trophy in 1929.

The food was less sophisticated than that being planned for this year. Hollywood and the American public were a little simpler then. I think it sounds pretty tasty, however.

According to the official Awards Librarian at the Academy, the menu consisted of:

Assorted Nibbles (rolls, olives, etc.)
Consommé Celestine
Fillet of Sole Sauté au Beurre
Half-Broiled Chicken on Toast
(The librarian noted that she hoped this meant “broiled half-chicken” rather than underdone poultry.)
New String Beans
Long-Branch Potatoes
Lettuce and Tomatoes with French Dressing
Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream

Nostalgia is always on the menu at the Academy Awards, so I am supplying a version of one of the dishes consumed in 1929. Happy viewing … and eating. Enjoy Billy Crystal’s return!

Billy Crystal and Friend. Courtesy of AMPAS. Photo credit : Bob D'Amico/ABC

Original Oscar Night Fillet of Sole

I love sole—and so, apparently, did diners in Hollywood in 1929. This is my favorite way to pan fry this fish in butter. If you want to make the fillets look more beautiful, dredge them in flour before cooking them.

I haven’t made this recipe lately so I don’t have a photo to share with you. But I do remember that it was delicious.


1 small juice glass almost filled with sprigs of parsley
about 1/4 cup clarified butter
1-1/2 pounds sole fillets
salt and white pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 large lemon


With kitchen scissors cut the parsley into small pieces in the glass. In a large frying pan, melt about half of the butter over medium heat. Put in a few sole fillets; they should not touch each other.

Fry the fillets gently for a minute or two on each side, until they become flaky, adding salt and pepper as you cook. As each fillet is done, place it on a platter in a 250-degree oven so that it stays warm until its relatives have finished cooking. Add butter to the pan as needed for sautéing.

When the fillets are all cooked and on the platter, throw the parsley and lemon juice into the frying pan, and stir to allow them to mingle with the pan drippings. Ladle the parsley-lemon-butter mixture onto the fish fillets, and serve.

Serves 4.

This postcard of the Roosevelt Hotel, currently for sale on ebay, was postmarked in 1929.

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12 Responses to “Oscar Banquets”

  1. Nicki says:

    Homemade (by an Italian chef who I adore) takeout lasagna and salad are feature here. Pop the tray in the oven and take a few mins. to assemble salad. More time to watch TV.

  2. Margie says:

    Big bowl of buttered popcorn and a diet Coke. After that, maybe a bowl of sugar-free ice cream with cherry pie filling on top. Need to remember to turn on the tv, of course.

  3. Nicki says:

    BTW, Tinky Weisblat, in case I’ve never mentioned it, I want to thank you for being the movie maven (with Kelly) of our class. I know that you exposed me/us to a ton of classic films. It’s kind of funny how the one claim for movies I have i…s that the theatre in my hometown closed out its existence (it got torn down right after it closed and no movie house replaced it to this day) showing a first run movie titled The Last Picture Show, ironic (and likely intended) as hell. And what a classic movie that turned out to be.

  4. tinkyweisblat says:

    I think both of your evenings sound great. (I would never have thought of the cherry pie filling, Margie.) And Nicki, we LOVED being the mavens, as you know. What a shame about your theater; I still have trouble going into multiplexes (although I do go into them).

  5. Jim says:

    Happy Oscars! Is the Roosevelt Hotel really for sale on ebay?

  6. tinkyweisblat says:

    Ah, Jim, I’ve always had trouble with antecedents. I did mean the postcard, but I’d love to see the hotel there….

  7. Jim says:

    Maybe we could work up a shared bid…though I fear the hostel’s not what it was.

    Plus you are a really excellent writer, a great voice, great style, and very smart…very!

    A mysterious antecedent is a good thing now and then….

  8. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, Jim! It’s true: a little mystery never hurts!

  9. I like your sole recipe – except for the parsley, which I just don’t like!!

  10. tinkyweisblat says:

    “Each to her own taste,” said the old lady as she kissed the cow.

    That was one of my mother’s classic expressions. I have no idea where she got it.

    Personally, I’m a major parsley fan. Feel free to omit it if you really can’t stand it, however.

  11. Grad says:

    I didn’t watch the Oscars (I seldom do anymore). What was I watching? Rerun of Downtown Abbey? I can’t recall. As a child, though, I love the Oscars with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hephurn, Katharine Hephurn, Spencer Tracy…well you get the picture. Anyway, I love the simple sole recipe. This is how I would like most delicate fish prepared. Sauteed in a bit of good butter and a fragrant but not too overpowering herb thrown in at the end. Bravo, Tinky. Take ‘yer bow!

  12. tinkyweisblat says:

    Grad, I DO wish we still had a lot of “real” movie stars. But I’m afraid I’ll always watch. Thanks for the kudos…..

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