They'll be more enthralled with watching Aziz Anzari win a historic award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series on Netflix than contemplating the hard work that went into that plate of baby beets in a tangelo emulsion. Nonetheless, someone has to think of that stuff and come up with a good enough menu to help the Television Academy and their plus-ones either celebrate their wins or make them momentarily forget the losses.
That someone is Joachim Splichal, chef and founder of the reputable Patina Restaurant Group, along with his corporate executive chef, Gregg Wiele, and Frania Mendevil, Patina's executive pastry chef.
What does one cook for a room filled with hundreds upon hundreds of actresses, actors, and other Hollyweird-type LA people? Let's start with those beets. They are served with pistachio-goat cheese "bonbons," blood orange, preserved lemon, roasted eggplant puree, baby fennel confit, black olive soil, and tangelo emulsion. There is also a thyme-roasted beef tenderloin, slow-braised short rib, wild mushroom pithivier, rapini, rainbow carrots, and caramelized shallot jus as a main course, and a flourless chocolate cake with coconut mousse for dessert.
If the menu sounds like it's stuck somewhere between the 2000s and the early 90s, it's because Splichal is a true OG LA chef. His institution has harbored some of LA's current power players, like Kevin Meehan of Kali and Michael Cimarusti of Providence. He is up there with other old-school chefs who have helped shape the restaurant scene in LA, like Wolfgang Puck and Nancy Silverton.
I got to ride along with Splichal on his annual trip to a farm a couple of months before the big Governor's Ball dinner for inspiration. He's made the trek to a different farm each year for the last 21 years, which is about the same amount of years that he's been cooking the dinner for The Emmys. This year, his trip was to Babé Farms in Santa Maria, California. It is a family farm that was among the first to start growing microgreens in California in 1986. They also specialize in several different styles of beets and carrots, two of the key ingredients that Splichal relies upon to make his dishes stunningly beautiful.
As soon as we step out of our cars after the three-hour drive from LA, Splichal approaches a spread of whole vegetables that the staff has prepared for us as a welcoming gift. He takes a big bite out of a watermelon radish near the processing plant as if it were an apple. He pops it into his mouth and crunches down on it several times. All the while, he carefully examines the colorful root vegetable as if he was mentally prepping, cooking, and serving it. He looks at me and says, "When you see fishermen fishing, cows in a ranch lounging, or vegetables in a farm growing, it gives you a very direct inspiration for dishes as a chef." It turns out that Splichal grew up in a restaurant family with a huge garden back in his home country of Germany, and being around vegetables like him brings him a certain sense of comfort.
I imagine that after you've been cooking for as long as Splichal has, you know a thing or two about the creative process of preparing food. I follow him as he slowly walks to observe an employee neatly placing bunched radishes in a box from a quickly moving conveyor belt. We both watch in amazement and both behold the man's deft hand movements. We get back in our cars and proceed to a field where there are a dozen workers hard at work pulling six or seven beets a minute. Many of them are women wearing scarves and hoodies, despite the heat, to protect them from the unforgiving sun.
"There are so many middlemen and women between you and the people and it is very important to be aware of all of the tremendously hard work that happens even for a single carrot. It is a really special moment when you really connect with the product that you are serving."
As we prepare to leave, he tells me one final thing. "It is easy to get very quickly disconnected from the source of food. Not only because we are cooking for the Emmys, but because when you cook and serve food every day, you start to lose touch. Sure, you can go to your nearest farmers market, but that only goes so far."
It's safe to say that when you are cooking for so many important people and under that much pressure, a little bit of inspiration and connectedness goes a long way.