GRAMMY Gourmet: Feeding Staples Center

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(Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

(Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

“I always say that this job is not like any other job, because on any given night you can have 18,000 food critics in the house,” says Joseph Martin, the executive chef for Levy Restaurants, the company responsible for the food options offered at events at L.A.’s Staples Center. “So you have to always be on your game.”

Being on their game is never more important for Martin and his team than on GRAMMY night. Martin has headed up the catering end of the operation for the event for the past two years. Which, needless to say, involves considerably more than slinging hot pretzels and cold beer at arena concession stands. Says Martin, “We cook for the many private suites, the larger event suites, the on-site VIP parties that happen pre- and post-show, the backstage area, and several rooms on the event level where the talent can hang out before they go onstage. Basically, we’re catering the entire building.”

Martin says that he and his team begin the process of crafting the GRAMMY menu more than two months out. “I don’t want to wait until the last minute,” he says, adding that they “do a lot of research, hunting for what’s new out there, what’s different, what we can do that’s local.” That said, the initial spark comes from a more primal place. “It all starts off with our chefs’ hunger,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and I think, What do I feel like eating? And I go from there.”

Judging from the extensive menu, Martin this year felt like eating a wide variety of foods. Among the many dishes being offered at the VIP parties are shellfish platters, sushi martinis (cocktail glasses filled with rice and various ingredients like spicy tuna and hamachi), Kansas City-style barbeque (“We smoke our short ribs for 17 hours and they just falls off the bone,” Martin says), and tacos variously stuffed with shrimp, filet mignon, or, for the vegetarians, sweet corn succotash and nopales.

Event goers in the suites, meanwhile, will be met with an entirely different menu, highlighted by salumi, antipasti, and Martin’s inventive all-in-one chicken-and-waffles dish. “We make the waffles, blend them up and then use them to bread the chicken,” Martin says. “And then for dessert we’re doing a four-foot cupcake.”

In addition to the distinct menus for each area, Grammy talent can order from an a la carte menu on the day of the show. “That’s a whole separate menu that has everything from salmon to lobster rolls to rib eyes. So there’s quite a few choices overall.”

As would be expected, it takes something of a chef’s village to handle the food output. Says Martin, “On Grammy Sunday we’ll probably have roughly 160 cooks on site, and then we also have support chefs that come in from other Levy properties. And we utilize every kitchen in the arena. We have a main kitchen that handles the suites, another that does catering, a third for the pre- and post-parties, and so on.”

The result is a whole lot of food. Take, for example, the lobster rolls. “We’re going to be doing more than 1,000 of them,” Martin says. “And when you see that many lobster rolls spread out, it’s quite amazing. Then you kind of take a step back and you realize that, for starters, we have 166 suites here, and all of them will be filled and all of them will have food in them. You think, ‘Wow, we are feeding a lot of people!’

“But our chefs put together a great game plan,” he continues. “And by the time show day rolls around it’s just a matter of hitting all the timelines. It’s fun because you spend so much time and effort planning something like this from start to finish. Then you see it come to fruition, and everyone puts in so much hard work and comes together as a team. So Sunday night, let me tell you, is one happy night.” Martin laughs. “And not just because at the end of it the GRAMMYs are over!”

-Richard Bienstock, Radio.com

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