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Published: Tuesday, 3/21/2000

Inviting Oscar to dinner

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Hollywood types won't be the only ones celebrating on Oscars night. Across the country, friends will gather Sunday for their own Academy Awards viewing parties.

Some will adapt the menu that will be served at the Governors Ball by Wolfgang Puck; others will create their own extravaganza.

Academy Award nominees, presenters, and performers will mingle in the Exposition Hall of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, nibbling tray-passed hors d'oeuvres and appetizers. Puck, the renowned celebrity chef, serves all this plus a three-course sit-down dinner after the Oscar telecast.

That's when you understand the difference between Pacific Time and Eastern Standard Time. Those Californians have a post-party, but in the East and Midwest, most of us, like Mary Van Cleve of Toledo, opt for the pre-party route. Especially because Monday morning seems to come so early.

Ever since the list of nominees was announced in mid-February, Mrs. Van Cleve has been creating her own menu to reflect the essence of the line-up of movies to be honored.

"I invite the 20 girls I golf and play bridge with," said the retiree, who, with the help of her friends, has done her homework. She's been watching the movies all year.

"My bridge club no longer plays bridge," she confided. "Now we go to the movies. In fact, we went one Monday night - seven of us - and no one else was there. It was like having a private showing."

Each year the invitations reflect the movies to be honored. "Once it's announced, I have to hurry and go plan the menu," said Mrs. Van Cleve, who sends the invitations two to three weeks in advance.

This year's invitation read:

"My Sixth Sense tells me there is going to be an Academy Awards party."

"This American Beauty can hardly wait!"

"Dress in your All About My Mother of the bride dress."

``The Talented Mr. Ripley Blackwell will be a special guest."

As the Talented Mr. Ripley Blackwell, a friend will choose the best-dressed guest at the party, a spoof of Mr. Blackwell's annual worst-dressed list published after Oscar night.

Mrs. Van Cleve selects the menu based on the movies. This year it will be Salmon Oscar, Cider House Salad (named for the cider in the dressing), Insider Vegetable Terrine, Stuart Little Fruit Kabobs, End of the Affair Brownies (laced with bourbon), and Sweet and Low Down Punch.

Everyone arrives around 7 p.m. "I give out ballots," said former teacher. "We vote before the awards. At the end of the night, there are prizes." This year she has miniature rose bushes in keeping with the movie American Beauty. One year she gave Paul Newman's brand of popcorn and salad dressings because the actor was among the nominees for an award. Some years, she gives books.

Dinner is served buffet style. "Once the Oscar program starts on television, we move downstairs," said the movie buff, who sets up the family room with rows of seats like a movie theater.

"We like to watch the pre-show and to see the actresses coming in their gowns," she said. "The fun part is their gowns. We love Billy Crystal (this year's emcee)."

Mrs. Van Cleve has been holding her annual Oscars night party since 1992, when the movies included Beauty and the Beast, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Prince of Tides. In 1993, she served caviar and champagne and had her friends wear formal dresses

The decorations are based on the movies. In 1999, the invitation was written in Elizabethan style in keeping with the movie Shakespeare in Love.

The year before, it was a Titanic Party, which Mrs. Van Cleve thinks has been the most fun. "It was my third Titanic Party," she said. "Everyone came dressed in period costume. One was a cabin boy. Another was the Unsinkable Molly Brown. My husband is a Titanic buff and he knew everything about it."

She gets her inspiration from the movies. "I never talk with my friends about what I will do," she said. "They never know until they get the invitation."

This year's entree of Salmon Oscar is an adaptation of the classic veal Oscar, said to have been named in honor of Sweden's King Oscar II, not the Hollywood Oscar. Actually, the king was partial to the dish's ingredients of veal cutlets topped with crab and served with asparagus spears.

Often a Bearnaise or Hollandaise sauce tops the entree. Both can be time-consuming to make from scratch, yet add distinct flavors to complete the dish. Today's cooks, like Mrs. Van Cleve, often opt for a convenience packet of sauce.

Insider Vegetable Terrine is a colorful mold of layered vegetables that is baked, then turned out and sliced.

As for the End of the Affair Brownies, the creative cook makes a spirited frosted brownie that begins with a package mix.

For your Oscars party, we offer Mrs. Van Cleve's recipes, a classic Veal Oscar recipe, and a Wolfgang Puck Oscar Night original. Enjoy!



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