February 21st, 2011
03:30 PM ET
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Fame Bites goes inside the belly of the entertainment beast. We're dishing out where the celebrities are eating, what they're eating and who they're eating with.

The Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles is a frenzy of activity. The Grammys held last weekend, followed by the NBA All-Star Game yesterday, means staffers at Staples Center are working around the clock. Each event alone is an enormous undertaking, but coupled together you have a double-headed beast.

At the center of it all is Pilar Sanchez, the Executive Chef at Staples, lifelong Lakers fan and the ring leader of the culinary circus, so to speak. We caught up with her the Friday before the Grammys outside the executive suites. In the background, you could hear Rihanna and Drake rehearsing their current hit “What’s My Name?” for Sunday night’s performance. Sanchez had assembled some of the items her staff would be serving in the coming week.

Staples can accommodate over 19,000 people and this week, between the two main events, expects over 62,000 guests. Feeding an army around the clock takes planning; Sanchez says they started thinking about both events last summer.

With the help of Regional Chef Gilbert Verdugo, Sanchez worked up menus for both the Grammys and NBA All-Star Game. The two chefs have handled big events before: the NBA Finals, the Superbowl, the U.S. Open and the Kentucky Derby, to name a few.

For the Grammy menu, Sanchez says they used legendary songs as an inspiration to create items like the “Rock Lobster Rolls,” “Sunset Strip Steak Sandwiches” and “Blueberry Hill Tartlets."

Levy Restaurants, the group that oversees all food for Staples, says the Grammy menu required 3000 pounds of fresh seafood, 8000 shrimp, 600 pounds of short ribs and 1500 pounds of chicken. It’s the kind of cooking, on a scale, many can’t imagine.

But Sanchez didn’t start big, she began cooking for family members, putting dinner on the table and said it was just expected at the time. After graduating from high school in Santa Barbara, she took a trip to France and it was there she “saw a different type of food that awakened the palate. I tasted bread for the first time and tasted butter for the first time.”

When she returned to the U.S., she decided to get into cooking more seriously. She studied hotel and restaurant management at Oxnard College and worked in a variety of restaurants and hotel properties in Santa Barbara. She eventually moved to San Francisco and was the Chef de Cuisine at the Meadowood Napa Valley, a Relais & Châteaux property, for five years. While there, the San Francisco Examiner named her one the “Top 10 Bay Area Chefs.”

In 2004, Sanchez opened Pilar in downtown Napa, winning critical praise from the New York Times for its "simplicity.” Four years later, she returned to her hometown of Santa Barbara to oversee two dining outlets at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore. She says the extensive hotel experience helped her transition to working at Staples Center.

"It's like a hotel with all the different types of departments, catering, room service, restaurants, and the pool café. You’ve got all of these isolated venues and somehow you have to pull it all together and make the numbers work. So here, it’s the same thing. We have premium suites, luxury restaurants, private clubs, general concessions, premium concessions - just like a hotel they are all their own little venues, operating with their own rules. At the end of the day it all has to come together with the bottom line and make sense.”

Making sure it all comes together is one of Sanchez’s biggest challenges.

“There’s no question, trying to be everywhere at all times, in an operation this big is impossible. So you try to put a good team together. I have a great team of sous chefs. The camaraderie is really strong, everyone just rolls up their sleeves and gets to work.”

And for the moment, Sanchez and her team really aren’t doing anything else. Fifteen other executive chefs have been brought in throughout the week to help execute the menus, the kitchen staffs will likely log 19,000 hours according to Levy Restaurant estimations. Sanchez says the hard work comes with the territory.

“There’s no work balance this time of the year, by the beginning of December, we were in Grammy-All-Star mode. You just accept at certain times during the course of the year you’re going to work long hours with no days off and if you do get a day off, you’re probably going to sleep.”

Sleep is definitely a luxury, and so is vacation when it finally comes. Sanchez likes to decompress and decamp to France each summer for a few weeks.

So how does the woman who cooks for enormous crowds eat when she is on her own? She prefers it simple.

"If I do cook at home, simple roast chicken with butter, thyme, garlic and some nice roasted potatoes. That to me is the best thing in the world; the easiest thing in the world just tastes so good.”

And, good taste is one concession the Staples Center Executive Chef is not willing to make.

“You’ve got guests and your clients who have very high expectations, so not only getting the food out on time, but hot and delicious and beautiful, it’s a lot to ask for, but when you do that for a living you wouldn’t do anything else.”

Jennifer Wolfe is the Supervising Producer of the CNN Entertainment Unit.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Executive Suites in Los Angeles

    Wow, It is a admiring post relevant to its content and the point of discussion is very nice and quite informative.
    Office Space in Los Angeles

    July 25, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  2. Liliana

    the food at the staples center is underwhelming. The food at the suites has been improving but the food at the PR sections is bland and insipid. I'd rather get some carls JR when Im there. Want simple and easy think In n out they've got that down right.

    February 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  3. Staceyann Dolenti

    Or even a place to take lessons :)

    Staceyann C. Dolenti

    February 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  4. Staceyann Dolenti

    The photo makes these sandwiches look SO good. I wish they would have published the recipe.

    Staceyann C. Dolenti

    February 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  5. Stifler

    I want to go all "American Pie" on them samiches!

    February 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
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