An invite to my Aunt Raffy De Laurentiis's Oscar party is almost as coveted as a ticket to the ceremony itself.
Hosting a get-together to watch Hollywood's best and brightest add another shiny trophy to their collection is a tradition in many homes, an excuse to break out some bubbly and maybe even a little bling on a midwinter Sunday night. But when making movies is the family business, you'd better believe we take our Oscar parties seriously.
The tradition started with my nonno, producer Dino De Laurentiis, many years ago. He used to invite a glittering group of actors and directors to his Beverly Hills home, and as you can imagine invitations were very much sought after. He always served dinner buffet-style, starting with Neapolitan pizzas and moving on to a lavish spread of his favorite Italian specialties. As a little girl and later as a young woman I loved to come to catch a glimpse of Hollywood royalty in "off-duty" mode; it was a very special night that I looked forward to every year.
Today my aunt Raffy, herself a well-respected producer of international films (and a voting member of the Academy), carries on the tradition at her home, throwing the most amazing parties for 100 people or more. Like my nonno, she prefers to set out all the food on a long table so guests can help themselves as they please, maybe watching the show for a while, then drifting back to the table for a second helping or a bite of something sweet.
If Raffy is traveling or working, I throw a scaled-down version of the same party at my home. I'll be making her incredibly succulent beef stew, enriched with chianti and black olives. The flavors go perfectly with Raffy's citrusy focaccia and a crisp winter salad. Add some homemade or store-bought cookies, or do as Raffy does and complete the meal with whole strawberries macerated in a touch of sugar and Grand Marnier.
If you decide to throw a party, don't forget to provide ballots (there are plenty online to print and share) and pens (no pencils—changing your picks halfway through takes all the fun out of it!). This year there are so many impressive and mesmerizing films it will be hard to narrow down my choices. I can't stop thinking about Zion, and Zootopia was so entertaining I'll be surprised if it doesn't take home at least one little man. In fact, since it's so hard to choose, why not consider offering prizes not just for the most right picks, but also the fewest correct picks, the best batting average in esoteric categories like animated short feature and sound mixing, and the most accurate identifications of who dressed whom. That way, everyone goes home a winner. The menu changes from year to year, but the centerpiece is almost always a savory stew served from the most amazing copper pot (you might even call it a cauldron!), which Raffy brings out just for this event. The other thing that never varies is that each guest must fill out a ballot before the broadcast begins (and maybe make a few friendly wagers on the side!), and you'd better believe that everyone keeps score. There is a prize for the guest who correctly predicts the most winners.