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  • Writer's pictureAlina Fridman

Unlocking Culinary Excellence: Chef Guus Wickenhagen's Copper Key Catering Experience

If you've ever found yourself lost in a daydream of dining amidst the who's who of Hollywood, or wondered about the culinary genius behind the gourmet dishes at the city's most glamorous gatherings, let me paint you a picture. Imagine an intimate eight-course affair where every bite feels like an orchestrated symphony, where staff move in a perfectly choreographed dance, and where timing isn’t just impeccable—it’s art. This isn’t just any soirée. This is The Copper Key, a premier catering company in Los Angeles, at its finest. And the maestro behind it? The dashing and dynamic Executive Chef Guus Wickenhagen. Over the course of our conversation, Chef Wickenhagen shared his whirlwind journey, beginning humbly with washing dishes as a young teen. From there, he progressed to the Michelin-starred De Hoop Op d’Swarte Walvis in Amsterdam, went on to dazzle diners at Supperclub across Europe, and now serves a slice of fabulousness in LA. Brace yourself, because this journey is nothing short of culinary brilliance.

Chef Guus Wickenhagen of the Copper Key Catering
Chef Guus Wickenhagen. Photo by John Kiefer

Charting a Culinary Path

When I asked about the initial spark for his culinary pursuits, Chef Wickenhagen reminisced, "It began a long time ago. I'm 42 now, but I think I was 14 when I started my first kitchen job. My older brother was a chef, and that's where I began — cooking and doing a side job. At 14, I was more involved in tasks like dishwashing."

But Amsterdam's bustling culinary scene wasn't just a backdrop for his early years; it's where his passion truly ignited. He shared, "I eventually decided to attend chef school in Amsterdam, my hometown. Alongside my education, I began working in restaurants. I really started to enjoy it, learned a lot, and worked my way up. I spent three to four years in some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the Netherlands."

Globetrotting with IQ Creative and Finding Home in LA

Chef Wickenhagen's career took an exciting turn when he joined IQ Creative, a thriving restaurant corporation. "Their success in the Netherlands led them to open restaurants across Europe and around the world. I took on the role of corporate chef, flying worldwide for nearly 12 years to open various restaurants," he revealed. And as fate would have it, one of his culinary escapades brought him to the vibrant heart of Los Angeles, where he met not just the love of his life but also his future business partner, which paved the way for his eminent venture, The Copper Key.

On Michelin's rigorous environment and what it taught him, Chef Wickenhagen shared, "My takeaway is this: if you work hard and are passionate about what you're doing, you can achieve your goals. Especially in a demanding environment, you have to be fully committed. If not, you'll quickly realize it's not for you. The lessons I learned there, from discipline to dedication, helped shape my career. When you pour all your energy and focus into something, the rewards, both from your superiors and peers, are immeasurable."

The Supperclub Sensation and A New Chapter in Los Angeles

It’s fascinating, isn't it? How a simple nudge from an older sibling can set the wheels of fate into motion, leading to a dazzling dance of flavors and experiences. Intrigued by Chef Wickenhagen's extensive culinary journey, I delved deeper into one of his most iconic ventures. "Now, Chef, you mentioned Supperclub. For those readers unfamiliar, could you shed some light on this unique establishment?"

Chef Wickenhagen nodded, "Supperclub began in Amsterdam, where I'm from. It started roughly 25 years ago by a group of artists who traveled around Europe. It was like a circus-themed dinner show. Guests would lounge on mattresses on the floor. An attendee, seeing its potential, discussed purchasing the concept. He then transformed it by building a restaurant and had diners lie on beds having dinner. Each of these large beds could accommodate about 50 guests, each having their own table. They'd enjoy a five to seven-course dinner while watching a variety of performances – from DJs and dancers to cabaret and even more eccentric acts. Within its first year, it was a sensation – fully booked every day. Celebrities from around the world wanted to be part of it. I began my journey there in its second year as a line cook. In just two years, I became the executive chef and later, due to its tremendous success, the corporate chef."

Excitedly, I commented, "I wish we had something like that in Los Angeles!"

Chef Wickenhagen smiled, "We do have one in Los Angeles. That's essentially why I moved to LA. However, the Supperclub in Hollywood had a different trajectory. The owners encountered challenges with the building for around four years. By the time they were ready to open, funds were limited. The building's owner, a major player in Hollywood, stepped in. Although it began as a restaurant, by 10 PM, it would morph into a prominent Hollywood nightclub. This shift in focus eventually paved the way for new opportunities. It was here that I met Michael Duddie, the General Manager of Supperclub Los Angeles and now my business partner. When approached about catering, we decided to try it out with a small event. It began as a side gig, but quickly grew, marking the start of our new venture."

Chef Guus Wickenhagen
In the Kitchen with Chef Guus Wickenhagen

A Symphony of Culinary Excellence

Behind the red carpet glamor of Hollywood, where every second counts and expectations run sky-high, lies the meticulous artistry of The Copper Key's culinary operations. For Chef Wickenhagen, the pursuit of perfection is an ensemble act, not a solo performance.

"We have an off-site premise with almost 20,000 square feet of facilities that include a large kitchen and a holding area," explains Chef Wickenhagen. "There's an off-site team that works in the kitchen under the guidance of a very good kitchen chef, Will. Four times a year, we innovate with new recipes. Of the 20 or so dishes we trial, usually 10 to 15 make the cut. They get clearly outlined in terms of pictures and recipes, and this systematized approach really helps us scale."

Beyond the Food: Crafting Bespoke Experiences

If you think The Copper Key is just about good food, think again. The company is renowned for its attention to detail and creativity, whether it's in a dish's presentation or the orchestration of an entire event. Their challenge—and their thrill—lies in crafting custom experiences for their clientele, right from the dish itself to the overall event's ambiance.

"We have an on-site team at the events. Everything gets loaded into our trucks and we set up an off-site kitchen at the event location. We insist on it—otherwise, we won't cater the event," Chef Wickenhagen firmly states. "We have kitchen chefs and sous chefs on-site to finish the party, but it's our front-of-the-house team that brings it all together. In our business, especially since 75% of it is in Hollywood, timing and client interaction are just as crucial as the food's quality. So, for us, it's about working as one big team, not as separate entities."

There's a unique harmony in The Copper Key's operations, almost as if everyone in their team is part of a grand orchestra, each playing a crucial role in delivering a breathtaking performance. It's a unified effort that extends from the back of the kitchen right to the glamorous front lines of Hollywood's most premier events. The synergy is the secret sauce, the invisible ingredient that ensures every dish, every event, is nothing short of spectacular.

Chef Wickenhagen underscores the importance of this harmonious interplay. "It's one of the most underestimated aspects. How you proceed and interact with the clientele, especially celebrities, is just as important as how good the food is. If these elements don't come together, it just won't work."

It's evident that Chef Wickenhagen's journey—from mastering the rigors of Michelin-star kitchens to thrilling guests at iconic Supperclubs to shaping The Copper Key into an epitome of culinary excellence—has been one marked by ceaseless innovation, boundless passion, and a holistic view of what makes an event truly memorable. It's no mere coincidence that he finds himself at the heart of Hollywood, where the spotlight doesn't just shine; it blazes.

The Intricacies of Top-tier Catering

Venturing deeper into the backstage mechanics of a top-tier catering event, my own experience with The Copper Key served as a vivid illustration. During an event I hosted, a meticulously crafted eight-course dinner, Chef Wickenhagen's expertise was on full display. With fifty guests in attendance, the evening proceeded with impeccable timing, and the culinary team’s harmonious coordination was nothing short of impressive.

Reflecting on the contrasts between restaurant kitchens and the dynamic world of catering, Chef Wickenhagen remarked, "In a restaurant, you're often limited to the same menu for months. In contrast, catering is an ever-evolving dance — a new event, a fresh challenge. After the applause of a job well done, we immediately anticipate the next project."

For those aspiring to host memorable gatherings, Chef Wickenhagen’s advice was succinct. "Prioritize the food and think of your audience. Unlike à la carte restaurants, catered events often have a set menu. Strive for broad appeal." He added, "The ambiance is equally important. Decide whether you want a formal evening or a lively celebration, and plan meticulously."

In essence, with Chef Wickenhagen at the helm, each event is a masterclass in gastronomy and execution, leaving attendees eagerly anticipating the next feast.

Innovations and Challenges in Hollywood Event Catering

At the heart of The Copper Key's success lies Chef Wickenhagen's unwavering commitment to crafting transformative experiences. When queried about a dish that epitomizes this commitment, the chef's eyes sparkled with passion. While he has an unconventional fondness for organ meats like kidneys and sweetbreads, he acknowledges these choices don't always cater to everyone's palate. However, when given the freedom, Chef Wickenhagen will seamlessly weave these into a menu.

His creativity isn't just confined to the ingredients he uses. He spoke fondly of a crispy lobster cigar, an exquisite treat presented in a cigar box, encapsulating the brand's penchant for surprises. Another avant-garde creation is the 'golden egg'. A true spectacle for the senses, it involves an eggshell painted gold, filled with aromatic foam of Parmesan cheese and a truffle egg salad.

The Golden Egg by Copper Key Catering
The Golden Egg

"It's about how each dish presents," Chef Wickenhagen noted, emphasizing the multi-sensory experience of dining. "The visual appeal, the aroma, the taste – when everything synchronizes, it's pure magic."

However, while individual dishes are crafted with such meticulous care, events in Hollywood that cater to vast numbers—sometimes as many as 500 or 2,000 guests—pose a unique set of challenges. The logistics become overwhelmingly intricate. Clients, heavily influenced by the 'Instagram effect,' often arrive with grand visions, inspired by carefully curated images; creations that might have taken a whole team hours to perfect for just one snapshot.

Addressing the scale of such large events, I inquired, "When catering for such vast numbers, is there ever a need to compromise on quality?" The chef responded with a resolute philosophy: never compromise on quality, but rather adapt the choice of dishes to fit the scale. "It's about honesty," he stressed. Clients need to be told what's achievable while maintaining the impeccable standards the company is renowned for. Whether it's using techniques like braising or slow cooking, the goal remains the same: delivering perfection, regardless of the crowd size.

Maintaining The Copper Key's signature charm amidst large-scale events goes beyond culinary finesse. It's a dance of strategy, timing, and adaptability, particularly when orchestrating grand affairs.

I nodded in understanding. "It's about aligning the client's vision with practicality?"

With a wry smile, Chef Wickenhagen responded, "Precisely. Post a screening, imagine 500 guests appearing all at once. The art lies in planning — discerning which dishes can hold their allure when pre-plated, understanding that event timings can shift. If a movie is set to conclude at 8:30, it might extend to 8:45, but guests expect perfection from the get-go."

His explanation offered a glimpse into the relentless behind-the-scenes planning that goes into each event. The menu isn’t just about taste – it’s about how every element, from the dishes to their presentation, synchronizes with the ebb and flow of an event. The team at The Copper Key dives deep into consultations, tailoring details to meet the unique requirements of each gathering, masterfully blending precision with flexibility.

Starz Minx TV Premiere
Starz Minx TV Premiere

Turning The Copper Key Towards the Next Chapter

As our conversation neared its end, it became clear that The Copper Key's culinary journey is always in motion. They are consistently pushing boundaries, not just in their menu, but also in the space where their culinary magic comes to life.

Chef Wickenhagen shared their upcoming ventures with palpable excitement. The Copper Key is currently undergoing a significant expansion, adding an impressive 2,000 square feet to their kitchen. This expansion underscores their increasing demand and growing stature in the industry. Additionally, they are forging strategic partnerships with venues such as the MacArthur, the Pacific Design Center, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and Nya Studios, with the capacity to host 1,500 guests, to name a few, further cementing their position in the catering world.

It's evident that The Copper Key is more than a catering company. It's a symphony of culinary innovation, commitment, and unparalleled expertise. In the heart of Los Angeles, amidst the dazzle and dynamism, The Copper Key stands as a beacon of gastronomic excellence.


Website: Instagram: @thecopperkeyca

Photo credit: John Kiefer



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