Illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love
If you're looking for the latest in reception dining, think fresher and healthier. "There is more emphasis on local and/or organic ingredients," says chef Ellie Basch of Everyday Gourmet, a catering business. "Also, brides are incorporating specialty diets discreetly so guests with special diets don't stand out among other guests."
Basch and her business partner, chef Jannequin Bennett, recently catered a vegetarian buffet reception that included vegan and gluten-free dishes. "Jannequin is vegan, so she made beautiful nut cream sauces for the lasagna and made our own seitan for the pork barbecue," Basch says. "It is fun to do something different and creatively challenging every now and then."
Although these options are gaining momentum (for instance, check out our Scrapbook couple on Page 74 who served a Paleo buffet), tofu hasn't replaced crab cakes, cocktail shrimp, Virginia ham biscuits and mashed-potato bars.
Some brides choose to boost traditional ingredients to high culinary levels. "We see a significant increase in gourmet sliders, like beef tenderloin with caramelized onion, for example," Basch says. Leslie Stone of A Sharper Palate gets requests for tapas, as well as individualized hors d'oeuvres and a family favorite: s'mores.
Jimmy Harris, director of catering at The Jefferson Hotel, sees both brides who want to order off the menu and brides who design their own menu with the caterer from scratch.
"It doesn't resemble anything off our menu," he says. "It is extremely important as a caterer to get to know the couple and figure out what is important to them."
Although caterers try to accommodate almost any request, there are some foods they try to avoid. "As much as we can, we avoid pre-made items," says Basch. "We like cooking from scratch. We just made merguez [pigs in a blanket] using local sausage and fresh mint sauce, for example. Only the puff pastry was pre-made."
If a bride has a simple menu, Harris suggests staying away from dishes that may cause an allergic reaction such as shellfish or peanuts, or food that may be offensive to some cultures, such as pork.
More couples are doing their own thing, even bucking age-old traditions. Harris recalls a reception that was basically a country picnic. "The bride chose plaid linens for her tables, and the menu included fried chicken and other comfort foods," he says. "Instead of a wedding cake, she did an assortment of fruit pies."
Many brides are interested in family-style dinners, but they can pose problems. "It is not as easy to service as one would think because of the size and number of platters that guests need to handle and move around the table," Stone says.
A couple's budget today may be small because of the economy. There are ways to keep the cost of the reception down. Stone suggests keeping the foods simple, serving dishes like barbecue or room-temperature hors d'ouevres. Another economical tip is to serve a seated meal versus a buffet.
"There is portion control when it comes to the plated meal, and you know that your guests are all getting an entrée," Harris says. "It tends to be a bit more work for the bride and groom, but it will help control their costs and also will help bar consumption."
Brides also can choose to have appetizers passed by catering staff, rather than displayed on tables or stations. "While there is a charge to have items butler-passed," Harris says, "it saves on the quantity of appetizers, and the wedding guests feel pampered."
If a bride wants premium foods such as lamb, beef or seafood on the menu, she can have them and still save money. "If the couple insists they must have seafood or beef tenderloin on the menu, we'd advise stretching the budget by making the seafood item a passed appetizer," Basch says. Most important, communication between the bride and the caterer is key, she notes. "Both sides need to understand what it takes to make a dream wedding reception come true."