Growing your Wedding Meal from the Roots Up Or Bring the Family to the Wedding Table

Planning the menu for a wedding is exciting if you are foodie and downright confusing if you are not. Weddings are beautifully executed when the union happens at the table over dinner with familiar favorites incorporated into the setting or menu.

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A family’s favorite dish or two can make the event sublime. The challenge is in creating a menu that holds culinary integrity, but also reflects the family’s culture. Discuss some of your favorite meals with your families and begin planning. Generally, caterers welcome a new recipe or new menu item.  Most families planning a wedding come to the planning table with some ideas, recipes or a dish that must be incorporated into the event. The list is endless in what I have been asked to deliver: Italian Almond Candies, the Blessing over the Challah, Aunt Millie’s Margarita, Kimchi, Mac N’ Cheese, Dad’s Brew, or Mom’s Peach Jam, Peppermint Ice Cream, etc..Over the past 24 years, some of my most precious catering recipes have come from a family’s favorite recipe.

Fermented Kimchi with Pulled Pork has become one of our go-to choices for passed hors d’ oeuvres after we successfully served it for a bride with Korean roots.  She wanted to reflect both her Korean background and her fiancé’s Southern American roots. She brought us a bag of the red chili pepper for the kimchi and it is a pepper we continue to use in our kimchi recipes ever since.

Recently a bride’s family was from India, so we started and ended the meal with the flavors of India.  The menu looked like this:

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Passed Hors d’Oeuvres:

Samosa with Cilantro Chutney
Curried Chicken in Endive
Mini Nans with Sweet Potatoes and Cumin
Tandoori Lamb Skewers

Dinner:

Fish Moilee – Monkfish Curry with Ginger Curry Leaves over Basmati Rice

We finished the meal with Mermaid Farm Mango Lassis and Blood Orange Sorbet with Cardamom.

 

As a caterer, my goal is to bring a memorable meal to the table – full of fresh food, simple, but sublime; a perfect balance of flavors and creatively composed without looking fussy.  It’s always a welcome exchange to discuss food, menus, and challenges with another chef.  I recently asked a fellow caterer and friend: “How do you serve 175 guests the same meal or choice of two meals and have all of these elements and also satisfy your client’s menu needs?” This past year, I had a bride and groom who insisted on “Surf and Turf” rather than offering a choice on the menu. They did not want to bother with RSVP cards with preselected menu options, but they wanted something for everyone. While there is something very easy about serving two proteins on a plate, I cringe. It is just too much. Tenderloin and lobster may seem classic, but it is so familiar. I have served lobster risotto with tenderloin for many weddings, but after 24 seasons, it becomes very routine. I presented this challenge to my chef friend; how she would handle two animal proteins on the same plate? She cringed and we laughed, as it seems a familiar request for some weddings. There should be an easy answer. But as chefs, we agreed it must be two proteins that hold up well, that balance each other with a sauce that will work for both. Within a few minutes we were coming up with a whole list of ideas that we believed we could live with if we simply must have surf and turf on the same plate.

Here I share a Duet Menu:

Asian Flank Steak & Lemongrass Scallop Cake with Sticky Rice, Watercress Seasoned Rice Wine Vinaigrette and Almonds

Slow Cooked Beef Ribs & Seared Scallops with Salsa Verde over Buttered Broken New Potatoes

Miso Seared Wild Salmon and Grilled Sirloin with Japanese Mushrooms with Citrus Soy, Buckwheat Noodles, Sugar Snap Peas and Pea Tendrils

The Grass Fed Tenderloin and Ahi Tuna Steak or

Chargrilled Swordfish with Roasted Garlic-Eggplant Caponata and Tuscan White Bean Purée

Lamb Chops with Five Spice Wild Salmon Pan Roasted with Spiced Honey Glaze with Black Bean Vinaigrette

After completing the list, I can get excited about serving two proteins on one plate. Sometimes we need to be pushed to think outside our own familiar box or routine.

It is easy to get carried away with endless possibilities for the menu. Some folks choose Family Style, which is the most expensive option since larger tables are needed that then require more plates and more food.  The conviviality of Family Style is relaxed and inviting, but it is not for everyone.

The least expensive option when planning your menu is to offer no preselected menu.  Dinner is presented on the menu card, and if the guests prefer, they are offered a vegetarian option. Vegetarian options can be wildly satisfying and delicious.

Here is a perfect example of a beautiful Fall Menu:

Roasted Misty Knoll Statler Chicken Breast

Wild Mushroom Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms and Shaved Parmesan
Butternut Squash Croutons

Vegetarian Option:

Cabbage Roll of Wild Rice and Sweet Potatoes

Wild Mushroom Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms and Shaved Parmesan

Butternut Squash Croutons

This family chose a menu offering guests a preselection of Beef or Vegetarian dishes.

 

The delicious Classic Tenderloin – How to change it up a bit?

The bride’s mother loved just Broken New Potatoes and so it was!

 

Here is Timeless Wedding Dinner:

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New England Pastured Beef Tenderloin with Miso Glaze

Over Steamed First Pick Potatoes Broken with

Vermont Butter and Today’s Cut Herbs

Morning Glory Farm Green Beans with Crispy Shallots

 

Fortunately, you can mix and match your wedding menu to accommodate all such dietary preferences and restrictions. In this day of food allergies and restrictive diets, caterers are used to the requests. Gluten intolerance is so prevalent that most caterers offer gluten-free menus and options.

I often hear a family say that they love “something”, but are afraid that their guests will not. If that’s the case, it can be included in the meal but doesn’t need to “make” the meal.

Here is an example of a bride and groom who wanted Family Style and loved an Antipasti Salad, but only wanted meats. The brides mother did not think most of the guests would go for an Italian Charcuterie board, nor did she think her friends would be keen on family style.  The solution was to offer the Antipasti as a station during cocktail hour. We offered a plated Burrata and family style plated tomatoes for the first course, followed by a plated main course. Everyone wins!

Choosing your menu for the wedding, the style and the flavors can be fun and exciting. If you just aren’t sure where to start, start with your favorite meals and memories around meals. And if you prefer to leave it up to the caterer (some do!), make sure that something that is meaningful to you is reflected at the table.

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