For many couples pouring their creativity into sophisticated, personal weddings, clichéd food is out of the question. These brides and grooms are going for customized menus that reflect their tastes. Whether it's to invoke the flavor of their city, to honor their heritages or to create a cocktail-party atmosphere, collaboration between couples and caterers is key. Today, the question isn't, "Chicken or beef?"; it's, "What can your caterer do for you?"
Michi Trota and Jesse Lex knew they wanted the food at their June 2007 wedding in Chicago to be extraordinary. There was just one hitch: Michi is a carnivore, and Jesse is a vegan. The first caterers they met with were not enthused. But Kelly Milam from Blue Plate catering, a Chicago-based custom caterer, was excited by the challenge. Kelly helped the couple decide on four stations, including a Brazilian churrascaria, complete with roasted lamb, pork, chicken and beef. For the veggie-lovers, they created an heirloom tomato bar, featuring seven varieties of fresh summer tomatoes served with artisanal mozzarella, olive oils, vinegars and herbs. The unique menu was a hit with meat-lovers and herbivores alike.
For some couples, like New Yorkers Ruti Mor and Spencer Kupferman, the reception menu is a chance to highlight their backgrounds. The Kupfermans got married at the ultraposh King David Hotel in Jerusalem in May 2007. They worked with the hotel's chefs to create a kosher menu using local ingredients and incorporating pomegranates—the wedding's design motif—in dishes like lamb kebabs with pomegranate syrup and pomegranate martinis. Their use of the fruit honored Ruti's grandparents, who emigrated from Iran to Israel and planted pomegranates in their yard to remind them of home. To make their elaborate menu come together for the destination wedding, the bride made five trips to Israel over the course of a year. But if trips aren't possible, Ruti and Spencer say, do your research and consult local chefs who understand the area's ingredients. "Don't just say you're a California-Cab guy without knowing about the local wines," says Spencer. "And if you want something done right, don't just send an e-mail."
Molly Wizenberg, a columnist for Bon Appetit with a popular blog called Orangette, also wanted her menu to evoke a sense of place. Molly grew up in Oklahoma, and her husband, Brandon Pettit, is from New Jersey, but they live in Seattle, a city they both love. They wanted to create a taste of their adopted city. They found their caterer, Ciao Thyme, through a friend's recommendation and immediately clicked with the chefs. Presentation was another consideration; Ciao Thyme uses handmade wooden bowls and ceramics for a textured, elegant look— "Their eye for detail is incredible," says Molly. At the rehearsal dinner, the details included tables topped with jars of the couple's homemade pickles (including carrots and grapes), and a delectable buffet of summer vegetables and sandwiches. At the wedding, Pacific salmon was smoked on the premises, tiny deviled eggs from a local farmer were topped with domestic caviar and crème fraîche, and fingerling potato chips were washed down with rosemary-infused lemonade. "It was so gratifying afterward to hear everyone freaking out about the food," Molly says.
Some couples go in a more whimsical direction, like Stacey Leichman and Bryce Cahn, who adore all things English, from campy British sitcoms to afternoon tea and curry takeaway. They wanted a menu of classic English treats and decided on The Cleaver Co., a New York City-based custom caterer specializing in local, organic ingredients, for their October 2007 event. "We felt that Cleaver Co. was really excited by our vision," says Stacey. "They thought it was as interesting as we did. And that meant a lot." The result was a chic colonial English menu. The day kicked off with pre-ceremony teatime featuring mini scones, tea sandwiches and lavender-lemon tea cakes. After the sunset ceremony, the event flowed into a cocktail reception with Indian hors d'oeuvres that were a clever take on Indian-English favorites, including potato-pea samosas with cardamom yogurt and rosewater lassis served in tall shot glasses.
Sometimes a custom menu simply starts with the feeling the couple wants to create. JoJo Liu had been to a "bazillion" cookie-cutter nuptials in Los Angeles and was determined to make her own October 2007 date wedding to Christopher Rusay different—more like a cocktail party, featuring a series of small-plate stations and no assigned seats, to encourage mingling. JoJo immediately thought of Terri Wahl, who owns Auntie Em's Kitchen in Los Angeles, a comfort-food restaurant and catering company with a cult following. Wahl invites couples to her house in the hills, where they start with cheese and cocktails in the garden and progress to a personalized tasting in the kitchen. "You have to hear what the couple has to say in terms of how they want their wedding to feel," says Wahl. After talking with JoJo, Wahl came up with a series of small plates, each one paired with cocktails, to create the sense of sociable elegance JoJo wanted. An Asian fusion table served shots of soju (Korean spirits); the artisanal cheese table featured California wines; the comfort-food table paired tiny crocks of mac and cheese with classic cocktails like sidecars; bubbly prosecco was served at the raw bar.
When looking for a caterer, the ideal is someone with a chef's talent and a therapist's ear. Just take event planner Julie Burstein, of New York City's Chef and Co.: A famous client of hers insisted on Ikea's Swedish meatballs (yes, they sell them) at her wedding. Burstein tried to persuade the client that homemade Swedish meatballs would be infinitely better. "This goes against everything that Chef and Co. is about," laughs Burstein. "We make everything from scratch. But at the end of the day, the customer is always right. People loved those meatballs."
Mark Miller is the director of sales at Crush Wine & Spirits in New York City. His 20-plus-year career in wine includes a stint as a food and beverage director for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, where he helped coordinate scores of wedding and special events. Here, Miller shares his thoughts on perfect pouring for wedding receptions.
Keep it simple
Elaborate wine presentations like wine flights make it more likely that the service will not flow as smoothly as it should. Work with the chef and your wine expert to pair one wine with each course.
__Have enough help
__Make sure you'll have a sufficient number of staff on hand to serve the food and wine seamlessly. Consult with your caterer about how many extra servers you'll need to make sure that each guest receives his or her food and wine at the same time. You might ask your caterer to bring in one extra server to pour wine per two to three tables of 10 guests each.
Serve as you wish
It's perfectly okay to serve one wine to guests while pouring a special bottle at the head table.
Consider your theme
For an Italian meal, for example, set up several stations pouring wines from different Italian regions, like Piedmont, Campania and Tuscany.
Pour easily accessible wines
If you're a dedicated oenophile, you may enjoy wines that others consider an acquired taste. Avoid wines that are extreme in flavor or style, and pour wines that will to appeal to the majority of your guests and go well with your menu. You can always save that unusual boutique bottle for the head table.
Work with a professional
Ideally, look for someone who has not only food and wine knowledge but also an event-management background. A good caterer may have a wine expert on staff. Or consult the wine director from a favorite restaurant or wine shop.