WHAT'S ON THE MENU?
Choosing party foods to please you and your guests
By Tom Roebuck
Copley News Service
Of all the decisions a couple must make while planning their wedding - and the list is long - choosing the right menu can be one of the most daunting. Selecting hors d'oeuvres and dinner for a large group of well-wishers, some of whom you may not even know, presents challenges you won't come across as you make your weekly grocery list.
Coming up with a lively and intriguing menu that reflects the personality of the happy couple is just as important as choosing the right reception hall or the perfect flowers. While couples want to serve food with some flair, they need to keep in mind who will be attending, and if they share the same sense of culinary adventure as they do.
Couples should try to strike a balance between offering an overly exotic array of foods and trying to please every last guest, said Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine.
"I think that they should think about the whole group, and probably realize that most people don't routinely go for very unusual food. And if you decide that it's going to be food of one ethnic type make sure you have something that's not spicy for those who can't tolerate spice," Bratten advised. "Think about what you're asking your guests to eat and plan with that in mind. But it is your wedding. Take some guidance from the caterer, also."
When you sit down with the caterer to go over the menu, they will want to know if any of your guests have any dietary restrictions and exactly what they are. If someone is allergic to peanut oil or can't have anything with milk in it, most caterers will be able to accommodate them, if they know in advance. Including a line on the invitations asking guests to list any special needs when they RSVP will help the caterer know what to expect.
"One of the most important things to remember is who are the guests that are going to be there. No just (the couple's) own personal taste, because a lot of times that enters into it," said Jerry Siegel, owner of Peartrees Catering in San Diego. "I think the important things are, number one, you tailor the menu to the guests that are there, and just try to find out in advance any special dietary needs."
Getting the menu just right doesn't happen overnight. In the months prior to the wedding, couples should meet face to face with the caterer to discuss what they're looking for that fits their price range.
"The way that I do it is I receive a request, from the Internet usually or they went to a wedding we catered. We talk to them on the phone the first time around, come up with a tentative scenario, so we can give them an idea of the price range, what it costs more or less," said Michel Malecot, owner of the French Gourmet, a San Diego caterer since 1979. "Then the next step is they come over, we narrow down the menu, we do a tasting so they actually see what the food looks like, they get a feel for it."
Changing culinary trends in the United States through the years have given couples different options that would have seemed radical 25 years ago. Serving sushi at a reception would have raised some eyebrows in the 1970s, but now it's a common sight.
"Today, sushi, somosas, bruschetta, it's all available. ... Years ago you went to a wedding and you had roast beef or you had chicken," Bratten said. "And now you can have roast beef, you can have a fabulous pasta, you can have an amazing soup or an incredible stew, or heavy hors d'oeuvres and a very light salad for dinner. So people are mixing it up in very interesting ways.
"I think the keys things to keep in mind are: This is not the moment to experiment with the entire menu, and make sure everyone feels very welcome and comfortable and they have enough to eat."
But today's couples can also have a little fun with some whimsical hors d'oeuvres that their parents will remember.
"While we are seeing more crab meat and lobster being served as appetizers, we're also seeing pigs in a blanket, as a fun, kitschy, retro kind of a thing. And Swedish meatballs. Retro canapes are back. Deviled eggs, baked brie, puffed pastries and stuffed olives, those things are back and they're new to people now," Bratten said.
Both Siegel and Malecot have catered all-vegetarian receptions, with successful results.
"You can do a lot of things with vegetables that are really nice," Siegel said. "We do a stuffed eggplant, and we do what we call a Napoleon, which is layers of vegetables and cheese that are grilled and roasted, and then we put it inside phyllo dough and we tie it up so it kind of looks like a person and then we bake it. And that's always been really popular."
"One year we did something that was completely vegan, and it went very well," Malecot said. "I always tell the bride and groom you need to reflect your personality in your menu. Without getting too experimental we still came up with some very interesting things that made everybody happy."
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