Remember that wedding where we ate elk?
Chicken, beef or fish: These generic dinner options are disappearing from wedding menus as newlyweds seek ways to make sure their guests remember their special day. Increasingly, food is the hook.
So you may see quail, elk or trout as choices, or shrimp-and-grits and custom-flavored liquid nitrogen ice cream. Or perhaps there will be a bacon bar.
Source: Alix Strauss, New York Times
“Because millennials have been to so many weddings, there’s a push to dazzle guests in ways they haven’t seen before,” said Harmony Walton, who owns the Bridal Bar, a wedding planning concierge service in Los Angeles.
“First it was with decor and design, now it’s food,” she said. “They have a broader palate at a younger age, and they’ve gained acquired tastes. They care about what they’re serving. They want higher quality. But they also want customization.”
The abundance of Food Network and cuisine-focused reality TV shows, as well as Instagram and Pinterest posts, may be partly responsible for this gastronomic upswing. It also helps that ordering food from anywhere in the world is a click away.
“Online ordering has made things that were previously inaccessible available to everyone,” said Anthony Dominguez, the executive chef at the Acqualina Resort and Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. “Unheard-of ingredients or exotic foods like white truffles from Paris or slipper lobsters from Indonesia, both of which I got for clients, were flown to us overnight.”
Most important these days, he said, is “quality, freshness and availability.” Because so many unusual ingredients are available online, chefs can be more creative or experiment with foods they have not worked with before.
Where food was once an afterthought, “it’s become a far more important part of the wedding,” said Alex M. Susskind, an associate professor of food and beverage management at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. “Now weddings are more about what you’re serving as opposed to where you’re having it.”
Randal Jacobs is the executive chef at the Chicago catering company Blue Plate, which does about 180 weddings a year. Five years ago, chefs were not as daring in executing and creating unusual dishes, he said.
“But because there’s a higher level of expectation, amazing chefs are moving away from the restaurant scene and filtering into catering companies with the understanding that there’s more opportunity for innovation,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Recently he served 200 deboned quails. He placed them in terrine molds, which were cooked sous-vide and then wrapped in pancetta. Chips were made from the birds’ skin. “It was a huge hit,” he said. “People scratched their heads and said, ‘Wow, what’s this?’”
Last Labor Day weekend, Jessica Smagner, 31, and Jared Vestal, 32, invited 100 guests to their wedding in Chicago. “Food is our hobby and what we really care about,” said Ms. Vestal, a digital marketer. “It determines where we travel. Because we’re foodies, our guests knew the cuisine was going to be the main focus.”
Most items were relevant to their relationship. Their trip to Thailand was highlighted with bite-size crab cakes flavored with lemongrass and topped with sweet chili remoulade and Thai basil. There were also crisp French fries topped with a cheeseburger slider and served with garbage-plate meat sauce from the Nick Tahou Hots restaurant in Rochester; it’s a dish the couple ate when they first met in college.
Other offerings: sweet corn waffles with roasted pork mole, poblano cream and pickled corn; and a spinach salad skewer with endive and bacon lardons dressed with truffle cream. Rather than a cake, they opted for doughnuts from their favorite Chicago spot, the Doughnut Vault.
“The meal surpassed everyone’s expectations,” said Ms. Vestal, who said her menu took a year to plan. “Food is just as important as the couple getting married.”
Another way to enhance the more traditional fare is to serve cuisine indigenous to a particular region.
“New Orleans weddings are seafood heavy because of where we are and the type of food we’re known for: shrimp-and-grits, gumbo, pan-seared jumbo sea scallops, and sweet potato and barbecue shrimp tart,” said Ashley Wright, the catering sales manager at the Windsor Court Hotel in that city. “Brides want trendier options rather than a beef carving station, which has dwindled in popularity over the years.”
The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek in Colorado, which held more than 60 weddings in 2015, always incorporates indigenous ingredients.
“Today’s menu reflects 75 percent elk, Colorado lamb or trout,” said Tom Puntel, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “People want to offer their guests something you can’t get anywhere else.”
For others, it isn’t so much about where you are but who you are. When Samantha Lisi, now 25, a prekindergarten teacher, married Benjamin Willis, 25, a law school student, on June 28, 2014, their wedding, at his grandmother’s house on a former plantation in Virginia, was a mix of her Italian upbringing and his deep Southern roots.
“Food is really important to both of us, but we come from extremely different backgrounds,” Ms. Willis said. “My husband is from Suffolk, Va., and I’m from a loud Italian family from New York. We wanted a way to marry the foods as we were marrying each other. One of the best ways to show that new unity for us was blending the food together.”
Barbecue shrimp and stone-ground grits in shot glasses were paired with penne pasta with sweet and hot Italian sausage. Miniature lump crab cakes on Sally Lunn toast with Pommery mustard sauce, and buttermilk biscuits with Edwards Surryano ham and peach preserves merged seamlessly with antipasto platters of stuffed olives, aged provolone, roasted peppers, marinated mushrooms, pepperoni, celery hearts and Genoa salami.
“Both sides of the family felt included because of what we served,” Ms. Willis said. “It was very nontraditional, but it really worked.”
The make-it-yourself movement has also given couples a way to customize their meal. Interactive stations can encompass a bacon bar, slider station or burrata stand, where chefs make Italian cheese by hand. Or guests may have a choice of garnishes, like a lavender sprig or berries, to add to their glasses of Champagne.
“It allows everyone to participate in an experience while creating a memory,” said Ms. Walton of the Bridal Bar. “Customization and personalization are two things this generation’s couples want to give their guests, while taking everyone’s dietary considerations and food allergies into account.”
And for dessert? Designing your own cupcakes or making your own ice cream are possibilities. Acqualina makes liquid nitrogen ice cream at stations where people can create flavors such as coffee, Jolly Rancher, cotton candy or marshmallow while adding any toppings they want, Mr. Dominguez said.
“A few years ago, this concept was a science experiment,” the chef said. “Now we use it in weddings. It’s the tasty, interactive and memorable component that matters so much at these events.”
Some couples are including a menu with the R.S.V.P. card. The more exotic or interesting it is, the better chance a guest will attend, Mr. Dominguez said.
“Dishes you’ve not experienced before persuade people to go if they’re on the fence,” he said. “It swings people into saying, ‘Maybe we should make time for this.’ You’ll remember the truffle-dusted sea scallops over risotto more than you’ll remember the vows that were exchanged.”
Dr. Susskind of Cornell agreed. “A wedding is an extension of you,” he said. “The food is an expression of who you are. If you serve a slab of prime rib and scoop of mashed potatoes, that says something. If you’re only offering average grub, you’ll disappear.”
And guests aren’t likely to forget the couple who served quail chips.
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