Photography by The Memory Journalist
Make it all about you by personalizing the reception menu.
Between the Food Network generation and this country’s multicultural mosaic, wedding reception menus are taking on a decidedly creative and personal flavor these days—from the cocktails to the wedding cake. Brides and grooms are crafting menus that reflect their personalities, pedigrees and passions, discovering that receptions can be done in a personal, affordable style while still pleasing to as many guests as possible.
The trend toward individualized reception menus—rather than adopting the standard beef, chicken or pasta option—is both challenging and rewarding to bridal professionals.
“You go to the wedding. You go to the ceremony. You have some nice food and see pretty décor, but it doesn’t really scream out, ‘This is [the bride and groom],’” says wedding consultant Alison Ulshoffer. “I think the best weddings to go to are the ones when you walk in and everything is a representation of that couple.”
Ulshoffer is currently working with a bride from Thailand and her Hispanic groom. Plans are for one food station at their reception to feature Thai food, another to celebrate the Mexican state of Sonora, replete with a carnitas stand, mini tamales and empanadas.
Then there’s youth minister Christine Ledesma, 28, and her fiancé, Aldo Soriano, a computer engineer. The Sacramento couple, both self-proclaimed foodies, made it clear to Ulshoffer that they wanted their eats to be the standout of their Aug. 6 reception.
“We knew from the very beginning that what we wanted was food for the soul,” says Ledesma, who reconnected with Soriano, 27, after college and resumed a romance they began in the eighth grade. Their reception, to be held at the historic Elks Building in downtown Sacramento, will include a nacho fondue station with toppings such as bacon and jalapeños, plus Buffalo chicken skewers and mini corndogs. Their caterer, Beth Sogaard, also will serve sangria, one of Ledesma and Soriano’s favorite drinks. And Carissa Jones of Sugar and Spice Specialty Desserts wowed the two with the concept of a dessert bar; Jones is doing her take on push-up Popsicles and confetti cake for the reception, incorporating some of the couple’s favorite childhood treats.
Preschool teacher Shannon King, 28, and her fiancé, Brian Matlock, also share a love of food. In fact, Matlock, 33, is the sous-chef at Sacramento’s Lucca Restaurant & Bar.
Matlock has taken charge of the food for their Jan. 24, 2011, wedding at the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg. He won’t be cooking, but will help shop for the ingredients, relying on his network of farmers and other local purveyors. King is delighted. “It’s his project, his baby,” she says, “and it takes a lot of the pressure off of me.”
King gave up meat nearly two years ago, so Matlock is crafting a menu that will appeal to both vegetarian and meat-eating guests. There will be a fish course and bacon-wrapped shrimp. “My choices now don’t involve [pork],” she says, “but I want everyone else to enjoy it.”
Selecting foods that are meaningful to the couple yet still “universal or approachable” to guests is good planning, says Susan Barry, events organizer for Sacramento’s Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar. Chefs and caterers must be equally flexible, she adds.
“You may need to extend the conversation to family members” about the menu, suggests Barry, former owner of a wedding venue in Gold Rush country. “You need to be willing to ask questions and to do the research.”
Chef Jeremy White of Event Architects Catering enjoys the challenges presented by client-customized menus. “It keeps my job interesting,” he says. One of his upcoming receptions will include recipes from the bride and groom’s Jewish grandmothers: one for brisket, another for roasted chicken. The caterer is making matzo ball soup, and one of the passed hors d’oeuvres will be smoked salmon on small latkes, or potato pancakes.
Samoan clients of White’s brought in several coolers of a favorite pineapple-rum punch recently for their reception, which he garnished with rum-soaked wedges of fresh pineapple. Another bride opted for pulled pork as an hors d’oeuvres for her reception, along with an olive and hummus canapé for her Palestinian groom.
Appetizers are a good way to showcase a couple’s ethnic roots without it becoming an overarching theme of the meal, says Brenda Barrett, president of Asanté Catering. For a recent Filipino wedding she catered, family members made lumpia, a type of egg roll, as an hors d’oeuvre and left the more conventional-style dinner to her, she says. Another couple requested dishes with a nod to their Hispanic and Asian backgrounds as well as more traditional American foods. The menu included enchiladas with cream sauce and a red curry Thai chow mein.
Personalizing the menu doesn’t have to be expensive, says Glory Thomsen of Beth Sogaard Catering. Try putting a spin on more traditional favorites, such as drizzling truffle oil over popcorn as an appetizer or serving smartly wrapped ice cream sandwiches, made with homemade cookies, as a dessert. The same goes for main dishes. “You can steer away from high-price fish and meats, but use your imagination,” Thomsen explains. “It’s really how you showcase or portray it.”
Then there’s dessert, which allows for all kinds of ways to add a personal touch to the menu. Barrett recalls a groom’s cake in the shape of a Harley-Davidson, rolled out on a cart to the strains of “Born To Be Wild” and automotive sound effects.
Jones of Sugar and Spice often starts with a couple’s childhood or all-time favorite desserts, then builds on them. One client’s love of maple donuts led to maple cheesecake—ideal for her October wedding. Another’s penchant for mint chip ice cream gave Jones the inspiration for a cake featuring white mint butter cream with chocolate pieces and a dark chocolate ganache mixed with mint. And a couple planning to honeymoon in Hawaii served a chocolate cake with macadamia nuts and a coconut pastry cream. “It doesn’t matter what I like,” says Jones. “It matters what my clients like.”
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