Weddings give our region’s bounty another place to shine.
“The farm-to-fork movement has really caught hold,” says Laurie Schmalzel of Classique Catering. “And one of the trends is that people are much more adventurous eaters.”
We are also uniquely situated in Northern California, of course, with abundant seasonal choices, as well as many local organic farmers. But there is a catch: With a wedding menu, you are trying to please well over 100 people—all with varying allergies, tastes and expectations. What should a food-savvy couple do?
First, don’t overlook the idea of food stations or a buffet. “Buffets give people choices,” says Schmalzel. “You can have some variety—some things that appeal to the masses, then some bolder choices.”
Another idea is to be daring at the cocktail hour, but serve more traditional crowd-pleasers at dinner. “Say you want to do an ethnic cuisine, but Grandma can’t do Indian curry,” says Schmalzel. “So you have samosas as appetizers, and she still gets chicken and mashed potatoes later.”
Finally, bear in mind you can serve relatively simple food, but if it’s locally grown and in season, it is going to taste amazing. And this is where professional expertise is critical: “I might have clients who come in requesting a corn/tomato/basil/chicken dish—but for a November wedding,” Schmalzel says. “I explain we’d have to use frozen corn, and the tomatoes and basil won’t be in season either. If I ‘seasonalize’ these menus, it fits the farm-to-fork theme and makes for much better food.”
THE SIGNATURE COCKTAIL HOUR
“Customization at weddings is so huge,” says Kathleen Mahan, events manager at Helwig Winery in the Shenandoah Valley. “And having a signature drink is a big part of that.” At the winery, where they are not licensed for hard liquor, Mahan creates a farm-to-table “signature sangria” to serve at cocktail hour. “There are lots of things you can do,” she says. For late fall and winter, she suggests locally sourced blackberries and fresh ginger with a Syrah; in spring, it might be rose wine with fresh peaches.
Similarly, signature cocktails can be created based on seasonal ingredients. Winter suggestions? “A Meyer lemon drop,” says Alan Irvine, general manager of Scott’s Seafood on the River. “And in spring you get the stone fruit, so a peach Bellini.” Schmalzel has ideas too: “Pink grapefruit and cranberry juice with vodka, or a blood orange and champagne cocktail, in winter. In spring, you still have citrus, so maybe a pomegranate/lime champagne drink—I call it a ‘pimosa’—or dress up your champagne: Float a strawberry in it.”
Schmalzel also suggests “mocktails” for your guests who aren’t staying over and will need to drive—sometimes long distances—after the reception. “Offer infused waters instead of a can of soda,” she says. Or serve small batch ginger ale garnished with a winter herb (rosemary, for instance); in spring, a peach puree mixed with club soda. “You can go from something ordinary to something really elegant,” she says.
Appetizers can be seasonal, too—and stunningly visual. “I like to do soup shots
(served in a shot glass),” Schmalzel says. She suggests a bright fuchsia borsch—beets and sour cream—in winter, and a vibrant green asparagus soup in spring. She also recommends mushrooms stuffed with butternut squash, parmesan cheese and sausage (winter), or artichoke crowns stuffed with a shrimp and cheese mixture (spring).
THE MAIN COURSE
Most regional restaurants can offer you locally sourced meats, organic seasonal produce and sustainable seafood. Some will even list the farms where the food came from—and can personally guarantee the eggs were gathered by the lady down the road. But many Sacramento chefs also relish the challenge of doing—to quote Monty Python—“something complete-ly different.”
“You can make any entree very seasonal by highlighting the vegetables,” says Schmalzel. “They shouldn’t be an afterthought, especially with our ability to have such wonderful produce to work with. It’s not all about the chicken breast.”
Suggestions? “In winter, you have all the root vegetables,” says Brian Stansberry, who owns and operates The Flavor Face Food Truck in Sacramento. “So I might do a cranberry and couscous stuffed butternut squash with an organic maple syrup glaze. In warmer months, I’ve done a watermelon salad with chileno peppers, feta cheese, red onions, and a white balsamic vinaigrette on Bibb lettuce.”
Similarly, Mahan—who does in fact promise those local eggs at the winery’s bed-and-breakfast inn, as well as locally sourced goat cheese and butchered meats—says a winter menu has “all the colors of the harvesting that is done in August and September,” such as the variegated fall grape leaves. She suggests an “excellent pairing” is lamb with squash, oranges and leeks. In spring, kale, lettuce and peas “can be paired with locally sourced sturgeon.”
The wedding cake can also reflect a seasonal, organic style, say industry experts, particularly the “naked cake”—cakes minus the heavy outside layers of fondant or butter cream. “Naked cakes are very popular,” says Liliana Sanchez, wedding consultant for Freeport Bakery. “And they are often decorated with fresh flowers [or foliage], edible flowers and fruit.” An idea for a winter concoction: a sparkling champagne and cranberry cake, decorated with evergreen branches and sugared cranberries. Spring could mean a rose-water-infused cake decorated with organic strawberries and flowers: roses, tulips or narcissus.
More traditional cakes can also include seasonal ingredients. Try a wintertime ginger spice cake, with real maple syrup frosting and vanilla bean icing. Colors often summon a “winter wonderland” with touches of silver or marsala, says Sanchez. For spring, she recommends a fresh “fruity flavor” for the cake or the butter cream: strawberry or citrus or violet-infused, for example. Spring colors might include teal, lemon or purple.
Lastly, don’t overlook the idea of a des-sert bar—serving cheesecakes covered in seasonal fruit and in-season fruit pies—or a knock-out, over-the-top finish. “For spring, we do a strawberry dipped in dark choco-late—with a clear plastic dropper filled withGrand Marnier that you sort of inject into the hull,” says Schmalzel, adding with a laugh: “Your strawberry needs to be full of Grand Marnier.”