Wednesday, March 27, 2013

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From the Print Issue
Modern Menus: Experts Share Catering Trends You Don’t Want To Miss

Chicken, beef, or fish? No, thanks! The modern menu is here, and it’s jazzing things up in the catering business. While tradition hasn’t been forgotten (not entirely, at least), couples are embracing the latest and greatest when it comes to the cocktail hour, dinner, and dessert for their big day. Local caterers clue ChicagoStyle Weddings in on what area couples are selecting for their big-day menus.

Never before have brides been so obsessed with size—the size of their food, that is! Whether it’s appetizers, late-night snacks, or desserts, caterers are shrinking things down to miniature size, and the guests are lovin’ it. “People seem to really like those one bites,” says Jeremiah Green of Cork Catering. “We shrink it down to a one- to two-bite-sized item so that you can have a couple different types of selections to try.”

Sometimes, this type of menu is referred to as “tapas-style,” and it’s not limited to just appetizers and desserts. Host a cocktail-style reception, and you can serve your guests a whole menu filled with bite-sized appetizers, as long as your caterer serves enough to keep guests satisfied. In fact, cocktail receptions are a big trend all on their own, as couples want their reception to feel more like a big party than a typical wedding.

Cocktail receptions have other perks, too. It can sometimes be a bit more cost-effective than a seated dinner, says Dana Konya of Jewell Events Catering, because a full-place setting is not necessary. Cocktail receptions also create a “more social and party atmosphere,” Konya says.

At least one catering professional sees it differently, though. “I think that brides now are recognizing the importance of their guests being waited on,” says Mary Bauer of Bauer’s Catering, Inc. Because of this, she is seeing a return to the seated dinner with guests given a dual entree on the plate.

Couples are tired of eating the same thing over and over again at wedding receptions. Caterers know this, and they’re coming up with fresh, new menus at the same price points as more traditional dinners.

“We often hear couples say they want something different than what they have seen at previous weddings—no dry chicken,” Konya says. “Recently for a ‘Wine Country”-styled wedding, we created a menu of gourmet Angus and Portobello burgers with melted sharp cheddar cheese, arugula, tomato, and dill pickle chips on a homemade sesame brioche bun.”

If you happen to like the traditional dinner menus that have reigned supreme at weddings in the past, then there’s no need to get rid of them entirely. Green suggests “mixing and matching” classic cuisine with innovative appetizers, which can also help lower the cost. Serve a classic chicken or fish dinner, which might cost less than more unique items, but let the caterer dream up eclectic hors d’ouerves to serve at the cocktail hour. “At the end of the day, hors d’ouerves aren’t a very expensive item,” Green says.

Couples are also looking for lower-priced substitutes for traditional ingredients. “Short ribs are the new filet,” says Jennifer Monti of Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants. “They are trendy, delicious, and cost as much as poultry, so you get beef for the price of chicken.”

Both caterers and couples are taking the initiative to make their meals Earth-friendly. Ways to do this include serving seasonal ingredients from local farmers, as well as reducing the amount of meat served throughout the night. “We will receive inquiries from “green couples” every once in a while, more concerned with our green initiative, which is to source as often as possible from local and sustainable markets, including the Green City Market,” says Emily Vandevender of Jewell Events Catering.

Despite this trend, price still rules over “green” items. “We are very proud of the fact that we offer local produce when possible, and I know my bride and grooms appreciate it,” Monti says. “However, I don’t really see a lot of requests for organic or sustainable ingredients, mainly because they cost more.” The easiest way to keep your wedding menu green is to work with your caterer to select seasonal ingredients. In winter, stick to root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash, while in the summer months, serve fresh produce such as tomatoes, zucchini, and watermelon. “We have always tried to use local food sources and seasonal selections with our menus,” Bauer says. “Only a handful of brides really ever address or make this request—I believe because they assume that we are already doing that!”

Some couples want to share their lifestyle with their guests and serve entirely vegetarian or vegan meals. A flexible caterer can make this happen. For example, Cork Catering has a popular appetizer that starts with a sweet potato pancake topped with cider-braised pork belly. “If they say, we like that, but we need it vegetarian,” Green says. ‘OK, we’ll pull off the pork belly and replace it with something that’s non-meat-oriented.” Be aware that not all guests will share in your enthusiasm for a meat-free wedding. However, if you serve hearty fare such as pasta or risotto, with vegetables that mimic the texture of meat, like eggplant or mushrooms, you just might be able to convert a carnivore.

Whether being green, creative or cost conscious is most important to you, one of these catering trends is bound to take your meal from standard to amazing.

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