Elegant Wedding: The Food Affair

Gone are the days of picking your colors first — design your wedding around your favorite cuisine and let it all take off from there

“These days, when I ask a couple what’s the most important thing to them about their wedding, they usually say the food,” says Meryl Snow, co-owner of Feastivities Events in Manayunk. And these days, as a way to express themselves at their wedding, gourmet-minded couples have envisioned exactly what kind of food they want.


“These days, when I ask a couple what’s the most important thing to them about their wedding, they usually say the food,” says Meryl Snow, co-owner of Feastivities Events in Manayunk. And these days, as a way to express themselves at their wedding, gourmet-minded couples have envisioned exactly what kind of food they want.

“Couples are more culturally aware than they once were,” says Lynn Buono, owner of Feast Your Eyes in Northern Liberties, who is finding that anything from a favorite sushi spot to family heritage or fond memories of a European vacation is influencing the menu of more and more weddings.

But, we say, why stop with the food? Use your favorite cuisine as the starting point to dictate the decor and vibe of the entire event. With the help of experienced local vendors, ethnic can be elegant, and we’ve enlisted them to prove just that. Borrow all or incorporate just a few of their ideas to shake up boring wedding food and create a noteworthy atmosphere to match.

FRENCH

“A French-themed wedding doesn’t have to be Eiffel Towers,” says Donna O’Brien, owner and creative director of Beautiful Blooms in Philadelphia. She envisions this type of fete in the color palette of Provençal life — and Snow has created bountiful menus for French-themed weddings that play out the concept at every turn.

Stations during the cocktail hour should be filled with elaborate platters for your guests to sample: pork and chicken liver pâtés; crudités; onion and goat cheese tartlets; Roquefort; leek, chèvre and walnut tortes; and French cheeses with baguettes. Try a mixed-green salad with olives and a tarragon-Dijon vinaigrette, plus cassoulet — a pork, white bean, sausage and tomato stew — and coq au vin with potato gratin for an elegant entree. Or, instead, experiment with Parisian bistro fare and serve steak frites, mussels mariniere and tuna niçoise.

To put the finishing touches on the scene, O’Brien would use aromatic French herbs, laying sprigs of rosemary and sage on blue and gold patterned tablecloths or napkins. Yellow roses and white peonies with accents of blue add to the rustic, hillside feel, and, mais oui, nothing says viva la France like mini bottles of French wine for favors.

ITALIAN

Who doesn’t love pasta? Even carb-counters can’t resist a rustic Tuscan feast. That’s why Buono has themed many weddings around Italian food — and while family-style service is typical of Italian meals, she thinks a mix of regular- and family-style service keeps things sophisticated.

Sharing and passing antipasti, such as fried zucchini flowers, grilled octopus, Italian cured meats, assorted olives, stuffed mushrooms, roasted red peppers and Sicilian cheeses break the ice and whet the whistle. Pass on typical rolls and butter for short vases filled with tall breadsticks, rustic Italian breads and olive oil for dipping. Buono then likes to serve individual second and third courses, such as a trio of pastas — think lobster ravioli, angel hair in basil pesto and cavatelli in marinara — and entrees like lamb with rosemary and broccoli rabe or rabbit cacciatore.

Buono and her crew also have added interactive elements such as mozzarella-making stations during cocktail hour. “Mozzarella is an easy cheese to stretch, and we cut it and serve it with olive oil and salt right there,” she says. It not only mesmerizes and satisfies guests, but adds something fun and different to the meal: “The more entertainment at an event, the more people will be moving around, which makes the party exciting.” Something else guaranteed to get people talking is Capogiro gelato — the popular and refreshing Philly-made treat is one of Buono’s favorite things to serve; plus, it goes down nicely with a shot from a nearby espresso bar.

“A white tablecloth or a long, rectangular wooden table is rustic but chic,” says O’Brien, who suggests making Italian ceramics (such as rooster vases and plates in yellows, reds and royal blues) and peppy sunflowers, poppies, violets and irises, mixed in with some green topiaries, the focal point. “Have guests take home gifts of mini olive oils, Italian phrase books or some more of that great Italian pottery,” she says.

INDIAN

“An Indian wedding is not for the timid bride,” say O’Brien, “because it explodes with color.” And that’s not all — the bright tones are an equal match to the flavor depth of Indian cuisine. Wynnewood couple Prathima Thumma and her husband, Nakul Krishnakumar, had a feast of classic Indian dishes at their wedding — not only to pay homage to their Indian culture, but also to introduce their non-Indian friends to their cuisine traditions. “We thought about having filet, but made the decision to keep it traditional Indian. We figured people are more exposed these days, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock,” says Thumma.

But if both the bride and groom aren’t Indian, Suzanne Driscoll, account manager at Frog Commissary Catering in Philadelphia, has found that mixing a couple’s favorite Indian dishes with more common options is a real crowd-pleaser, and lets less adventurous guests still get their fill. A buffet offering cumin-grilled chicken with lentils and coriander chutney, fennel and spinach samosas served with a cooling yogurt dip, tandoori chicken and vegetable curry with pumpkin seeds and golden raisins are great examples of this spicy cuisine. “Indian breads are fun and delicious, and a station of lacha paratha, chapati and naan served with accompaniments like mango chutney and tamarind onion relish are always a hit,” she says.

Whether all or a few Indian dishes make it into your buffet, don’t pass up the opportunity to saturate your event with color. Use traditional saris in shocking shades of turquoise and hot pink for statement-making tablecloths. “They usually have gold trim that should be brought into the plates and other decorations,” says O’Brien, who also recommends using embellished lanterns and beaded votives for a dramatic effect, and gorgeous blooms such as orchids, fragrant jasmine and energetic marigold. Plus, “Interactive aspects like on-site henna tattoos and belly dancers add some motion and variety to the event,” she says.

SPANISH TAPAS

These tasty small plates are no longer exclusive to trendy restaurants. “An all-cocktail wedding is something we’ve seen a lot of lately,” says Cortney McCullough, director of sales at Charles Roman Catering in Conshohocken. “It keeps the crowd moving.”

But it also can work as a sit-down event. The chefs at Charles Roman Catering love dishes like empanadas filled with a variety of meats and vegetables, ratatouille, chicken legs with garlic sauce, albóndigas (a traditional meatball soup), marinated olives and mushrooms, and Spanish garlic shrimp. McCullough suggests supplementing the two-bite offerings with a made-to-order paella station with add-in options such as chicken, chorizo, shrimp or veggies, and another station of Spanish cheeses.

Having a table big enough to fit all the small plates is key, says O’Brien, who’s inspired by the rich colors of sangria — she sees wine-colored roses and peonies, burgundy cymbidium orchids and plum calla lilies highlighted by fiery lime-green cymbidium orchids, green hellebores, and fruits and vegetables such as limes, eggplants and artichokes flowing everywhere. And as your guests leave, send them home with recipe cards of the great sangria that they’ve enjoyed all night (see “Drink of Choice” on page 150 for our expert’s drink suggestions).

ASIAN

Although lumping distinct Asian cuisines into one generic category is not culturally correct, an event that combines generally well-liked things such as Japanese sushi and Chinese dumplings in a contemporary setting produces a memorable and striking effect. Try displaying colorful sushi rolls on glass blocks and ice, or have a master chef rolling it during the cocktail hour.

Another option, says Jon Weinrott, owner of Peachtree & Ward Catering in Willow Grove, is to “make sushi the centerpiece by serving it in carved wood sushi boats as a first course.” Weinrott recommends using flat-bottom Japanese spoons as a vehicle for shumai, edamame and salmon tartare during cocktail hour, and entree choices like udon, grilled tuna or pork teriyaki for a memorable main meal. Weinrott and his crew also love to incorporate Pocky, popular Japanese chocolate-dipped treats, into their Asian-themed events.

And when it comes to your decor, “Asian doesn’t have to mean red,” says O’Brien. She recommends blending the different Asian elements by using neutral colors — all with accents of blues and muted greens in square plates, and bench seating covered in colored pillows. Simple but statement-making orchids in whites and greens flanked by pond rocks add to the modern atmosphere, she says — and she also would use lots of bamboo in the form of place mats or table runners. Beautiful chopsticks make for great favors, and let guests remember the eclectic food and the soft sounds of the shakuhachi flute players they enjoyed throughout the evening.

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