Chef’s Special

A hungry bride's guide to the best in local catering

For the bride who loves food, one of the most delicious parts of planning a wedding is the chance to sit down with a caterer and hash out a menu. Lots of caterers have prefabricated menus and a lot of them look the same: chicken, beef, salmon and the occasional concession made to the family vegetarian. But foodie brides are after something more special, and they don’t have to look too far to

For the bride who loves food, one of the most delicious parts of planning a wedding is the chance to sit down with a caterer and hash out a menu. Lots of caterers have prefabricated menus and a lot of them look the same: chicken, beef, salmon and the occasional concession made to the family vegetarian. But foodie brides are after something more special, and they don’t have to look too far to get what they want. EW talked to some area caterers and asked them to come up with some no-holds-barred ideas for five types of cuisine: Mediterranean, Traditional (chicken or beef), Indian, Vegetarian and Seafood. When they started getting creative, the result was a reception dinner to remember.

Mediterranean: Mediterranean Catering
Mediterranean cooking is all about fresh vegetables and huge flavors, says Christine Fischer, event coordinator for Mediterranean Catering in Wynnewood. Garlic, herbs, spices, lemon, fennel, cheeses, olive oil and imported vinegar fill the recipe books. The company even grows many of its own herbs. The strictly seasonal menu makes its best impression when a couple signs on for food stations, says Fischer. “That lets all of our food get labeled and described,” she says. “The food stations offer a chance to explain the ingredients and some of the background of the dish.”

Start off with the “Mediterranean Feast,” which is an introduction to the flavors your guests will be enjoying that day. A variety of culinary traditions fill a centerpiece among the food stations and include baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, hummus, roasted peppers, grape leaves, prosciutto, zuppa di pesce and a lentil salad served with pita. The lentil salad is Fischer’s personal favorite. (“It’s filling in exactly the right way,” she says.)

With your guests filled in exactly the right way, get ready for the first wave of food. Butlered appetizers taking culinary cues from all around the Mediterranean Sea—Italy, Greece, Morocco—come out on trays. Traditional bites, such as phyllo-wrapped asparagus, beggar’s purses (a small noodle stuffed with vegetables, crab or salmon), spanakopita and grilled octopus arrive side by side with more nouveau entries like chicken kebabs dredged in toasted sesame seeds and served with a popping wasabi and ginger sauce. While your guests are sipping ouzo and champagne punch (a company specialty), the pasta stations are suiting up. The main course brings boatloads of fish: baked tilapia with sun-dried tomatoes and vegetables (Fischer says the white fish is popular with both young and not-so-young diners), sea bass with arugula, mozzarella and fresh tomatoes. There’s chicken stuffed with spinach and roasted peppers and another favorite—lamb stuffed with rosemary, basil and roasted peppers. Dessert brings baklava, karithopita and fresh fruit tarts with an almond paste.

Traditional: Feastivities Events
Our chef draws his inspiration from trying to do things a little differently,” says Meryl Snow, vice president of Feastivities Events in Manayunk. She says the chef sets up test kitchens with his sous-chefs in a classroom setting to see what flavor combinations and dishes really pop, and then brings those ideas to clients for a final vetting.

Lately, Feastivities has been having great success with “short plates,” mini-meals composed of plates offering inventive cuisine with unique china and flatware. Essentially, says Feastivities event planner Scott Barnes, it’s a meal you can eat standing up.

When Feastivities caters a wedding, the short plates come out in what Barnes calls “wave service.” One course after another of dishes riffing on traditional themes comes butlered out of the kitchen on little dishes with diminutive forks. Typically, a reception will serve 6-9 plates, which includes a soup, salad, fish, meat and dessert, with a few extras thrown in. With each wave of new flavors, your guests are free to mingle instead of feeling stuck with their table assignment.

Some of the spins on the traditional seafood, steak or chicken options include the “Sushi 3,” a plate of California roll, tuna roll and shrimp roll served with wasabi and soy sauce. A big hit has been the butternut squash soup with a grilled panini triangle. A small Caesar salad comes in a bowl made of asiago cheese. Diver scallops are seared and served over Israeli couscous. For the carnivores on your guest list, there’s a grilled baby lamb chop served over saffron risotto or mini filet tataki. Stacked chicken breast comes served atop a plantain pigeon-pea cake. When dessert comes, the half-size theme continues with tiny lemon meringue pies and single-service mousses. Or you might decide to go with the trio of fondue (chocolate, caramel and lemon), with biscotti, pretzels and other tempting dipping items.

Indian: An Indian Affair
“I tell my clients to tell me what they want,” says Mita Roy, owner of the recently opened An Indian Affair in Manayunk. The restaurant also handles catering, and Roy often finds herself treading a line between traditional vegetarian offerings and meals with a broader appeal. But there’s no question when it comes to this ebullient restaurateur’s preference for service style: “It really should be a sit-down dinner for something as formal and important as a wedding,” she says. “We’ll do a buffet. We’ll do stations. But I feel there’s nothing like a beautifully executed dinner.”

As guests are gathering, Roy sends out the butlered trays of chicken-tikka kebabs, potato patties with spinach and mango sauce, samosas, and (“Because I always like to create new things,” says Roy) crab cakes with onion sauce or shrimp cutlets marinated in Indian spices.

When all the guests are seated and dinner arrives, they’ll be treated to a nearly non-stop parade of courses: “We give them lamb, then chicken, then vegetables, then dal (a lentil curry), then a shrimp dish, then another vegetable dish. And with every course there is rice and bread,” she says.

Drawing much of her inspiration from the flavors of Bengal and Calcutta, with subtle seasoning and a reliance on seafood, Roy often features dishes like laziz pasliyan, which is a marinated and grilled lamb chop cooked in a seasoned cashew-nut gravy. Prawn malai curry are large freshwater shrimp in mustard oil and coconut milk gravy. Doi maach arrives, a fillet of tilapia in yogurt and mustard oil gravy seasoned with green chili. Expect plates of cauliflower, spinach and potato dumplings. And, if your guests can handle a final course, close the event with platters of Indian desserts and sweets.

Vegetarian: Blue Sage Vegetarian Grille
People order vegetarian catering at their weddings for any number of reasons—environmental, religious, culinary. For several years, Holly Jackson and her husband, Mike, owners of Blue Sage Vegetarian Grille in Southampton, have been meeting herbivores with a meatless bounty that she says must satisfy one simple rule: “It has to taste really good.”

“We focus on bright, beautiful, fresh seasonal ingredients,” says Holly. To figure out how best to offer her clients dishes that will appeal to everyone at a wedding, she asks them where they like to eat out and what their parents and families enjoy eating. From there, she says, “the possibilities are endless.”

For a fresh starter, try out red Belgian endive and red pepper hummus with goat cheese, or an Asian tostada with black bean hummus, wasabi cream and fruit salsa. Send out platters of grilled vegetables with tabbouleh for your backyard wedding or an appetizer of wild mushroom risotto for a plated reception dinner.

The focus on seasonal ingredients influences every dish at the event, and one of Holly’s favorite entrees for an autumn wedding is the individual stuffed pumpkin.

Dessert is when all the stops come out, with three-tier plates for each table containing mini crème brûlée in dim sum spoons, chocolate-covered strawberries, or, in the fall, gingerbread cakes.

“There’s always something for everyone on the guest list,” says Jackson.

Seafood: Finley Catering at the Ballroom at the Ben and the Crystal Tea Room
Stanford P. Burke Jr., executive chef for Finley Catering for the Crystal Tea Room and who also does preparation and menu design for the Ballroom at the Ben in Philadelphia, is heading up the kitchen at two of the most sought-after wedding spaces in Philadelphia. When the time comes to plan a wedding menu, he brings out his master recipe book—the first place the chefs go to when helping clients plan the food for their Big Day. Of course, clients can modify the dishes or request a whole new plate to be created, but the book is a good start.

The challenge of a seafood-only reception is a breeze for Burke, who loves the chance to serve an elegant seated dinner. (It’s what the Ballroom demands, he says.)“Let’s start off with sushi stations,” says Burke. One or two sushi chefs make maki rolls, California rolls and dragon rolls on the spot for your guests as butlered trays of sesame ahi tuna on malanga chips with wasabi cream make their way around the room.

When it’s time to sit down, try an appetizer of baked jumbo lump crab cakes with homemade mustard or lemon-lime vinaigrette. Dinner brings roast herb Chilean sea bass with lemon balsamic glace. Or try the Salmon Wanamaker, Burke’s adaptation of Veal Oscar: this time, it’s with seasoned crabmeat and a roasted tomato hollandaise.

If you’re concerned that your guests will want to see a little less surf and a little more turf, Burke says one of his favorite things to do is create a combination entree, which includes different preparations of fish, along with filet mignon, to give your guests the chance to sample a few different flavors.