FOOD WISE: Fresh ideas for wedding menus

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

It’s that time of year again. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, love is in the air! Yep, it’s the time of year referred to in the “biz” as wedding season. I know many brides and grooms are deciding these days, wisely so, to celebrate their special day at other times of the year. However, traditionally, couples have chosen spring and summer months to tie the knot, with June being the most popular wedding month.

Those of us lucky enough to be in the business of making those special occasions a reality – caterers, florists, party rental, wedding planners, officiants, musicians – are gearing up with anticipation, even baited breath for this magical time of year. At this very moment, scenes from the movies “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Father of the Bride” are playing in my head. All that talk in “Father of the Bride” of the “chup cheeken” and who can forget the scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the groom is introduced to the Greek aunt and told that he is a vegetarian, to which she replies “Oh, that ok…I make lamb.”

Personally, I am just all twitter-pated (it’s a word). The normally calm, sane, sweet girl who is now the bridezilla from you-know-where, and even worse….mother of bridezilla. Sounds like a bad horror movie, doesn’t it? Well…if the shoe fits…  The normally responsible and sensitive young man she fell in love with shows up late for the ceremony and still inebriated and giggling like a girl with his best man from the bachelor party the night before. Meanwhile, bridezilla is running a military operation and concluded her bachelorette party exactly one week prior to the wedding at exactly 0200 hours in order to give maximum recovery time.

Cold feet, nail polish and broken zippers on the bride’s gown, vendors who put down the wrong date to deliver the flowers or cake, the groom’s cousin who insists on making a really long, drunk, and totally embarrassing toast to the couple, the bride’s dad who can’t stop crying and I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s given away his little girl or had to mortgage his house to pay for the dream wedding, and the desire for over-the-top beef wellington reception dinner on a budget of $2.50 a head….yep, I’ve  dealt with all of this and more. My words of wisdom for dealing with weddings is this — weddings and funerals bring out the worst, as well as the best in folks you would least expect either from.

Of course, it doesn’t have to go down this way. The majority of couples I work with are kind, organized, happy and have reasonable expectations. I think their weddings are most likely to be successful. From experience, I feel sure that these weddings will be the stuff dreams are made of. Trust me, I am the queen of creating something from nothing. Their weddings will be gorgeous and fanciful. Their guests will be talking about the memorable elements for years to come, every time the subject of weddings is brought up. I’m just saying….

I bring all of this up because I’ve recently been meeting with engaged couples about menus for the reception for their upcoming celebrations. We’ve been talking about every element of the wedding and reception, but especially the food. I’m so impressed with how important it is to these couples that their guests are comfortable and feel taken care of. They take into consideration guests’ special dietary, as well as physical needs. They are as concerned with making the occasion as memorable for their guests as for themselves. These generous couples are bound to have the most beautiful celebrations imaginable.

All of this talk of wedding food got me to thinking now would be a good time to share some new trends in reception chow. Most brides place a great deal of importance on the dress, the flowers, the cake topper, the colors, etc. I know I did as a bride. Those things are important to the overall flavor of the day. But what your guests will really remember is the food and entertainment. In other words, a fun party.

I love where wedding trends are headed, especially in terms of food. It feels like weddings are embracing a return to comfort foods. Foods that bring back memories of a special first date, childhood favorites, or a grandmother’s special cake that was enjoyed every holiday.

Here’s the twist…they are interpreted in a new and fresh way. For example, if you loved having grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup with mom on the weekends when you were a child, how about serving a reception appetizer of heirloom tomato and basil soup shooters with grilled cheese croutons as a nod to that childhood memory and special times with mom?

Here are some other fresh ideas for the 2012 wedding season. One of the main things that make these ideas special is how they are displayed. Your caterer should really be able to think about presenting the food in a hipper way than just the typical chaffer’s and platters. Even the most basic food seems special and elevated when cooked perfectly and displayed in a cool way.

1. Cupcakes – What’s fresh about that, you ask? Brides have been doing cupcakes in place of wedding cake for years. How about a savory appetizer or dinner course cupcake? Maybe you like the idea of a mini-lasagna cupcake, or if you really like to think outside the box, you could go for a Maple Bacon cupcake or one made of chili and beans and topped with a cheesy jalapeno cornbread. The sky is the limit for combinations here.

2. His and Hers menus – This is a great middle ground when the bride and groom can’t agree on food or cocktails. You certainly don’t have to go to the expense of this for the whole meal, but you could offer a cocktail or appetizer that is the bride’s pick and one that is the groom’s pick

3. Infused Waters – Here is a great way to save money. Offer different flavored waters in dispensers around the room. I call these spa waters. Besides being inexpensive, they are healthy and beautiful in clear jugs. You could offer one with slices of cucumber and mint, another with lemon and a third with different types of summer berries.

4. Bars – I’m not talking just about alcohol here. A cookie bar is sure to please. Almost everyone likes some kind of cookie. Offer platters of different kinds of cookies displayed in different ways and at different heights. Another idea I love is a potato bar with lots of different kinds of toppings. Display these in a different way than the expected, like maybe in galvanized buckets or in a bookcase. Be sure to talk to your caterer about making sure health safety is being observed.

5. Eco-friendly – One of the most popular ideas this year is farm to table offerings. Talk about serving your guests the best food available. Besides being eco-friendly, this is the freshest, tastiest and healthiest option. You could work with a caterer who utilizes local farmers’ produce and cage-free proteins. Your menu will be delicious and seasonal. You will be helping to support local farms and ranches. Your environmentally conscience friends will be thrilled.

6. Multi-Cultural – This idea is especially appropriate for couples from differing backgrounds and is a great way to honor a family heritage. For example, I’m from the southeast and my husband’s family came to Texas with Stephan F. Austin. As you might imagine, that means he is practically married to Tex-Mex. If I were planning a wedding for us, I might choose to have some regional Tex-Mex favorites, Texas ranch food and combine that with favorites from south Alabama and Louisiana, like Grits and Grillades, and Shrimp Po Boys.

7. Mini’s – Mini portions are all the rage right now and I think it’s a super idea. It gives guests an opportunity to try lots of different things without filling up on any one food. Also, I think it encourages guests to try foods they might not ordinarily because they don’t have to accept a full-sized serving of something they may not like. Peruvian street food is an extremely popular mini option as it is the ultimate finger food. Plus, it’s totally yummy!

8. Food trucks – Okay, you may have to use your imagination here a bit but this option is really gaining in popularity. In the Central Texas area in particular, I think we have great options for truck food that is more upscale than the norm. I’ve been to food trucks that offer quite elegant options and also even offer elegant portable, outdoor dining rooms. One of the ones I visited even had linen tablecloths, upholstered chairs and chandeliers in the trees. How fun is that?

These are just some ideas to get you started. These days, pretty much anything goes. If you can imagine it, someone out there can figure out how to make it happen.

I’d love to hear about your perfect wedding ideas and even see some pictures. Contact Chef Reneé at ChefRenee@LHIndependent.com.

Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats, chickens and one ornery rooster.