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Hummus bowls
Photo Credit: Robin Selden

The Making of Marriage Menus

A hummus tasting at a wedding from Marcia Selden.

The Making of Marriage Menus

Top wedding caterers are crafting full sensory experiences that delight guests and create unforgettable affairs.

Kelly Rehan | Mar 21, 2017

For an event as momentous as a wedding, the food has to do more than simply taste good. Instead, top wedding caterers are crafting full sensory experiences that delight guests and create unforgettable affairs. From the first sip at cocktail hour to the last late-night bite, today’s culinary wedding trends infuse flavors and family into each phase of the event.

ONE-BITE WONDERS Cocktail hour is typically the first opportunity to impress with food, and couples prefer the small vehicle of the hors d’oeuvre to impart big flavors.

Single bites beg for extra indulgence, and even the most health-conscious guest can feel comfortable splurging on a truffle mac-and-cheese bite or bacon jam-filled hush puppy.

“More and more our clients are getting creative with their hors d’oeuvre by doing away with the standard wedding fare and bringing in big and flavorfulone-biters,” says Melissa Chickerneo, chef de cuisine at Chicago-based Blue Plate Catering. “Popular choices tend to involve a secret family recipe, childhood favorites, ethnic spices and unique proteins.”

Of course, cocktail hours aren’t just about the finger food. Craft beers and cocktails are sought after among today’s couples, particularly millennials, to satisfy their connoisseur-level tastes.

MAIN ATTRACTION: INTERACTION Among the hottest wedding dinner trends are interactive food stations, such as a carving station or sushi bar, where guests experience the full sensory experience of cooking.

“Catering is the only element of the wedding that touches all five senses,” says Jami Pennings, sales manager at Los Angeles-based Wolfgang Puck Catering. “Live stations create a perfect opportunity to have guests hear food crackling and see it sizzling.”

Rich Wilner, general manager of Affairs to Remember Caterers in Atlanta, echoes Pennings’ sentiment, saying food has taken on larger roles of entertainment and expression.

“A chef-attended food station can have a fun interaction element where the chef engages with the guest, sometimes the guest having a role in finessing their unique dish,” Wilner says. “As for expression, brides and grooms are using food stations to share their personal likes and family favorites.”

Indeed, family ethnicities, traditions and nostalgia are all playing a bigger role in menu planning. With the joining of two families who might come from different backgrounds, blending cultures through food has pushed caterers to new heights in fusion cuisine.

“We’ve mixed Asian dishes with German cuisine successfully, and have an upcoming wedding where the bride has Irish bloodlines and the groom is of Peruvian descent,” says Andrew Gerstel, CEO of Windows Catering in Alexandria, Va.

One way couples have infused interaction while giving a nod to old-school family values is through family-style service.

While sit-down dinners are still the top service style, family-style elements—such as an appetizer passed around the table—are gaining popularity because they promote interaction among guests and provide greater variety.

Family-style service also offers the opportunity to incorporate special design elements to the table.

“We had reclaimed wooden boards made with notches to hold six small bowls for each table that contained our ‘designer’ hummus served with our hand-rolled artisan breadsticks,” says Robin Selden, managing partner and executive chef of Marcia Selden Catering and Event Planning in Stamford, Conn. “The wedding had a rustic design, and this idea added a beautiful wow factor to the tables.”

LATE-NIGHT BITES Nothing fuels an evening of dancing and celebration quite like an unexpected late-night treat. Bites introduced later in the evening are becoming increasingly popular as couples look for ways to keep the party going into the night.

The snacks also allow couples to infuse personality and whimsy into the menu. For example: Mini corn dogs and funnel cake fries might not fit on the dinner menu, but they’re a slam dunk for an after-hours snack.

Late-night snacks have evolved over the years, from originally being sweet (chocolate truffles or cake pops, for instance) to today’s more preferred savory fare (think fries with herb aioli and mini cheeseburgers).

The new frontier for the late-night snack, says Affairs to Remember’s Wilner, features the most important meal of the day.

Today, we often see a late-night pass being a breakfast item, like a breakfast wrap or even a full breakfast food station,” he says.

Whether sweet, savory or scrambled, the late-night snack caps the night on a culinary high note, sending guests home not just with full hearts but also with full bellies …