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Big Easy Bites
An elegant approach to Crescent City cuisine
As a couple, you are New Orleans through and through. What better way to celebrate your admiration for the city that speaks the same love language as you than through elegantly classic and traditional cuisine that is so inextricably linked to the Crescent City?
Meagan Cook, Director of Catering & Conference Services at the Windsor Court Hotel, observes that serving classic cuisine at a reception is a way to instantly appeal to your guests.
“If you are from New Orleans, you talk about food at every turn and opportunity you get,” said Cook. “If you aren’t from New Orleans, you spend a lot time researching and asking where to go to ensure you don’t miss out on the ‘must haves’.”
She notes quintessential dishes like Oysters Rockefeller, fried green tomatoes, shrimp remoulade, trout almondine and redfish meuniere.
“At a wedding reception, classic New Orleans dishes are either allowing guests to experience the ‘must have,’ or you are bringing them into a moment of nostalgia,” said Cook. “These moments and memories can get people sharing stories of their own history and learning about one another. Whether that is sharing the fact that your family has ‘the best secret recipe ever’ or talking about a new take on a classic dish you had when out with friends recently, it is always a conversation starter.”
She adds that a great way to provide a variety of options for your guests is to use a small plate approach.
“We like to recreate classic entrees into individual small plates on unique, petite serving dishes that allow guests to have a complete entrée, but in a ‘dinner-by-the-bite’ format,” said Cook. “These small plates give guests the chance to sample many items and also be able to continue to socialize and circulate throughout the event.”
Sarah Hall, President of Joel Catering, finds that the approach is not only a way to bond guests, but to celebrate deep rooted family traditions.
“A wedding is filled with people of all ages, friends and family, so doing something in a more classic, traditional way is cross-generational,” said Hall. “It’s a way of making sure everyone, including your out-of-town guests, all feel welcome. The menu you put together can do that.”
She notes that some of those classics include raw oyster stations, boiled shrimp, beef tenderloin and crawfish étouffée, but can also include fresh ingredient one-pot concepts like jambalaya and gumbo.
“A lot of New Orleans food can be challenging for a wedding because so much of our cuisine is based on one-pot cooking, which tends to makes things a little more casual,” said Hall. “But we can absolutely take those classic items and dress them up to make them elegant and formal and wedding-appropriate.”
To keep the menu interesting, Chef Daniel Mills, executive chef at The Westin New Orleans Canal Place, mentioned that one way to highlight classic dishes like New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp and jambalaya is to turn them into interactive action stations. “Most hotels and venues are getting away from chafing dishes and trying to use unique elevations and custom displays of varying heights to bring modern visual appeal to buffets.”
He included ideas like a build-your-own jambalaya station with an assortment of cajun meats and seafood and creating an Acadian butcher shop station with boudin, andouille, chaurice and crawfish sausage all sliced to order. “Creative buffet presentations can elevate the classic dishes in a way that make them look less dated or stuffy,” said Mills.
When it comes to ending the night on a classically sweet note, Leah Berhanu, director of sales and marketing at Pigéon Catering and Events, who always starts her conversation with a couple by asking, “How New Orleans do you want this menu?” points to traditional dessert suggestions like a Bananas Foster flambé station and beignets. She suggests wowing guests with those concepts by introducing unexpected twists.
“Beignets are a classic choice that go over well with all guests, but stuffing them with chocolate or strawberry filling is something they don’t usually see,” said Berhanu. “It’s always good to give guests something cute and unexpected to remember right when they think the surprises are done.”