dine: the catering conundrum
Choosing the cuisine for your wedding amid an embarrassment of riches.
There are many things brides will fret about: the weather, the in-laws, the flowers; but most people will agree that there’s nothing that makes or breaks a wedding more than the food. Serving a crowd of hungry people of different ages, places and dietary requirements, all at the same time, is never a mean feat – especially when you’re holding your wedding in one of the most famous culinary cities in the country.
Fortunately, there’s an amazing pool of gastronomic talent in the city to make your cuisine dreams come true.
At Palette New Orleans (864-2990), Glenn Vatshell is the genius behind the operation. Vatshell’s résumé looks like a “Who’s Who” of gastronomy, working with legends such as Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller in cities such as San Francisco and New York.
“At Palette, we believe people eat with all five senses, so we create a wonderful event with the food playing a key role,” Vatshell says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s for two or 10,000 people (both of which we’ve done); the point is to create something unique and memorable.”
He continues, “As many couples getting married in New Orleans want local cuisine, we often interpret it in an original way, such as our Jambalaya Cakes with Barbecue Shrimp or Tabasco Glazed Tenderloin Beef. Then we’ll ensure that the wonderful food will be matched with impeccable décor, flowers and service. We can take care of the whole event or we can work with the couple’s chosen partners.”
Vatshell has cooked for Brad Pitt, Madonna and Richard Nixon, and catered supermodel Amber Valletta’s wedding; he’s up to any culinary gauntlet his brides might throw down.
Another foolproof option would be Pigéon Caterers (262-0412), run by brothers Jean-Pierre and Dean, who come from one of the city’s culinary families. As well as being the official caterers to the Saints and having a client list that boasts many of the blue chip companies in America, the Pigeon brothers can also count former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush among their customers.
While the first-class quality of their cuisine is indisputable, it doesn’t make it prohibitive for couples on a budget.
Leah Berhanu, the company’s wedding specialist, explains, “My job is to figure out the tastes and personalities of my couples and create a wedding which is truly representative of them. I can draw on the vast knowledge and facilities of Pigéon to also tailor it to their budget.”
Some extravagances that Pigéon offers include a “new ceviche bar with an ice sculpture bearing the couple’s name or initials,” but, as Berhanu says, “there are also little touches which are so personal and don’t have to cost the earth. Midnight snacks such as mini beignets with café au lait, mini poor boys wrapped in monogrammed paper as a goodnight gift or a personalized signature drink are fun ways to celebrate the couple.”
If needed, Pigéon can also offer two unique venues with views: The Board of Trade, overlooking the Mississippi and 530 Bourbon with a balcony on Bourbon Street.
Brides wanting to avoid the usual and create a one-of-a-kind experience, will also do well to consider Food Art (524-2381). Their award-winning food often features multi-regional dishes, blending tapas, Thai, Cambodian, Indian and fusion cuisines. Ingredients are frequently flown in from around the world – be it truffles from Italy or specially shaped ice cream drops – to make sure every detail is perfect.
Brides can be confident that special dietary needs won’t stand in the way of taste. According to owner Nanci Easterling, the food will be equally delicious be it vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free, “You just have to understand it and do it really well.”
Made to order, Food Art offers simple classics as well as upscale choices such as Presliced Applewood Smoked Beef Tenderloin and Cajun-style deep fried turkey breast presented with Creole mustard and horseradish mayonnaise.
While food is at the heart of this operation, Food Art also has a great track record at creating beautiful and dramatic settings. “We’ve had some very interesting jobs, from catering a romantic proposal on a streetcar to turning an ocean barge into a flying dragon and serving at 150 feet above the Mississippi,” Easterling says.
Variety is the spice of life and the bounty of New Orleans; The Uptowner on Henry Clay (899-6500) is a different option and, in some ways, as local as it gets.
The building, more than 100 years old, enjoys typical French architecture of the period. Originally a mercantile trading post and grocery store, The Uptowner has been a wedding venue since 1958, and now its 14-foot ceilings, chandeliers, patio and ballroom create a perfect setting for seated dinners for up to 80 people, or 300 for cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres.
The food available is just as unique and indigenous. Before Hurricane Katrina, Mary and Greg Sonnier ran the famous Gabrielle restaurant for 14 years. Now, they pride themselves on providing catering at the venue, showcasing the best of the city’s cooking with local ingredients and fresh produce.
“We have no packages to choose from, as everything is custom-made exactly as the couple wishes,” Mary Sonnier says. “We shop at the local farmers markets, buy everything at its best quality and cook it with care. Some of our clients request their favorite dishes from our restaurant, such as our homemade andouille sausage or crabmeat dishes. For the most part, clients just want the traditional cuisine of the city, delivered with a modern, lighter twist.”
Sonnier says that salads, such as their spinach and romaine salad with Satsuma, cranberries, spiced pecans and feta; or their artichokes stuffed with anchovies, cheese and lemon – with honey pecan squares for dessert – are big crowd pleasers.
The Sonniers draw on their extensive culinary experience to work with budgets, dietary needs and personal favorites.
Couples contacting Toulouse Gourmet Catering (488-4466), will find people who are as passionate as they are about providing good food for their wedding and a team dedicated to taking away the worry, as one of the owners, Kellie Levy, explains, “For many brides, it’s their first time planning such a large dining experience. We will make sure it isn’t an overwhelming one with specialists who can guide you through the process and whom you can trust to deliver fabulous food and a flawless event. All our clients need to do is enjoy themselves.”
Some of Toulouse’s most popular dishes include Bourbon bruschetta with shaved Gorgonzola, roasted almonds and a honey drizzle; and chorizo and crawfish quesadillas topped with a hothouse tomato and smoked corn pico de gallo. “We won’t fail at making sure all the guests enjoy a true wedding feast,” says Levy.
It is always nice to end on a sweet note, and now couples can have one of the most popular treats in the city at their shower, rehearsal or wedding, thanks to Pinkberry’s full catering service (899-4260).
The Pinkberry team will arrive at your event with pre-swirled tubs of your favorite flavors and set up a mini toppings bar with three dry and three wet options. You can pick from fresh fruit and more than 20 dry toppings, including toasted almonds, shaved milk chocolate, coconut and honey almond granola.
Pinkberry in New Orleans is run by sisters Celie and Courtney Stumm. “Pinkberry is new to the city,” Courtney says, “so for couples looking for something fun and different, it’s the perfect option. It makes a great light dessert or pick-me-up at the end of an event. If you have children attending, it won’t fail to please.”
With such rich choices available to marrying couples, the best advice might be to start those tastings earlier than you think; it may be a hard decision to make, but at least it will be one of the most enjoyable.