It’s a cause for celebration that wedding food has undergone a transformation in recent years. Gone are the days when you expect an airline style choice of a “chicken or beef” entrée at the reception dinner. Given that most brides spend 50 percent of their entire wedding budget on the food for guests, it seems only fair to expect more from caterers.
More is indeed on offer, particularly in the culinary obsessed city of New Orleans.
Guests at weddings in Louisiana relish the chance to enjoy the drinks and dishes served to them during the proceedings. Locals look forward to indulging in beloved favorites; out-of-towners are excited at the prospect of experiencing the distinctive cuisine that weaves a gastronomic tale of the history and culture of the area.
This has never been more so the case, but truth be told farm-to-table isn’t new. Alice Waters started this food revolution in the 1970s at Chez Panisse in San Francisco, when she started cooking with a focus on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
In recent years however, it has become the biggest trend in American cuisine. Chefs are growing vegetables and micro greens on the tops of hotels in New York (The Soho Grand and The Waldorf Astoria, for example) and it has become the hottest buzzword in restaurants from coast-to-coast.
Louisiana has had its own ambassadors in the voices of celebrity chefs, such as chefs John Besh and Susan Spicer. In fact, the Southern Food and Beverage Institute holds the Farm To Table International Symposium in the city every year.
It follows that this focus was bound to influence wedding catering. More and more couples are opting for menus featuring headline local dishes made from locally sourced ingredients.
“Our restaurant, Tivoli & Lee provides a modern take on Southern Cuisine by focusing on the freshest, most sustainable ingredients,” says Grace Duplantier of the Hotel Modern. “Bridal couples really enjoy sharing this farm-to-table experience with their guests, which at the same time supports local farmers.
“Couples are also opting for the trend of assorted small plates which enables everyone to enjoy a broader variety of delicious food.”
Katya Mata, director of social events at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans says they are seeing more and more brides opt for farm-to-table wedding menus or the hotel’s signature “Personal Preference” options, which offers guests the option to choose their own main course at the event.
“With this personalized option, attendees can enjoy a fine dining experience by ordering their own choice of entrée, along with a pre-selected salad, appetizers and dessert,” says Mata. “This option is also perfect for guests that may have food allergies or dietary restrictions.”
At the Brennan Family of Restaurants, 90 percent of ingredients are sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant.
“We’ve noticed that brides are focusing on quality instead of quantity and are opting for healthier options too,” says Morgan Trulen, the company’s private party planner.
In a place home to oyster, tomato and strawberry festivals, to name a few, and where there is such an emphasis on the regionality of its cuisine, it makes sense that local chefs are enjoying the chance to maximize the local flavor of their wedding menus.
“We are so fortunate in Louisiana to have a year round growing season with many new items becoming available all the time,” says Ann Lloyd of Nolavore Prepared Foods & Catering Company. “Of course, lots of couples want traditional menus especially if they have out of town guests.”
Lloyd says they use their own produce to adopt dishes, using for example Tuna Poke in Cucumber as an appetizer.
“It’s a Hawaiian dish but made with all locally available items,” says Lloyd, who creates the Green Papaya Salad from items from her own garden. “Our Corn Fried Shrimp (from Louisiana Pride Gristmill) is composed with local Thai basil and citrus. The range of ingredients in our proximity from oysters, tomatoes, strawberries and fresh peppers and other seafood, gives chefs like myself, limitless opportunities for cooking and particularly special occasion catering, like weddings.
“There are so many new farms popping up too with exotic items such as yard long beans and micro greens that is it a very exciting time to be a chef in this city.”
The farm-to-table trend isn’t stopping at the plate.
“Couples are incorporating local flavors in their drink offerings too with local beers and spirits,” says Robert LeBlanc, owner of Sylvain Restaurant and Meauxbar. “These products are all high quality and clearly identifiable as local.”
LeBlanc points to Louisiana-based beers, including NOLA Brewing and Bayou Teche which he says have offerings diverse enough to appeal to any palate, as well as spirits such as Old New Orleans rum and Oryza vodka. Which are produced here in New Orleans and nearby Thibodaux, respectively, and can be used to create specialty cocktails just for your occasion.
“This is an easy and fun way to guarantee that your guests, especially those coming in from out of town, get an experience that is uniquely New Orleans and will make your wedding even more memorable and distinctive,” says LeBlanc.
Duplantier says with so many choices, it’s easy and fun to get experimental at the reception.
“Couples are amazed with our delicious hand crafted cocktails,” Duplantier says. “The cobbler is particularly popular, it’s a low-proof cocktail served with crushed ice and the freshest fruit in a frozen vintage silver cup.”
With local food and drink, you and your guests will get to savor the true flavor of New Orleans. Cheers to the happy couple, indeed.