Most Southerners have a water-stained cookbook or two filled with recipes collected, modified and passed down between generations of family members. These dishes are sacred to family dinners, so it only makes sense that a wedding would feature these savory favorites enjoyed since childhood. Southern comfort food — which in New Orleans includes Creole fare — is a nationwide trend as of late, but to Southerners, comfort foods are a way of life.
Many Southerners cite comfort foods as their favorite eats, and with some culinary upgrades, these timeless dishes can be elegant enough to enjoy at a wedding. Serving upgraded Southern comfort classics at your wedding or rehearsal dinner allows you and your guests to dine on familiar favorites in a more casual setting than a stuffy sit down dinner would allow for, and it also offers a chance for out of town visitors to experience a true Southern meal.
“A wedding has people from all walks of life, so if you tried to do a very gourmet dinner, people won’t be very happy, but if you do foods they like and know, they’ll be a lot happier,” says Chef Guy Sockrider of Tomas Bistro, known for its elegant French Creole fare.
This is especially true at weddings with long guest lists comprised of a spectrum of ages, backgrounds and tastes. Simple yet savory foods will go over well no matter what — they’re familiar to most people and not intimidating to those unfamiliar with Southern cuisine.
Executive Chef Evan Benson of Joel Catering agrees. Joel Catering is familiar with entertaining wide audiences with
“People wanted to get away from the appearance of fine dining in catering and towards more accessible foods for everybody,” says Benson. “People like sea scallops and foie gras but not all guests are familiar with that type of food.”
In addition to appealing to a wide audience, comfort foods are also easy to pair with cocktail choices, especially simple and timeless cocktails such as old fashions and the French 75.
As a result, down-home favorites such as grits, macaroni and cheese, and roasts have begun to crop up more and more at rehearsal dinners and weddings. Staging service stations with chef attendants rather than long buffet lines creates a warm environment for guests to mingle and have small tastes rather than wait in line for a plate laden with heavy food. Service stations also allow guests to interact with chefs and observe food preparation that is customizable for each plate.
Choosing familiar and common foods does not equate with settling for familiar and common tastes. High quality and high end ingredients elevate comfort classics into knockouts. Favorites such as pot pies, soups, deviled eggs and corn fritters can all be dressed up with the right preparation and presentation.
Grits stations are one of the best ways to showcase Southern home cooking. Grits slow cooked over a low flame and mixed with heavy cream and mascarpone cheese makes the standard cornmeal mush a dreamy cloud of velvety goodness. Adding barbecue shrimp, short ribs or roasted vegetables makes the classic extra savory, and adding the options for extra toppings such as bacon, cheeses and chives makes each bowl highly customizable.
Fried chicken is another great way to show guests the possibilities of Southern cooking. Chicken pan fried in a grease filled cast iron skillet is a familiar image, but the addition of glazes elevates the possibility. Benson adds either boysenberry syrup or a truffle honey glaze to fried chicken to elevate the main dish into a sweet and savory favorite. As a side, macaroni and cheese with black truffles, pancetta and scallions adds a filling bite.
Presentation is important to maintaining the look and feel of the foods. Skip chafing dishes in favor of metal cookware such as copper bowls and cast iron skillets to make each serving station feel like the food is being prepared in someone’s home kitchen.
Guests visiting New Orleans will appreciate eating like a true local, the favorites that the bride and groom have grown up eating, but with those swanky touches. High quality ingredients and gourmet preparation ensures the food tastes good, but the presentation of these stations is equally important.
The best thingd about Southern comfort food is its laid-back nature and ability to appeal to a wide variety of people, leaving guests happy and full for a long night of celebration.