If you're like the rest of us, you have more food blogs on your Google reader than anything else, and your DVR is set to record at least one cooking show (our faves: Top Chef and Ace of Cakes). Thanks to celebrity chefs and the Food Network, today's couples are more tapped into the food and wine industry than ever before -- which means, when it comes to planning a wedding menu, the standard chicken or beef just doesn't cut it. That's why we put together this list of 10 hot catering trends. From eco-friendly meals to tasting menus, these ideas are guaranteed to satisfy your appetite for good food and drink.
1. Play With Color
It's one thing to think in terms of color when it comes to linens and flowers, but for food? That's what's so exciting about modern-day wedding catering: If you want it, chances are a caterer can do it. Many chefs are coming up with unique ways to infuse color into their food to match the couple's signature hues, and we're not talking green mashed potatoes! If you're having a black-and-white wedding, consider serving Oreo cookies and mini ice cream sandwiches for dessert, or (even better) root beer floats. Like red and green? We know one caterer who put together hors d'oeuvres that included shot glasses filled with layers of edamame (green) and lobster trifle (red), and also tuna tartare (red) served in wasabi (green) sesame-seeded wontons for a cocktail hour.
2. Break Out the Bubbly
One trend we love: letting your guests play bartender. How do you do it? First, pick your drink. Since it's a wedding, champagne is a natural choice. Next, ask your caterer to set up a display at the cocktail hour with the requisite glassware, spirits and all the fixin's. For a bubble bar, have champagne, prosecco and sparkling California wine (se for variety. Hint: The prettier the bottles, the prettier your display will be. You also need liqueurs, like Chambord, Midori, Schnapps and St-Germain (a tasty new liqueur that's made from elderflowers) and juices like pineapple, cranberry and orange juice. Then set out pretty bowls filled with fresh peach, white grape and pear purees (think Bellinis) as well as raspberries and blackberries for garnishes. Your guests can pick whatever they like and enjoy their very own custom-made cocktail.
3. Spring Into Action
Cocktails aren't the only things that can be custom-made at weddings these days. Caterers are now creating what some call "interactive culinary kiosks" around the cocktail hour and reception that allow for more guest interaction and better flow from room to room. Taking the traditional buffet one step further, each of these stations is attended to by a chef who can plate your meal and give you tips on what to pair things with. Right now, the hot station is the ceviche bar, which offers a variety of fish in savory cones. If you're not into seafood, you can do a chips station with several varieties of chips made from nontraditional roots and tubers, like beets and sweet potatoes paired with a variety of house-made dips. This type of food service is perfect for a cocktail reception where guests can mill around and eat, dance or just hang out in a lounge area all night long.
4. Trim the Fat
Just because it's your wedding and you're hosting a large crowd doesn't mean that your options are limited when it comes to a healthy meal. Gone are the days of heavy cream sauces, fatty double pork chops and deep-fried apps. For the cocktail hour, think small -- as in little antipasto skewers with a grape tomato, a ball of mozzarella and an olive drizzled with fresh basil oil, or mini lettuce wraps with chicken in a savory Thai peanut sauce. You could also do pecan, raisin and apple crostini drizzled with honey and sprinkled with blue cheese (is your mouth watering yet?). Even though these apps are healthy, it doesn't make them any more expensive. You're actually spending less since you're adding a lot more fresh vegetables to your menu. Looking for healthy dessert options? Well, this is one course where we're going to stick to tradition. The more sugar, the better!
5. Go Green
This trend is here to stay. As organic and sustainable ingredients become more and more available, brides and grooms want to have at least one green course on their wedding menus, and caterers are responding. These days, you can serve something as simple as a fresh salad made with organic greens, or do a free-range chicken with organic string beans as the main meal. And going green doesn't stop with the food. Many winemakers and spirits producers are venturing into organic beverage options, so you should ask your caterer about adding organic tequilas and vodkas or even biodynamic wines to your bar menu.
6. Opt for Family-Style
Now you don't have to be Italian to have a family-style meal at your wedding. In fact, more brides and grooms are requesting that their reception meals be served family-style to take the stuffiness out of a sit-down meal. There's more interaction between guests at the table because they have to pass all of the dishes between each other, which means more mingling and a better chance that everyone will have an unforgettable night. One thing to think about if you're opting for a family-style meal is to nix the massive centerpiece. You'll definitely need more room for all of those big serving plates. Let the food star as your décor. You can do large plates of bright-red steamed lobster, flank steak rolled up with portobello mushrooms and Emmentaler cheese nestled in magenta-and-white Swiss chard, along with a colorful dish of vegetable risotto.
7. Get Global Goods
Like a lot of things in life, it's the details that count. When it comes to food, those details lie in the exotic ingredients caterers are using to give their dishes extra-special flair. Black lava sea salt or wasabi salt, Middle Eastern herbs and tahini sauces are being used in dishes to add a zing or richness to the flavor. Most of the time, you may not be able to quite put your finger on the difference these ingredients make, but you do know that it tastes good, and that's what will get people talking about your wedding. The next day or even a few weeks later, most people won't be able to remember what type of flowers you had in your bouquet, but they'll definitely remember the food.
8. Try a Taste
Tasting menus are becoming a huge trend, and now they're creeping into weddings. So what's a tasting menu? Sit down and get ready to mangia! You'll be served anywhere from five to seven mini courses -- even though they're "mini," trust us, no one will go hungry -- and depending on your budget, you can also choose to pair a different wine with each course. For example, you could start with a caramelized onion tart with Roquefort cheese, followed by herb-crusted filet mignon alongside pork loin with pear chutney, followed by shaved summer squash salad, then maybe a lobster tail, then cake and some bite-size desserts. So you may start to wonder: When do we dance? Well, unfortunately, that's the thing about tasting menus -- most of your time will be spent eating. If you're the type who wants to live it up on the dance floor, then a tasting menu might not be for you. But if you're self-proclaimed foodies and you want a sophisticated, black-tie wedding, by all means, go for it!
9. Kick Up the Kids' Menu
As children's palates are becoming more sophisticated, so too are the children's menus at weddings. Long gone are the plates of chicken fingers and French fries or the spaghetti with butter. Kids are having more fun eating sushi -- yes, sushi! -- like California rolls with soy sauce dips, chicken potpie or ravioli in a nice brown butter sauce. For the first course, caterers are also serving bowls of fresh fruit, and to drink, don't forget the milk, of course! What parents love about this is that they can relax and enjoy themselves at the wedding, knowing that their kids are getting served a healthy meal instead of loading up on hot dogs and soda.
10. Late-Night Snacks
Think the food-related portion of the evening is over the very minute the cake is cut? Think again. Around 10 p.m., brides and grooms are opting to serve a late-night snack. Now's the time you can really get creative. If you love the sliders from White Castle, then call up your local joint (a few weeks ahead, please) and see if they'll deliver. You could also arrange for servers to bring out trays of the quintessential before-bed treat: mini cartons of milk and an array of cookies. Or consider your families' ethnic backgrounds to get some inspiration for what kind of food you'd like to serve. We know one bride from Mexico who hired her favorite churros guy to come to her beach reception and serve authentic churros from a Boardwalk-style food stand. Your caterer can help you with this part of the evening by setting up a table of pizza or popcorn toppings, a gyros station or an espresso bar. Make sure there's room to put the station close to the dance floor so guests can hop off, refuel and get back out there and show off their moves.
Special thanks to Connie Bolle of Levy Events in Chicago; Shai Tertner of Shiraz NYC; Andy and Rick Bott of Merri-Makers Caterers in Edison, New Jersey; and Christian O'Dowd of The Cantering Caterer in Connecticut
Wedding Reception Ideas