Wedding catering in 2015
09 Mar 2015
Wedding catering in 2015
Chef Rod McCormick takes a look at how professional catering is moving with the times, as couples take a more relaxed approach to the traditional wedding breakfast
I happened to be talking to the middle-aged father of a bride-to-be recently while we were discussing catering for her forthcoming wedding. During the conversation, I asked the dad what he and his wife had at their reception: “Prawn cocktail, coq au vin and Black Forest gateau. That’s what everybody had in the late 70s.” And did he know what his parents had had? “Sure, it was during the war: their friends and family had saved up their food ration stamps and they had a slap-up tea, sandwiches and cake, all eaten off the tea set they received as a wedding present - I still have the tea set, despite the air raid that interrupted proceedings!”
This illustrated perfectly how food fashions change and how wedding catering has changed with them. Now, there is a new paradigm shift going on in what we are asked to produce for a couple’s big day.
Granted, we still get a lot of couples who go for a traditional sit-down meal with high-end service, polished tableware, starched napkins, the works. But we’re increasingly asked to do catering in a less-formal style. A wedding is, after all, supposed to be fun: couples want their guests to be more relaxed, so they’re going for more serve-yourself styles. We’re not talking about buffets with the dreaded chicken legs and sausages on sticks; the desire for sophisticated catering and presentation is still there, but combined with a de-formalised eating style. If people are sharing, trying different flavours, passing dishes around, it stimulates conversation and makes the whole meal fun.
Themed catering is also becoming more popular at weddings. Last year we organised a wedding on the theme of an old English country fair, where dishes were available from different ‘stalls’, including a hog roast, a stall serving traditional hand-made pies, a fruit and cake stall, a drinks tent and traditional games, all arranged around the dancing. That idea went down really well indeed with guests of all ages.
Food-wise, many people are moving towards the styles and flavours previously associated more with Southern American food: smoky, spicy and tangy flavours, more use of maize, chillies and peppers combined with the desire to move away from ‘posh cuisine’ and dive in there and get sticky fingers (hand wipes are a good idea to avoid ruining your best wedding gear).
Of course, Britain’s cultural diversity has transformed the culinary landscape in recent years. So many Asian dishes lend themselves to de-formalised eating. I am a great fan of Japanese food - the flavours and the presentation are so simple, so clean. The preparation can be very complex, but the end result is deceptively simple.
Because we source our ingredients locally, many authentic Asian dishes are difficult to achieve here in the UK. Having said that, our kitchen probably has a larger range of Asian spices and flavours than most - I like to use my taste and experience to bring more life to our food. And the presentation techniques I learned out there are reflected in our style.
Often a bride asks for ideas: “Something different, out of the ordinary” is a common request. Ideas range from a funfair with handmade sweets to a traditional Maori hāngi, where the feast is cooked in the ground on hot stones… it’s delicious, but most venues take a pretty dim view of fires and big holes in their gardens!
And the young bride at the beginning of my account? She wanted a 1940s-style high tea, with all the trimmings, “because it’s a bit different. And my gran will be there, and I’d like it to bring back happy memories for her, too”. Cue a touch of Big Band music, period dress for front-of-house, and a raid into our stock of vintage china.
It all goes to show that in food fashion, as on the catwalk, what goes around often comes around. Only this time nobody had to save their ration stamps and Gran’s tea set remained safe.
New Zealand-born Rod McCormick is Executive Chef and co-founder of McBaile Exclusive Catering & Events (his wife Laura is Managing Director). He has 20 years’ experience of fine catering. The company is based in Bristol and serves corporate and private clients across the south of the UK, counting Badminton Horse Trials and the Bristol Balloon Fiesta among its clients. www.mcbaile.co.uk