John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Chef Ned Grieg, corporate chef at The Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about 2020 food trends for weddings. Welcome Chef Ned.
Chef Ned Grieg: Hi. How are you today?
John: Good, thanks. So, Chef Ned, as we’re looking forward to our 2020 and beyond, what are some of the trends that you’re seeing in food or menus for wedding receptions?
Chef Ned: Well, quite frankly, I feel as if a trend’s become passé in some varying degrees. What I have been focusing on more than anything else is, actually, the clients themselves, and understanding what their desires are, and what they’re looking for. It’s like reading a book. Before you read the book, you have to understand who the author is. And, the author is the people that are going to have the event.
And so, once you understand what these people are looking for, then you’re able to move forward. So therefore, the trend really is, understanding your clients’ wishes and needs. What will make them feel as if they’re comfortable? They’ve already chosen their venue, meaning us, here at Woodman’s at the Essex House. And, they know that we can provide the product. They know that we can provide the space.
And, we’ve already met all their needs and desires for the reception, and their ceremony on premise. So, what you really want to do is, give them something that they’ve never experienced before, which is interactive stations seems to be something that are quite popular these days. They want to see the person they talked to the first time they came through the door. They don’t want a chef hiding behind the kitchen doors, just producing something and going home that day. And nor do I want that. It isn’t something that I want to do.
I want to be a part of their wedding as much as they want me to be a part of theirs. They want to see that I’m involved in what’s going on. When it comes to the culinary creativity part, it’s such a diversified group. We do events for Millennials, to people that are getting married for the first time at 50 years old. So, you can’t really find a trend. You’re going to find people that want food that are nostalgic. You’re going to want to find some that just want little L’Amuse Bouches all the time, and don’t want to really sit down. So, you have to listen to the client and see what they want. So, everything becomes very particular about how you’re going to address designing a menu for somebody.
Reception Food Consultation
John: So, how do you go about that? You know, you sit down with them, and you, you know, you ask them, you know; Hey, what are some of your favorite foods? Or, you know, what is it that you’re envisioning for the food or the meals, you know, at your wedding? How do you go about getting that information out of them and tailoring that wedding food to be just what they’re looking for?
Chef Ned: It usually starts with, when we sit in a room together. It’ll be myself, it’ll be the Director of Operations here, which is Maureen Woodman, and one of the associates who will oversee the event from the front of the house staff, so to speak, like Lauren Muise. And, we’ll all sit here, and we’ll listen to what the client is saying, and we pick up on ideas. And, we get together after they have left, and go over it more than anything else.
And, Maureen will bounce ideas off of me. Lots of times, we’ll start with something that’s more or less conservative, knowing what the clients are asking for. And then, we’ll expound upon it. Most people will take more chances with their culinary selections when it comes to the greeting paired, or the reception, meaning, hors d’oeuvres and canapes. And, they’ll also be more creative and more dynamic with their small plate presentations that go on after they have had their main course.
But, when it comes to the sit down part of the dinner, if it is a sit down dinner, they’re fairly conservative. They don’t want to stretch the limits too much. They want to make sure that they can make . . . have all their guests be happy without having to have 30 special requests on every hundred guest that’s sitting down.
Showers, Rehearsals, and Other Special Events
John: Right. How does that change for other events, you know, that are wedding-related, but maybe not exactly the wedding, maybe, you know, they’re having the wedding shower or rehearsal dinner? Does that way that you handle that change at all?
Chef Ned: Actually, it’s easier if you don’t have a wedding, in my opinion. If you do have corporate event, that’s one issue. Those are fairly straight forward. But, if you’re going to do the Sunday brunch after a wedding, or, you’re going to do the rehearsal dinner, the nature of a rehearsal dinner as a rule, and if you look at the tradition of it all, it’s usually provided for by the groom’s parents.
And, it’s more or less a first gathering of people that have never been together before. It should be somewhat less formal. It has to be a little bit more convivial for everybody, because they’ve never met each other before. We design specialty drinks for guests, just because it’s kind of fun and engage them at a bar. We’ll design different types of culinary offerings that will appeal to a broad range of people when it comes to the greeting part.
But, that’s where Woodman’s comes in, and we have a proficiency of doing such an excellent job at this, is because, if this becomes a destination wedding, which it is for probably about 85% of our clients, they want to taste what’s available here in this arena of the United States, hence, the hundred-mile menu concept getting finfish, shellfish, lobsters, clam chowder.
We’re known for doing fried clams. We invented the darn thing 114 years ago! So, that’s always something that they want to experience. And, when we make these, people just go, ‘Oh my gosh!’ They never experienced anything so fresh, so wonderful. And, for us, we’re also trying to have as minimum carbon imprint and footprint as possible on the offerings that we give people these days.
For example, why buy pickles that are made in California, where you’re paying for 85% water weight, and then you have 20, 15% volume in the pickles, when you can get the made, you know, right down here in Waltham, Massachusetts, which are just as wonderful? That’s something that we take into consideration, knowing that it’s become a global community.
But, there’s also issues with that as well. I mean, I was just reading. I was listening to a podcast on a Ted Talks about this gentleman who was a chef. And, he’s researching all this food to find the most wonderful food that’s sustainably taken together. And, he goes and researches a company. He’s going to do a speech on them. And then, he finds out that their concept of sustainable proteins that they feed their fish was 40% chicken.
Chef Ned: And, what’s so sustainable about fish-eating chicken?
Chef Ned: You tell me about that!
John: That’s not a natural thing. Yeah.
Choosing High-Quality, Natural Food
Chef Ned: So, you know. So, that’s an issue. And then, all of a sudden, you find out things like, you know, the GMO-free pesticide-free. And then, you hear about things like the Round-up that they use to kill weeds, that they’ve been using in California for the last 35 years, has penetrated, not just the soil, but gone into the water table, and it’s affected everything that you eat.
So, even though they say it’s organic, and it’s pesticide-free, it’s already in the water table. So, we have a real problem that we have to address, you know, going forward as a society here in the that are going to come through the door. So, my take is, that, I have to do a tremendous amount more research on providing high quality culinary arts that are not affected from our civilization, and how we’ve evolved over the last, you know, couple generations.
John: Right. So, that’s one trend. Definitely moving forward is that, sort of on the table idea, and you know, locally sourcing food [crosstalk].
Chef Ned: Very much so. Absolutely. And, I think that, that will be just as big of move as understanding that people don’t have allergies anymore. People have food preferences. And, that’s become a big part of what we’ve had to do. If you’d ask me 10 years ago that, you know, 30 out of every guest had food preferences, not allergies. I would have just said, ‘Oh my goodness. No. This is going to be a real problem.’ But, it really isn’t. And, that’s, you know, that’s part of the challenge today.
John: All right. That’s really great information, Chef Ned. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Chef Ned: You’re welcome.
John: And, for more information, you can visit The Essex Room website at essexroom.com, or call (978) 768-7335.