Want some summer wedding menu ideas for your big day? You’ll enjoy these ideas from the Essex Room’s Chef Ned Grieg.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. Today I’m here with Chef Ned Grieg, executive chef at Woodman’s and the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we are talking about popular foods for summer wedding menus. Welcome, Ned.
Chef Ned Grieg: Good morning, John.
John: Ned, as we get into this, we are going to go through a little bit of the day of the wedding and after the wedding ceremony, and walk through what happens and what are some of the most popular selections for people to choose for their summer wedding menus.
After the wedding itself, ceremony has happened, what’s the first thing we encounter in terms of food?
First Foods For the Wedding Party
Chef Grieg: My day begins, obviously, I get to the Essex Room significantly earlier than the wedding party plans to arrive. Guests don’t usually arrive until about 30 minutes before the event.
The bride shows up about two hours beforehand. At two o’clock when she arrives, we usually put some champagne and sparkling grapefruit juice in the bride’s room, and some canapes for them to eat that wouldn’t be messy.
Lots of times the bridal party will have a hair dresser show up and things of this nature to get them prepared. As a guest starts to arrive, we call that “The Greeting and Gathering Period.”
Our weddings have a tendency to start a little bit later in the afternoon. They start about 3:30, what we do is make homemade lemonade. In the summer time we will freshen it up with fresh raspberries and fresh blueberries.
We pass it to our guests with our French macaroons, possibly. If you wanted something savory, we make these little crostinis or grissinis with focaccia bread. That gives them something to nibble on.
It’s 3:30, they probably had a snack earlier in the day, but they may be getting hungry. That keeps them at bay. That gives them something to eat before they sit down for the ceremony itself.
Then obviously, the ceremony usually breaks off and the first thing they usually do is look for a libation, a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a cocktail depending on what the clients asked for.
John: Especially if it’s summer time and it’s hot outside. You’ve just been outdoors for a ceremony, you really want something to drink afterwards.
Chef Grieg: That’s another thing, hopefully it will be good weather, so they can have the ceremony outside. It does rain sometimes, then you have to move it in. You’re moving a lot of chairs and tables. That’s the nature of the beast. That’s what we choose to do, being in the culinary catering business.
During the reception, hors d’oeuvres that work best in the summer. You want to hit all different food groups. You want to have something that comes from the vegetable and cheese department.
You want to have something that comes from the seafood department, and you want to have something that’s victual. That is like a meat or poultry. Depending on the client, if they are vegan, obviously you’re not going to be putting meats in and things like that.
If I had my choice, the most popular things that we sell to almost 90 percent of our clients. We make these little things called “Grafton Cheddar Cheese Puffs.”
It’s a little buttered toast round that we toast off. Then we make a concoction that consists of finely diced white onion, shredded Grafton cheddar cheese, a touch of basil, and of all things, a dry mustard and some mayonnaise.
You put this little scoop on top of the bread. You high‑heat bake it in a convection oven until it turns amber brown and golden on the top. It’s the perfect combination of something salty, something buttery and something rich.
It really works excellently during a cocktail reception time. The whole theory about hors d’oeuvres ‑‑ most people don’t know this ‑‑ hors d’oeuvres are something that are served warm and canapes are something that are served cold.
Those two particular items that you serve at a reception, you want to make sure that it’s not too big. The whole theory is, according to my friend Jane Pinkis out in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “Ned, if I have to put my lipstick on in the powder room one more time because you made that hors d’oeuvres too big, I’m not going to eat it.” You want to make sure it’s the right size.
John: Less than bite size that you can just fit right in your mouth.
Chef Grieg: The other thing is, we always try to have something stationary. What we’ve done last season and this season, we are incorporating what we call “A Hundred Mile Menus.”
We are using items that are harvested within a hundred miles of us. The carbon imprint is less. The product is better. You’re supporting the environment and your local growers. One thing we like to do a lot is artisanal cheese displays.
Berkshire Blue Cheese that comes from the Berkshire Mountains is phenomenal. The cheeses you can get out of Vermont are ridiculous. They’ll rival anything you can find in the world.
We make these gorgeous displays with bright berries and crisp fruits. Ficelle, which is a skinny little French bread, will be out there. We make house‑made water crackers which are fun, and rice crackers. That seems to be a real popular item for us to put out as well.
Chilled soups, we will pass chilled soups as an hors d’oeuvre, in little glass vessels for lack of a better term. It’s about the size of a shot glass or about the size of a votive candle.
There will be different types of chilled soups. I made a New Jersey, white sweet potato vichyssoise once and people really liked that a lot. We garnished it with a homemade potato chip.
We did a gazpacho we would put out there, which is one of my favorite soups. We’ll embellish that with a little bit of crab meat or a poached little shrimp. People seem to like that. Also, we did a green, grape gazpacho with fresh basil. That was a popular item.
John: That sounds great.
Chef Grieg: When you come to Woodman’s and The Essex Room, you’ve got to have something with lobster out there.
John: You guys are right on the salt marsh there, and you’re right near the ocean. Of course, the restaurant does a lot of lobsters, fried clams and things like that.
Chef Grieg: Yes we do. Something will be sold, there might be miniature lobster rolls. When I call down to Uncle Dougie, Dougie is the CEO of the company; “OK, it’s a wedding for 270 people, I’m going to need 15 pounds of lobster salad, Doug, for Saturday.”
He makes up a special recipe, he hasn’t even told me what’s in it yet. It’s like the chowder, I don’t know who makes it, but it’s the same and it’s awfully good all the time.
Appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, you’re trying to do something that might be a little bit more appropriately served chilled, as opposed to something that would be served warm in the late fall or the winter time.
Foods For Summer Wedding Receptions
John: What’s next in terms of a reception and after a wedding?
Chef Grieg: After they’ve had hors d’oeuvres and canapes, usually anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes, if it’s a sit down meal, the guests are called to their table.
They’re usually called to their table anyway so they can make some toasts. The table will be dressed with scented olive oil, a sweet butter, and baskets of fresh bread. The first course, most people choose a salad in the summer time.
John: That’s what you think of, those fresh greens.
Chef Grieg: We do many different types of salads. In the summer time it may be a fresh spinach salad with feta cheese and watermelon. We make a lemon thyme vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar that seems to be a popular choice.
There might be a salad that has candied pecans on it and macerated fresh raspberries, served with romaine lettuce. Then we drizzle it with balsamic syrup that’s flavored with cherries.
Salads seem to work really well. Also, the tomatoes are available and they look delicious. We will do a stacked salad with heirloom tomatoes. As I mentioned before we got that Berkshire Blue Cheese. You should really go try some. It’s delicious, by the way.
John: I love blue cheese.
Chef Grieg: We’ll stack that up and then we will garnish it with what they call, “Micro Greens.” Micro greens are different types of herbs, different types of vegetables where only two leaves have actually sprout.
They’ve become a popular thing you can buy at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s these days. My favorite one I’m running with right now, it’s called, “A Tangerine Micro Green.” When you eat it, you think, you really think you are eating a tangerine.
Chef Grieg: It’s unbelievable. The flavor, the delicateness of it.
John: It looks like a little bit of parsley or something like that?
Chef Grieg: Much smaller. It looks like the first blades of grass that come up when you are putting a new grass down. We garnish with a lot of micro greens and edible flowers on our salads also. It looks pretty.
It isn’t just something you want to know tastes good, you have to make it look good. If they’re skeptical, they’re not going to eat something that doesn’t look pretty.
That’s why a lot of people don’t like Indian food, it looks like “Blah,” but it tastes really good. We try to make sure everything looks really pretty. That’s what you would do for what they call an entree, or the first course when you’re sitting down.
John: We think of an entree as being the main course, but traditionally an entree is the first thing you get.
Chef Grieg: Right, I’m using it in the French vernacular. That’s correct.
John: What’s next for the principle plate or the main course?
Chef Grieg: If you’re on the north shore of Boston, let’s face it, it’s a destination wedding place. You go to Essex, Massachusetts, or you’re going to go to Ipswich, Gloucester or Rock Port. People are coming here for a reason.
Most of our weddings are tailored with some type of fin fish, shellfish or seafood course, or something is going to be involved along the way.
If we’re fortunate enough to do the rehearsal dinner as well as the reception, we try to get the people at the rehearsal dinner to do the lobster bake, the clam bake. That would help us out a lot.
When we have them, I prepare lighter foods. They’re the same food substance per se, you’re always going to have a salmon or haddock; a Black Angus filet mignon, or a rack of lamb, or piece of poultry. The sauce is how you embellish these items.
You’re thinking lighter. Instead of putting a demi‑glace with a piece of grilled meat, I’m making a roasted garlic cabernet sauvignon au jus to serve with a tenderloin of beef. Instead of doing baked, stuffed haddock, I might be serving it with a beurre blanc, which means a white butter sauce enhanced with blueberries and bee balm in it, for example so there’s a different color and taste on the plate.
You try to lighten it up. That’s what you’re doing with your foods. The popular choices right now, there’s no doubt, it might be something with sautéed lobster on top of a piece of fish and or a piece of poultry.
If you are doing a piece of beef, everyone still seems to choose a piece of beef unless you have a lot of vegans coming to your event. Then, lighter sauces ‑‑ that’s what makes it work ‑‑ and also lighter vegetables. Seasonal vegetables, you want to use what’s in season.
First of all, it costs less, and secondly, it looks better. It may be grilled asparagus at the end of the season. It may be a grilled vegetable stack of the first zucchini or summer squash that come in, or baby carrots that are pulled out of the garden.
If you know it’s going to be an extremely hot week coming up, we will call the client in advance and say, “Hey look, those little miniature, baked, stuffed red potatoes just aren’t going to fly.
It’s going to be 90 degrees that day. Why don’t we do a wild mushroom, broccoli risotto for your vegetable. Then we will do a carrot, ginger soufflé to put on your plate, just to keep it a little bit lighter and it’ll still taste good.”
They’ll say “Go ahead with it.” We will change things up. We care about what the client’s going to have. We don’t want them to have a compromised experience. We’re here to make them happy.
John: You don’t want them to show up and have it be so hot, then look at their plate and go, “Ugh, I can’t eat that. It’s just too heavy.”
Chef Grieg: Exactly. We had a wedding two weeks ago, you remember that hot Sunday we had?
Chef Grieg: It was a horrible 90 degrees. They had Chicken Cordon Bleu for their dinner. That’s pretty heavy. It was homemade, it was delicious, it was cooked perfectly. The cheese was oozing out and all, but it was really hot. They chose an early spring wedding menu. We called them up.
John: It was in May. It just happened to be really hot.
Chef Grieg: It was in May. They couldn’t change their principle plate, but we changed the sauce to lighten it up, just to make them feel better. They still only ate about half of it, but at least we got them to eat half of it.
Chef Grieg: Dessert, when it comes times for desserts in the summer time we try to get people up and around. Even if you’re in an air conditioned facility like the Essex Room, you put 275 people in a room for an hour and a half, it starts to get warm, just the heat from the bodies.
We try to get them up. We’ll do interactive dessert stations where people can do things themselves. Of course, it’s with somebody attending it as well.
We’ll have a s’mores station where you can make these gourmet s’mores and all. What we’ll do is you take a piece of rain gutter and we put sternos in and pack them in there with white pebble rocks.
We have these little tins of great big pokers that you can stand about three feet away. The marshmallows, the chocolate, the graham crackers. We’ll also have Rolos out there, and peppermint patties, different things like that you can make you different types of s’mores.
John: That sounds like a lot of fun.
Chef Grieg: It is fun. We do things like have an ice cream bar. Even though you think it’s odd, we will freeze our slabs of salt you can buy. They are three feet by four feet and we’ll put them in the freezer for the day.
There are some ice cream places around here. What do they call it? A slab?
John: I’m not sure.
Chef Grieg: You get your ice‑cream and they mix all the ingredients on a flat surface. We do that for people. The most popular one is salted caramel, done on the piece of salt, so it works out really well. That’s fun and it keeps people moving around. That’s what we do for dessert.
John: That’s all really interesting. I think that people can take a lot of that advice and information and really put that to work even, if they’re just doing a party in their back yard.
Just trying to remember to keep it really light and use lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables. You end up with a nice meal for the summer. Thanks for speaking with me today, Chef Ned.
Chef Grieg: You’re welcome, John.
John: For more information you can visit Woodman’s at woodmans.com or the Essex Room at essexroom.com.
Popular Culinary Selection(Recipes)Summer
Greetings & Gatherings
- Blueberry Or Cranberry Scented Lemon Aide Offered At The Gathering Before Ceremony Lightly Spritzed With Soda Accompanied With Simple Shortbread Cookies Or Savory Focaccia Crisps.
- Grafton Cheddar Cheese Puffs.
- 100 Mile Menu Of Regional Artisan Cheeses Offered With Fruited Chutney, Bright Berries & Sippets.
- Chilled Soups Votive Size Shooters Of Gazpacho, Sweet Potato Vichyssoise Green Grape & Basil.
- Lobster Anything!
- Native Lettuce Paired With Poached Summer Tree Fruit, Candied Nuts & House Pickled Vegetables.
- Heirloom Tomato, House Made Cheese & Micro Herbs Drizzled With Cranberry Balsamic Syrup
- The North Shore Attracts Destination Weddings.
- For Principle Plates Everyone Seemingly Picks The Same Choices So I Simply Prepare Lighter Glazings.
- Popular Seafood Selections Are: Lobster, Haddock & Poached Salmon Are Heavy Favorites.
- The Lighter Glazings For These Selections Could Be An Heirloom Tomato Basil Burre Blanc, Meyer Lemon Scented Verjuc Reduction & Vegetable Brunoise Mottled Broth Reductions.
- Victuals Selections Are Rarely Duck, Wild Game Or Veal. Black Angus Filet Or Sirloin And Poultry Are Safe Bets And Heavy Favorites As Well.
- The Lighter Glazings For These Selections Could Be A Roasted Garlic Rosemary Scented Cabernet Au Jus, Tarragon Tomato Hollandaise, Avocado Key Lime Salsa, Asian Curry Paste Scented Ponsu Glaze.
- Vegetables Are Seasonally Chosen As Well. Such As Grilled Vegetable Stacks Are Popular As Well As Various Vegetable Soufflés Which By Nature Are Lighter.
- S’Mores Station With A Potpourri Of Additional Fixins!
- Petite Ice Cream Sandwiches: With Cinnamon Ginger Ice Cream Or Citrus Vodka Ice Cream
- French Macaroons