Katlyn Graham: Hello, I’m Katlyn Graham. I’m joined today by the new executive chef at Woodman’s event venue, the Essex Room. Chef Ned has more than 20 years of culinary experience. He has received three first place awards in national chowder competitions. Now, he will lend his expertise to events at the Essex Room, like weddings. Today, we’re discussing menus at weddings. So, Chef Ned, when an excited bride approaches you about planning the food at her wedding, what’s the first thing? What do you do first?
Chef Ned: The first thing I try to do is find out what their likes and dislikes are. Then after that, you find out if there are particular problems with allergies, which seems to be a huge problem these days.
When you are serving more than 100 people, guaranteed, 10 percent are going to be vegetarian. Another five percent are going to be vegan. Then you’re going to have quite a few people that probably will have some allergies.
We have a tendency to stay away from using nut products when we’re serving large events to begin with. Then we deal with individual allergies and problems and an individual basis. As long as we know where the person is sitting, we’re able to cope and deal with it.
Katlyn: You get an idea of what the bride likes. Is it standard for every wedding, or how does it work?
Chef Ned: No, it varies, truly, from client to client. [sighs] It’s difficult to really pinpoint a perfect answer for you here because it’s so very individual. Say that we have somebody that’s from India marrying a Spanish girl.
There are going to be different culinary trends that we’re going to try to offer these people and guide them toward, or if that’s what they want to do. Usually, you get totally blindsided, and they say oh, we don’t want anything like that.
We’re having a destination wedding. We want people to eat lobster because everybody’s coming from out of state. Once you get just basic parameters and ideas, that’s all we look for when we have our first initial meeting with a client when they come to the Essex Room.
Katlyn: It sounds like you want the menu to reflect the couple a little bit.
Chef Ned: Yes, it is very individualized. It would be like hiring a decorator to come to your home. What you want is what you’re going to get. The reason you’ve come here is because we will be able to do it creatively, artistically, and flawlessly for you on any given venue or any price point.
Katlyn: What other food factors come into play when you’re considering that big day?
Chef Ned: Well, there are different parts of a wedding. After they’ve had their wedding ceremony, there’s a reception. There is one component where it’s gathering and greeting, which is your hors d’oeuvres and canapes. They can either be stationary or they could be passed, or a combination thereof. Then, there is usually something to get them to come to the table.
It’s your first course, or what they call entree in France. Here they call it appetizer, don’t ask me why, but they do. But it’s either a salad, usually a salad. It can be a simple salad because they’re going to have lots of toasts and things going on. You want to make sure that there’s some wonderful breads that are on the table so there’s something for them to be able to nibble on while they’re going through this process of people giving toasts, from the best man, the mother and the bride, and therefore.
Then you have dinner. It’s your principal plate. If it’s a plated meal, we usually know in advance what people have, and there’s little stickers on their name cards so we know who has what. If it’s red, somebody’s having tenderloin. If it’s white, somebody’s having fish. If it’s green, somebody’s having a vegetarian option.
People don’t do desserts like they used to anymore. That’s the last part of it. They will do the same ceremonial cake cutting, but that’s about it. We make lots of pastries and confections, which are considered to be like petits fours. We make homemade chocolate truffles and little lace cookies and petits fours and little squares and brownies and bites, and that seems to have become much more popular.
When we do weddings in the early spring or the late fall, when it’s colder, we do it a little bit differently. It may be warm hot chocolate with some Kahlua in it and then we put those little ice cream cookie sandwiches off to the side. It’s really kind of fun.
Katlyn: That sounds good. Oh, wow.
Chef Ned: Yeah, it is. [laughs]
Katlyn: Now, besides people not focusing as much on dessert, have you noticed any other trends in weddings lately with the food and the menus?
Chef Ned: Yes. Gluten‑free has become huge. It’s kind of like how 10 years ago nobody really cared about organic food. Today, it’s like 90 percent of the things you buy are pretty much organic. Today it’s a gluten‑free concept is huge. It’s really, really, really big. I think it’s a good reason, considering the fact that 70 percent of the United States population is overweight, and 28 percent of it is obese. Get away from the bread; put down the pasta. They’re moving toward other things, so that’s become a big component, as well, or at least reducing the glutens in an event. I don’t think you can totally eliminate them 100 percent. I mean, that’s what tastes good but gluten‑free has become huge.
Katlyn: Wow, even on their wedding day.
Chef Ned: Oh God, yes.
Katlyn: [laughs] My goodness. Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today, Chef Ned. I really appreciate it. I think you’ve given some brides excellent tips out there for their big day. Thank you so much.
Ned: You’re welcome.