Friday, April 1, 2016

Planning Your Menu Food & Drink 101

Think of your dinner as a night of theater: the lights dim, your guests are seated. The curtain rises, your first course appears. The story unfolds; the wineglasses are refilled as laughter carries around the table. The audience is completely enchanted, and your guests can't wait to see what happens next.
As you plan each course, whether its smoked salmon with capers followed by a selection of grilled chicken or BBQ'd local fish with crispy roasted potatoes, always bear in mind that color, flavor, temperature, texture, and taste of each course should be well-balanced and part of a big picture.

Sit down with your fiancée and ask each other these questions:

  1. What are your favorite restaurants? Describe why you like them. Is it the atmosphere, type of cuisine, quality of food, the way the food is served or the way the restaurant is decorated? If there is an element your favorite restaurants have in common, what is it? What is it about your favorite restaurants that you might wish to incorporate into a great wedding reception?
  2. What are your favorite foods? Are there types of foods--French, northern Italian, Indian, Japanese, Southwestern barbecue--that you love? What are your least favorite foods? Are there certain dishes from favorite restaurants that you love, such as a grilled vegetable salad, or the way a local bistro prepares duck breast? This information will help you better direct your caterer.
  3. What sort of food service do you prefer? Is a formal sit-down dinner your idea of an ideal party? Or do you prefer a buffet, where you can pick and choose? Do you enjoy dining casually or more formally?
  4. What are your favorite drinks? Do you prefer wine, beer, spirits, or soft drinks? Do you have a favorite cocktail? Does your fiancé love microbrews?
  5. Does the location of your reception suggest a theme for the food? A reception at a yacht club would suggest delicious local seafood, perhaps even a clambake. A home wedding might have an American country theme to the menu.
Remember, you first taste with your eyes, so make sure every course is as visually appealing as possible. A bowl of grayish brown mushroom soup isn't particularly attractive; but add a teaspoon of yoghurt or crème fraiche and a generous sprinkling of chopped chives as a garnish, and you've taken it from drab to fab in an instant.
A green salad with toasted pecans, a slice of Bosc pear, and a crumble of rich Stilton Cheese with a crispy slice of grilled flat bread is simple yet infinitely more inviting than a bowl of plain greens with julienned vegetables. Even side dishes should play a part in lending a bit of drama. They add color and texture to the meal and keep the plate visually appealing.
Whatever you decide to serve, serve only the best. It's simple: Use the best available ingredients and do as little to them as possible.
You or your planner will want to collaborate with the chef at the restaurant or banquet hall to make sure they can execute what you want comfortably. You may have loved the Salt and Pepper Shrimp you ate on a trip to China, but if the chef isn't adept at Chinese cuisine and it's not feasible to fry freshly for 120 guests, wait for your next trip to Shanghai to try it again.
We bet your guests would rather have a well-prepared filet mignon or a properly prepared grilled salmon than an elaborate dish that's poorly prepared or filled with hundreds of ingredients nobody can pronounce.
Find out what the chef is best at (is her specialty in Italian cuisine? Maybe he's a seafood genius?) and work together to come up with choices you love, then encourage, empower, and inspire the chef to do it better than he's ever done before.
You might ask what his favorite dishes are, or what his go-to ingredients are for adding flavor, and then see where they overlap with what you and your fiancée imagined for this special meal. (By the way, if your chef isn't able to guarantee that your dinner will be excellent, it might be time to rethink your plan and come up with a menu that can be prepared with absolute confidence. When in doubt, opt for simple dishes you know will work.)
Before you sit down to discuss the menu, start collecting inspiration images and articles of food and cocktail recipes you love along with presentations you find beautiful. (You can keep these organized in MyCollection.)
If your celebration won't seem complete without a favorite family dish, ask the chef to incorporate it. The better you can articulate what you like, the better prepared you'll be to communicate your vision to the chef and the more likely he'll get it right.
If you don't have the luxury of developing a menu from scratch--for example, the venue you selected only offers choices from a set list--the same advice applies.
First, look closely at your options. Are there labor-intensive dishes that depend on superb timing? Unless you've been to events of similar size and scope and had delicious soufflés, you might want to avoid those and instead choose a type of fish, poultry or cut of meat that doesn't require NASA-like teamwork and split-second reflexes to produce.
Again, talking openly and honestly with the chef is your best option. Ask:
  • What are your favorites on the menu?
  • What would you choose if you were recommending dishes to your sister or daughter?
As you plan, try to ensure that all courses, from canapés through dessert, complement one another: you might not want to mix Japanese appetizers, an Italian first course, and Southern-fried entrees at a sit down dinner.
On the other hand, you should also try to avoid repeating your primary ingredient from one course to the next: for example, serving tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by gazpacho, then chicken breasts in a sun-dried tomato sauce…
Instead, design the entire menu with an assortment of vegetables and sauces that distinguish each course from the others.  Try to feature any principle ingredient only once during the meal.


The time of year can play a big part in what goes on your menu. Winter is not the season for cold poached fish, nor is an outdoor wedding in July the occasion for prime rib.
Heartier fare, such as hot soups, stews, roast beef or lamb and potato dishes, works better in the winter.
Lighter foods, such as fish, salads and fresh vegetables, come to the fore during summer's heat. While people enjoy light fare during the summer, they usually don't want the entire menu to be light. A deliciously light summer menu can end delightfully with a decadently rich dessert.


You'll probably begin with canapés or hors d'oeuvres passed at a cocktail reception. It's meant to whet your appetite and tantalize your taste buds in anticipation of the meal to come. The cocktail hour isn't meant to be a meal: it's a transition period to allow guests to congregate together so you can move into dinner as a whole.
Offer your guests a selection of four to six different appetizers in single-bite portions, planning on 3-5 bites per person. Skip any watery dipping sauces so you won't have risks of splattering, dripping, and double dipping. Skip the forks, knives and plates during this time, unless a buffet is set.
We love small stations of food paired with appropriate beverages: caviar with chilled vodka, smoked salmon with frozen aquavit, artisanal cheeses with vintage port, home-cured charcuterie with fine wines, crudité of fresh garden vegetables with a blue cheese sauce and a crisp chardonnay.
If you do feature stations, we suggest placing several small tables and chairs and stand-up cocktail tables around the cocktail area so guests can eat comfortably and elegantly.


If you hate setting foot in formal restaurants, and prefer spending Saturday nights eating family-style dinners at home, then serve family-style at your wedding too. You sacrifice absolutely no chic points serving golden roast chickens paired with crispy rosemary roast potatoes and grilled summer vegetables on platters placed down the center of long banquet tables filled with friends bathed in tons of candlelight and enjoying a spirited dinner.
Who can resist large, rustic bowls of hand-made pastas, or platters of chilled seafood with spicy cocktail sauce followed by chilled lavender scented hand towels?


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