In the not so recent past, we can remember a dark phase of wedding catering, a time in history when the courtesy of offering a vegetarian option to your guests meant a plate of buttered noodles and steamed carrots. A fine meal for residents in a maximum security prison, but definitely not an ideal meal for a wedding guest. At a wedding reception however, plated next to the fragrant array of colors and flavors of the non-vegetarian option, the classic noodle-carrot combo elicits a resigned shrug from the unlucky diner.
Vegans were even more rarely satisfied; the idea that a person would opt out of hollandaise was a downright slap in the face to any self-respecting chef. Having a shellfish or nut allergy turned appetizer hour into a game of Russian roulette. And a gluten-free life meant one thing at a wedding: starvation.
But we are in a new era, friends. Food preferences and limitations are common enough now that you can expect more than one odd guest with special needs. The chefs in the game today understand these greater challenges. We can now expect exciting dishes while managing food restrictions, creating unique options that don’t scream “high maintenance guest,” and instead blend in with or highlight other more mainstream selections. Lifestyle choices, religious beliefs, and health considerations are all easily accommodated simply by communicating and collaborating in advance.
Identifying any dietary restrictions early allows for a more thoughtful menu. You and your spouse-to-be can design a meal to suit your own lifestyle choices or health mandates, while also respecting those of your guests. Preparation is key, and this involves some prior communication with your guests on the matter.
Saz’s Catering Sales and Event Manager, Angie Neiman, recommends including a section on your RSVP card for your guests to note any allergies or dietary restrictions. She also believes in accommodating such restrictions more organically by offering a varied menu to satisfy all tastes. “A well-rounded meal is a great idea, no matter if you have guests with dietary restrictions or not,” Neiman says. “Your selections should include a range of things from heavy to light, vegetarian to meat hearty, dairy-free vs. cheese, cheese, and more cheese. This will make sure every guest gets a chance to eat something amazing!”
Think beyond the obvious and work with your caterer for hors d’oeuvres and dinner options. Bacon wrapped bacon is a crowd pleaser to many, but exclusive to others. Invite other flavors that not only satisfy a limited diet but also excite those without. Offering “safe” options to all guests allows for a more memorable menu. Another tip: this commingling of diets is easier to achieve with a buffet, being sure to clearly identify wherever necessary with a discreet “GF” or “V” placard, or noting what might be an allergy risk.
When crafting a sit-down dinner that respects special diets, it is imperative to work with a chef who knows what they’re doing. Chef Jack’s Catering warns couples not to assume every company can deliver dishes that fit within every dietary need. “You don’t want to settle for a meal that is sub-par, simply because your caterer doesn’t have the experience or menu options. Ask your potential caterers about their past experience creating and serving dishes that meet dietary restrictions.”
Prior expertise is also a safety measure for your guests. A great chef will know nut allergies aren’t limited to the nut itself, but also dishes made with nuts in proximity to the nut-free dish, or nut oil residue on an unwashed pan. The number of nuts in this paragraph is an allergen in and of itself, so we should probably move on.
Let’s open our mind now to the new definition of a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free meal. These can often include meatless rice pastas tossed with any number of robust sauces, lasagna made with dairy-free ricotta or zucchini noodles. Cheese isn’t off-limits to vegetarians, so the options open even more to them, adding flavor with dairy where animal protein is prohibited.
Steak isn’t just for the carnivores on your guest list. Veggie steaks are becoming a more popular choice for veggie friendly eaters. “They’re going to become more trendy in the years to come, and it’s more than just the typical portabella,” says Saz’s Sous Chef, Samantha Mackay. “On our menu, we have a seared cauliflower steak with roasted poblano vinaigrette, served with a charred corn and tri-color quinoa salad, and I can see this [translating] to beets, select squash, celery root, and cabbage.”
Don’t forget the optics. What we see on our plate energizes our taste buds as much as its scent. Saz’s is committed to bringing vegetarian and vegan meals to the table that aren’t simply brown, white, and beige. “You eat with all of your senses; you can see caramelization and bright colors, you can smell the roasted garlic and spices opening up, you can feel and hear the caramelization on top of a good crème brulee when you crack it. Why should vegans and vegetarians have to settle for a meal that can come off as an afterthought, when there are so many options in the food world now?”
Amy at TH Catering also believes in making diet-friendly meals delicious right off the bat. “Not only do couples like to choose a vegetarian item as their main dish for those that are vegetarian, but we have some that choose these dishes because they just love the taste!”
Flavor isn’t limited to the meat-and-potatoes crowd anymore. With prior planning, the right partners, and a big imagination, you will not only please those who subscribe to an alternative diet, but to anyone with a taste for good food.