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Feature Thu Sep 18 2008

I Do...Love Mini Grilled Cheese

While the past few days have been undoubtedly lovely, a chill is creeping into the evening air, the late afternoon light is a little more burnished and waters down into darkness a little earlier every day, and the next wedding I have on my calendar to attend is in May of next year. Just as summer slips silently away into fall, another wedding season has come to a quiet end, but not without its share of trends and manias sure to influence next season's brides- and grooms-to-be.


Though autumn is usually the typical time of year to favor heavy, hearty dishes, comfort food has been a major star on wedding day menus for months already. Morty Rosenbaum, a local PR rep for several caterers described to me the popularity of such items as "grilled cheese on a slender glass of gazpacho, donut holes served in paper pouches with a shot glass of milk, gorgeous spoonfuls of mac and cheese, tiny soup mugs of Sheppard's pie topped with a mini croissant, etc." as upscale variations on familiar, even sentimental dishes. I recently attended a wedding where Beef Wellington and several varieties of flatbreads (including a warm caprese-style variation and delicious duck number) were showcased over several hours of different courses of passed hors d'oeuvres. And even if you weren't lucky (or...some other adjective) enough to stop by a wedding this past year, just recall the short ribs and blue cheese in phyllo, mini-pulled pork sandwiches and sausage and tomato flatbreads of the most recent Top Chef Wedding Wars episode. Ah, vicarious foodie trend-watching! Probably safer than crashing the union of two souls just to sample some gourmet grilled cheese.

Making substantial dishes like beef wellington and mac and cheese work well in the warm and summery peak wedding months calls for a little extra ingenuity, and miniaturized portions seem to have been just as popular this year as old-fashioned favorite dishes. Connie Bolle, Director of Sales at local catering powerhouse Levy Restaurants affirms, "Comfort foods and miniature portions seem to be a hit as our brides are looking for non-traditional ways to change up their more traditional wedding. The receptions still have introductions of the wedding party, first dance, toasts, and more -- but by adding unique comfort foods, it is so not the wedding your [...] parents had 30 years prior." She also notes that miniaturizing portions provides for a "unique presentation," helping balance the familiar with the fanciness of the occasion. And who doesn't like to see a single tiny bite on an adorably tiny spoon? Especially when there are lots and lots of spoons to be had.

Sentimentality has also crept into this past season's plans through contemporary recreations of parents' and grandparents' wedding cakes. Bolle notes that grooms' cakes have been back in vogue lately, providing a sweet counterpoint to the traditional multi-tiered, ladylike creations normally the focal point of the dessert course. A development that may be in keeping with what Rosenbaum sees as a general trend encouraging grooms to be "more responsible for many decisions -- input on linens, china, flatware and more." Though not, if my friends' wedding earlier this summer is any indication, on making individual portions of pad thai and conch fritters the main courses for the evening. Sorry, dude -- maybe for the honeymoon.

Making the happy couple's themed or signature drink available at the bar has continued in popularity, and adding organic or exotic drinks to the mix is becoming common as well. Says Rosenbaum, caterers are often getting "requests for organic tequila, wines and even organic sake... For wines --we love to introduce them to biodynamically grown Benzinger Cabernet." Organic and sustainability concerns of course reach beyond the bar as well, as they have into most areas of cuisine this past year. Bolle notes, "Sustainability is huge right now! All of our seafoods served are for healthy oceans -- and our brides love the fact that their wedding menu is considerate of the future. We offer free range chicken, hormone free beef entree selections and more -- and of course, provide so many local vendors for our products that make your wedding environmental foot print much smaller!"

Many local wedding caterers have even made sustainable menus a focal point of their operation, creating a new niche marke of responsible catering. Greg Christian Catering marketing director notes that 61% of their food comes from local and organic sources, as opposed to traditional food service. Greg Christian also encourages event planners to skip on bottled water and go for water service instead, and has seen increases in health-conscious menu planning as well, including upticks in vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. Limelight Catering has created an entire organic division to their services, sourcing product from farms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as working closely with Green City Market.

A less-than-robust economic climate is also contributing to some non-traditional serving and plating options, popular with couples looking to save money without sacrificing the fun of throwing a great party for friends and family. Traditional three course plated meals are giving way to combinations of appetizers and desserts, or sometimes one or the other. Says Bolle, "Due to the economy, we have seen some inquiries for dessert parties only -- with the initiation inviting guests to a late night wedding dessert party -- where they will find wonderful sweets tables, coffee drinks, and a much more casual environment." Sustainability and cost-cutting has also reached serving ware and labor, where receptions now sometimes end much earlier in the evening, and reception venues steer clear of disposable plastic or styrofoam products and favor washable china or at the very least, highly recyclable flatware and silverware.

But of course, for every planning adjustment that pinches pennies or saves a baby polar bear, there are also trends born out of pure awesomeness. The awesomeness of getting cheeseburgers on garlic bread, or quesadillas, or tater tots for yourself and a few hundred of your closest friends at 11pm. The late-night snack trend. Says Emilee Lales, a planner at the Blush and Bashful Event Boutique (and, full-disclosure, dear friend of mine), "Guests love it because they get to nosh on chicken fingers, tots or pizza after several hours of drinking and dancing. And most grooms love it because they wanted chicken fingers as the dinner entree anyway." Ah ha! Maybe there was room for pad thai and conch fritters after all. Though I wouldn't have traded those garlic burgers for the world.

Heading into the fall, Bolle forecasts menus keeping more traditionally in line with seasonal eating habits. She says to expect "Grilled fall vegetable bruschettas -- warm cornmeal crusted crab cakes, none of the light and airy Boursin-stuffed pea pods -- really heavy items with great textures." Fall soups will grace tables as part of plated first course duo, including such varieties as red bourbon onion, butternut squash, corn chowder with lime creme fraiche, which Bolle says will be "all served with salads with a hint of fall -- cranberries, heavier cheeses, crunchy dark rye croutons." Richer sauces, heavier combinations and exotic game will also come into play. Moose served at a fall wedding? Seems entirely too plausible.

Photos courtesy of Quinn and Co. and Levy Restaurants.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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