After more then two decades of wedding catering, I could write a book (and probably will) about all the things that happen behind the scenes of producing a wedding.
For instance, does anyone really understand what goes into something as "simple" as cones filled with French fries, served as a hors d'oeuvre? What could be cheaper and easier than French fries, right? Wrong!
French fries cannot be fried and then reheated at the party. Trust me, I have tried, but the result is worse than digging into a Happy Meal that's been in the fridge overnight. Something I would actually love to do if I were drunk, dears, but not sober.
So in order to serve those innocent fries at a wedding location that may or may not have a kitchen (most don't), we bring in a deep fryer and fry those suckers to order. Just what you want to do in the middle of catering a wedding for 300 hungry guests.
But we do it. Why? Because freshly fried, really good French fries are God's answer to the potato.
Getting rid of all that oil that you pray has cooled off enough at night's end is another pleasure. Most locations require the caterer to do a clean-up, and leaving a few gallons of hot, dirty vegetable oil behind is not looked kindly on.
But my biggest pet peeve in this industry is not the perils of the potato, but how under-appreciated wedding caterers are for all the things we do that build up to that day of wedding Shangri-La.
Yes, most folks (I said "most") will notice and maybe even appreciate (I said "maybe") great food, great service, great music, and the gorgeous décor of a well-done wedding, but how many realize that when the wedding day actually comes, 90% of our job as a wedding caterer is already done?
There can be six months to a year and sometimes two years of emails, phone calls, meetings, hand holding, menu changes, more menu changes, analyzing of floor plans, working out of the right kind of glass and china, trying to negotiate a battleground of issues from the groom's father who wants a pork roast to the bride's mother, who has cousins flying in from Israel who are Glatt Kosher, to a bride who is lactose-intolerant and a groom who is from Wisconsin and wants real Wisconsin fried cheese curds.
Thank God for Xanax.
Sometimes I look at something we are serving, like, say a Korean barbecue beef taco station, and while the guests are coming back for thirds (three tacos after 16 hors d'oeuvres? Good Lord, haven't they ever seen food before?), I have a feeling like a mother looking at her child going off to college and seeing him or her still as a toddler.
I look at that station with my waiters serving Korean barbecue flank steak into tortillas (corn and flour - the bride is gluten-free) and letting the guests top as they desire with salsa fresca and kimchi cabbage slaw, and I see all the stages that led up to it.
The bride and groom wanted a grazing cheese table, so it started out as a cheese and fruit display with homemade pickles, marinated olives and peasant breads. Then the groom wanted to add a protein, so it became a cheese and fruit table display with smoked sausage and country mustard. Then the groom's parents wanted a hot protein, so it changed it to roast beef carvery. Then the bride and groom wanted it to be fun, so it became a cheeseburger slider station. Then the groom decided Korean was cooler, so it became a Korean barbecue beef station. Then the bride decided tacos were even cooler, so it became a Korean barbecue beef taco station. I'm getting dizzy aren't you?
As a caterer who refuses to have wedding packages, I write all the menus to order, so the cheese-table-to-Korean-taco story goes with the territory. If I wanted a simpler life, I could write up 10 menus and say, "You have to pick one of these." Yes, the food could be done for way less money. I could really, I mean really, buy in bulk. My chefs wouldn't have to be nearly so talented. We could do the cooking in our sleep. But that's exactly what we would be doing, the cooking in our sleep. Gone would go the excitement of doing a dish for the first time. No more the chance to merge jerk chicken on latkes for a Jewish bride and Jamaican groom.
But mostly, dears, I would be bored as all hell.
So while the personalized menu thing does mean a lot of extra work, it's worth it.
The first menu I do for a bride and groom is called sample A. They can have menu changes up to 10 days before their wedding, so by that 10-day mark, when I give them a call and say (demurely), "FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, MAKE UP YOUR MIND!" we may be on sample menu W.
Pre-wedding jitters and menu changes are like peanut butter and jelly.
It's not just about the food, of course. That gold-rimmed ivory plate with gold-rimmed flatware that you are eating from may have started out as a Chinese container with chopsticks for Brooklyn hipsters, who loved the idea of my floating supper and wanted all the food passed in Chinese containers. Floating suppers are my fave, and the Chinese containers are just plain adorable! Not to mention cheap. HELLO, NO RENTING CHINA OR SILVERWARE!
But when one of the parents who was forking over (no pun intended) the moolah for the wedding wants a formal, sit-down dinner, things get complicated. How to make everyone happy in this situation?
I offer a compromise, a sit-down that is actually fun. Family-style side dishes and served entrees with all fun, homey food. The guests help themselves to collard greens and smashed Yukon gold potatoes, and the waiters serve dishes like slow-roasted brisket in whiskey sauce. Instead of a wedding cake, have a tower of donuts, and for the midnight snack? Passed "Oreo Crack."
Oh, right. The Oreo Crack. Gotta talk about that for a minute. It started when I had a case of Oreos left over from a bar mitzvah (that's another story), and I asked my chef if we could do something more interesting than chocolate-covered Oreos.
It happened that my chef Eran, (very talented dude) made a killer peanut butter mousse that we had been serving, dolloped on brownies.
He said, "What about filling it with the peanut butter mousse before we dunk it in the chocolate?
The result is SICK. So good, you dream about it, hence the name. It has to be passed and passed elegantly on a silver tray with orchids so the waiter can offer the grandmother of the bride oh so politely, "Oreo Crack, ma'am?"
But I digress. The rich parents get their sit-down, the hipster newlyweds get their fun wedding and everyone ends the night doing crack!
Another successful night in wedding land!
So what's the moral to all this kvetching?
It's that doing anything well often means folks only see the end result, and yeah, I guess if you are doing it well enough, that's all they should see. Like we don't see the 10 years of labor that goes into a great movie. We just go the theater and see the entertaining end result.
But if you are reading this, maybe the next time you go to a wedding and eat some really, really great food and are treated like royalty, you might consider tapping on the door to the kitchen, (or the folding screen behind which are a slew of chefs managing to cook gourmet food with no oven, just heating cabinets and camper stoves) and say, "Hey, thanks for the year of work you put into this. It really paid off!"