“I don’t remember the flowers from the weddings I’ve been to,” says Lisa Rollo, Food stylist and Producer for celebrity chef Anna Olsen, “but I can tell you what I ate and how good it was.” She continues with honest words for all future brides, “I can also tell you whose wedding I was at where the food sucked!”
When it comes to the most important day of your life, food matters. “The food needs to make a statement. Just like the first look at the bride when she walks down the aisle, the food should have the same effect,” says Lisa.
Food that makes a statement tickles our tastebuds, makes us eager to pick up a fork and commands silence when eaten. Food that makes a statement is a surprise on the palate and an awakening of our pleasure senses. Statement food is a combination of looking good and tasting spectacular. We demand statement food when we dine out. So, who wouldn’t demand it on their wedding day?
On average, wedding food has lagged far behind the progress of wedding dresses, bridal cakes and floral displays. It’s surprising when you consider that food is approximately 50% of the total wedding budget. Yet, most brides just don’t know how to make a statement when it comes to food.
When asked about her own wedding, Lisa smiles and talks of the beauty of simplicity. “I told them to give me less if they had to, just give me really good food!” Lisa’s wedding meal was simple yet delicious, “it was local, it looked good on the plate, tasted delicious and every dish was hot, even the last one to leave the kitchen.” To Lisa, food is a priority, especially on the most important day of her life.
Wedding meals of the past have suffered from a combination of tradition, logistics and lack of imagination but today’s weddings are anything but traditional. “I used to only meet with the parents of the bride,” says Peter Van-Helsdingen, owner of Feastivities, a progressive wedding planning company. Peter has seen many trends over the past forty years. He continues, “now I mostly deal with the bride and groom.”
When parents of the bride organized the wedding, they had very few meal requests, but today’s brides comes with Pinterest pictures of their dream day and expect Peter to make it happen. Peter not only delivers on the perfect wedding but he goes beyond with statement food that brides don’t even know they need.
To do this Peter has employed two experienced and talented chefs, Pascal Badaoui and Mark Hand, both of fine-dining pedigree and both from Niagara. Their job is to make the food look irresistible and taste utterly delicious. They have exclusive contracts with local growers so brides can get food picked the morning of their wedding, prepared simply, served elegantly and offering perfectly ripe flavours on the plates for the reception. It’s a service well planned and choreographed.
Peter can serve from 30 to 300 guests and each plate is served hot and dressed – almost as beautiful as the bride. “We don’t dome food,” says Peter, “everything is prepared fresh because you can really taste the difference. For those who say it can’t be done, well…we’re doing it.”
Local produce plays a key role in statement food. Peter serves a salad of local, tender greens with crumbled Quebec blue cheese on top and drizzled with Niagara verjus dressing. The greens are from a local farmer who organizes his harvesting activities with Peter’s wedding schedule to ensure a fresh, just-picked flavour. “Good quality doesn’t always have to be expensive,” says Peter, “especially when you live in Niagara.”
The way food looks on the plate also plays a huge role in statement food. Once there was food all around the plate, now the food is stacked on the plate. For example, chicken is still a popular choice for the same reasons it has always been – because most people like it. But instead of the sliced, skinless breast stuffed with bread and herbs, Peter’s culinary team uses a chicken breast with the skin and wing attached. They don’t slice it, but carefully lift the skin and stuff a mixture of sautéed spinach and asiago cheese underneath. It’s roasted to juicy perfection. They sit that on top of a mirepoix of al dente vegetables with a light demi glaze drizzled overtop. Lastly, it’s garnished to dazzle the eyes.
Other ways to create statement food could be to serve an otherwise boring soup in an elegant tea cup with a one-bite grilled gruyere cheese and ham finger sandwich on the saucer. Make a statement with roasted prime rib by truffling the mashed potatoes. Trending now with small wedding receptions are choux pastry initials of the bride and groom to garnish the main entrée effectively upscaling the cocoa powdered stencilled initials on dessert plates.
Believe it or not, food also tastes better when it’s served in beautiful surroundings and that’s a trend all brides are craving today: beautiful, private, unique surroundings. To satisfy his brides, Peter has exclusive rights to many private venues including Sue Ann Staff Winery and Stonewall (Farm) Estates both in Jordan and the Mike Weir Winery in Beamsville. Eating among the gardens, vines and orchards gives diners a real connection to the food around them.
During strawberry season Peter can fill an outdoor tent with the aromas of just picked strawberries because he has contracts with Tigalar Farms, Niagara’s largest strawberry grower. During tomato season he can render hundreds of guests speechless with his heirloom tomato salad from Mike & Tina’s tomato farm. Peter’s list of local sources is seasonally extensive. “The growing season pretty much coincides with the bridal season,” laughs Peter who takes advantage of every harvest for his brides.
When it comes to statement food, the sweet tooth in Lisa has her talking dessert tables. She loves the fun trend of candy stations. The tables are multi-level, full of colour, class and abundance. It’s an eye-stopper in a fun way, but for a more serious sweet tooth, Lisa has that covered too, “Croquembouche is coming back in a big way,” she says. They’re impressive tall trees of cream stuffed, puff pastry balls covered in spun sugar. Guests simply help themselves from the giant tower and enjoy.
The quintessential statement dessert is a macaroon station. The brightly coloured, cream filled, uber-light disks all lined up like colourful soldiers tempt guests to try them. One bite and they luxuriate and evaporate on the palate offering a mouthful of luxury.
“Cupcakes are still a statement food because you can decorate them so beautifully,” says Lisa, but not for long. Lisa talks of mini pie stations. Individual fruit and cream pies in a variety of colour, some with lattice tops, others with a sexy dusting of sugar or cocoa and even more with stencilled tops giving the illusion of little luxurious bites. They’re usually displayed in a variety of layers with flowers and décor dividing the different varieties. “Food styling is about making things look pretty and designing flavour combinations that excite the palate,” advises Lisa. “It’s about making a statement and brides really can’t overlook that.”
Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo