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Compliments of the Chef

Let’s be honest: after a gorgeous ceremony, a wedding reception that serves up dry chicken and overcooked veggies can take some of the magic out of the day. It’s a celebration of love after all, and love has long been associated with delicious food (strawberries, wine, CHOCOLATE!). In need of fare inspiration, we tapped into some of the best chefs in our hometown of Philadelphia for their advice on the ultimate wedding eats.

Wedding Reception Planning: Marcie Turney Barbuzzo, Lolita, Jamonera, Little Nonna's, Bud & Marilyn’s Photo credit: Jason Varney

Best advice on planning a wedding reception menu for a large group of people?
Variety & simplicity. With a large group, you’ll have many different food restrictions, so lay out a plan for vegan, vegetarian, gluten & nut-free options. Creating simple food that packs a lot of flavor is quite challenging – a few tips: texture, acidity, salt, good olive oil, and lots of fresh herbs!

Thoughtful or little-known item everyone should add to her wedding menu?
A sparkling palate cleanser. A mini scoop of lemon-basil or blood orange-mint sorbet with 2 ounces of sparkling wine served in a shot glass or petite mason jar is adorable & refreshing. Serve before or after the main course.

Food trend that excites you?
I’ve recently been obsessed with the kale sprout. They are two inches, hearty leaves of baby kale with a baby cabbage heart, reminiscent of a Brussels sprout. They looks beautiful and come in shades of greens and purples. For a wedding reception, they would make a beautiful spiedini grilled and served with romesco or boquerones aioli.

Wedding Reception Planning: Eli Kulp Fork, High Street on Market, a.kitchen Photo credit: Jim Graham 
Favorite bite you’ve ever had at a wedding?
Some friends of mine married a few years back and they had some fantastic Indian food at their wedding reception. The Tikka Masala and Yogurt Bite really stood out to me, and it was complemented by the fact it represented the bride’s heritage. 

One thing to skip on your wedding menu?
No fried food. It doesn’t hold up and there’s nothing worse than cold, stale, soggy fried food.

Food trend that you’re loving?
I love the movement of getting back to nature, allowing the ebb and flow of the seasons dictate what’s on the plate. We continue to push ourselves further in the natural fermentation of food and drink because of the great health benefits of these friendly little microbes, as well as the flavors that they produce.

Wedding Reception Planning: Jason Cichonski Ela, The Gaslight Photo credit: Amandarose Szezorak (AGS PhotoArt)

Best advice on planning a menu for a large group of people?
Remember you’re not cooking for yourself! It’s really important not to impart too many of your personal likes and dislikes; focus on what the group will enjoy.

One thing to skip on your wedding menu?
A fish entree. Unfortunately 9/10 times, when trying to serve mass amounts of cooked fish, you’re going to end up with dry, overcooked fish.

Food trend you’re loving?
I’m loving “collars” of all types, from pork to Hamachi. It’s an uncommonly used piece of meat found just behind the head of the animal and typically some of the most flavorful parts. (My recent favorite: Spice-Braised Pork Collar with long gnocchi & black garlic.)

Little-known item everyone should add to her wedding menu?
A warm waffle and ice cream bar towards the end of the reception. I’ve never been to a wedding that’s done it, but it sounds awesome, right?

Wedding Reception Planning: Rasa Stirbys Benefico Birchtree Catering

Thoughtful or little known item everyone should add to her wedding menu?
Include dishes that mean something to you! Favorites from your travels or something special Grandmom used to make can be reinterpreted in catering kitchens and paired with photos and special menus. Guests love to feel connected to you, and your menu will be truly unique.

One thing to skip on your wedding menu?
Stay away from done-to-death chicken or pasta dishes. Look to upscale comfort foods instead or introduce your guests to accessible non-traditional meat options like Coq au Vin or slow-roasted lamb shoulder.

Food trend you’re loving?
The late night snack! Couples are looking to this more and more, and with choices like Milk and Cookie Shooters, S’mores Stacks, or Tator Tots with Scrapple Chips, who can blame them? Guests that have been dancing the night away will thank you.

Wedding Reception Planning: Lisa Ruff Wedge + Fig Photo credit: Diana Egrie

Best advice on planning a menu for a large group of people?
Don’t be slow with the first round of food. Bring the appetizers on early and often, then taper off during cocktails. You’re going to be busy with flowers, photos, and saying hello to Great-Aunt Milly from Poughkeepsie. Take your time. Everyone’s happy now.

One thing to skip on your wedding menu?
Can we be honest?  We could do without the sit-down dinner. We know you’ve pored over the wedding reception menu and selected the best of the best, but it’s never as good as it sounds on the menu card. And it’s kinda uncomfortable sitting with strangers. We’d rather stand, dance, drink, and keep mobile. We’re a lot more likely to meet people that way, too.

Food trend you’re loving?
Food mash-ups: Chinese-Mexican, Thai-German, dessert pizza! We love the idea of getting outside the normal combos and into the interesting. On the drinks side, we love flavor-infused ice for drinks. Bits of herbs or other spices melting into the beverage add a constant zing.

Wedding Reception Planning: Mike Solomonov Zahav, Dizengoff Photo credit: Mike Persico

Favorite bite you’ve ever had at a wedding?
At my wedding, which was a total disasterextreme heat, torrential downpour, catering truck rolled over in a ditchmy friend made these amazing crab cakes. She also made an unbelievable mocha wedding cake, which we had to eat before the meal, because it was melting in the heat. It was perfectly tempered.

My wife Mary did not cry once that day…and I knew it would work.

One thing to skip on your wedding reception menu?
Mashed potatoes.

Little-known item everyone should add to her wedding menu 
Barbecue. It’s great at room temperature, has so much flavor and doesn’t require a last-minute cooking. It also really embraces the way people seem to feel about weddings as well as dining – something meaty, rustic, and delicious. Spending $200 a plate for some BS catered food is a joke…

Wedding Reception Planning: Jose Garces Garces Catering, Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Village Whiskey, Garces Trading Company, JG Domestic, Volvér, Buena Onda

Best advice on planning a menu for a large group of people?
Make some sort of variation of a one-pot dish, like my Arroz con Pollo. Braised short ribs are another crowd pleaser. When it comes out of the oven, it looks impressive and won’t leave you juggling to have the entrée and side dish ready at the same time. It’s also fun to set up a DIY bar, like a “make your own taco” bar. Guests love it because it’s fun and interactive.

Thoughtful or little-known item everyone should add to her wedding menu?
Garces Catering does a ton of weddings and one thing that’s always a huge hit is the hand-pulled mozzarella station. It seems complicated, but it’s actually an extremely simple process and always impresses guests.

Food trend you’re loving?
We’ve been seeing a lot of interest in having food trucks stationed at wedding receptions for the cocktail hour or after-party (for guests who worked up an appetite after all that dancing!). I think it’s representative of an even bigger trend, which is an interactive and creative dining experience at weddings.

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