When it comes to wedding day fare, couples aren't limited to traditional buffet items and a white four-tier cake with fondant icing.
Family-style dinners, where platters are passed around the table, are becoming more common, as are food trucks acting as caterers. Wedding cakes are being replaced by an assortment of sweets, or even something savory.
This new realm of food offerings lets newlyweds showcase their creativity and share what's meaningful to them. As a result, pastry chefs and caterers often receive unique menu requests.
"A lot of times, it's anything goes," says Jennifer Greenwood, pastry chef of Joel Catering and Special Events. "You ask for it and we'll try to make it happen."
She notes that many clients prefer a traditional cake but want additional treats, like buttermilk drops, as well. Her team has created mini-cupcake displays; filled glass apothecary jars with gourmet cookies; and passed around an array of handheld desserts — from s'more bites and beignets to miniature toaster pastries.
One bride requested several cakes and pies made from her grandmother's recipes, along with smaller confections. The dessert credenza consisted of butterscotch puddings, chocolate-covered strawberries, pecan pies, carrot cake and a decadent six-layer chocolate cake.
Desserts are not limited to dulcet confections. Greenwood recalls a "cheese cake" made of savory cheese wheels, stacked on top of one another, accompanied by a smorgasbord of spreads and crackers.
"You have to be careful with the structure," Greenwood says. "You don't want to put a soft brie cheese at the bottom of a four-tier cheese tower."
The Sweet Life Bakery in Lakeview offers dessert displays that include miniature parfaits with traditional wedding cake flavors, eclairs, cream puffs and other small bites. Owner and head pastry chef Jenny Pacaccio says cupcake towers and petite cakes in a variety of flavors are common. Some brides request an extravagant cake along with tiny desserts guests can take home as a party favors.
"The dessert bars have taken off, because people can customize it with what they like," Pacaccio says. "Guests can walk around and enjoy what's going on without having to sit down and eat a full piece of cake."
For the dinner portion of the wedding reception, many couples choose family-style dinners where the guests dine in small groups. Instead of lining up at an open buffet, everyone sits at the same time and passes platters of food.
Sarah Hall, president of Joel Catering and Special Events, says the farm to table movement has made this approach more popular locally. Already common in other parts of the country, family-style wedding dinners recently have gained attention in New Orleans.
"Some people are trying to find a happy medium between a seated, served dinner, but they want a more casual and fun vibe," she says. "Family-style dinners are a fun way to achieve it."
Local food trucks and other culinary vendors roll up to wedding receptions and provide multiple dishes. My House NOLA, a creative culinary production company, coordinates it all.
"If you're getting married and you want a food truck, an oyster bar and a snowball stand, we can work with all of those different components and put it together for you," says Barrie Schwartz, CEO and founder of My House NOLA. "The food people can focus on what they do best, which is cooking awesome food."
This mealtime option may be the way to go if the wedding is set in a historic building without a functioning kitchen. Schwartz says a few food truck chefs come from fine dining backgrounds and can make their usual menu items more formal.
"It's really cool to work with them, because they can do a little bit of casual and high end," she says. The actual truck can remain off-site, but clients should check with the venue about catering policies and the prospect of hiring an outside vendor.
While planning the culinary component of the reception, brides may want to peruse Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. After all, the couple's wedding day provides a moment when they can have their cake — or cheese tower — and eat it, too.