From signature drinks to bite-sized desserts, wedding food returns to the classics – Baltimore Sun

Not long ago, in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, large formal weddings disappeared.

Instead, knots were tied in backyard ceremonies with just a few celebrants — many of whom wore masks and stood at least 6 feet apart. Friends and family tuned in on Zoom. Food and drink, of necessity, were simple.

Even though the pandemic hasn’t completely disappeared, weddings have come back with a vengeance. Annapolis wedding planners and caterers say their calendars are filled with events, many of which include 200 people or more. And their customers, for the most part, are looking for old-fashioned elegance.

Ken Upton has run Ken’s Creative Kitchen since 1977, so he’s seen trends come and go. “We’re going back to the classics and what works,” he says.

Full bars are the norm, complemented by signature cocktails that may have special meaning for the bride and groom. Cocktail hours include platters of hors d’oeuvres and drinks distributed around the room, as well as raw bars with freshly shucked oysters.

Then it’s on to a beautifully served sit-down dinner, often crab cake and filet, plus elegant vegetable and potato preparations, all pretty enough to satisfy the most discerning social media algorithms.

The giant old-fashioned wedding cake is out. Instead, couples choose a smaller cake, just one or two tiers, that they can cut ceremonially while thanking family and friends. The slices are complemented by miniature pies, cupcakes and cannoli that guests can grab and devour. Small ice cream sandwiches are also popular, served to guests right on the dance floor, for a refreshing bite between songs.

Planners have given two main reasons for this move toward proven sophistication. One of them is the pent-up desire, after the worst of the pandemic, to celebrate in a big way. The other is social media and its endless appetite for food and drinks that are as photographable as they are delicious.

“Presentation is important,” says Jennifer Nyland, partner at 2Hands Studios Events, an Annapolis-based wedding planner. “Everything has to be presented well so they can photograph it.”

This is a good place to note that trends are not the same as rules. Brides and grooms continue to say “I do” at less formal outdoor weddings, providing food from barbecues or food trucks and keeping the guest list in the double digits.

But Annapolis planners and caterers (known for their fancier events) say many families save informal gatherings for the rehearsal dinner.

Food trucks, a recent wedding trend, haven’t gone away, but they are more likely to appear at the end of the reception, so guests can grab burgers or mini pizzas before heading to the after-party.

Upton has decades of experience and he knows what works. He encourages his customers to favor seated dinners rather than buffets, raw bars rather than charcuterie boards and round tables rather than rectangular ones.

Family meals, with passing trays, require overly large tables that hinder conversation, he says. And don’t throw it on sweetheart’s tables. The bride and groom will have more fun – and have time to eat – if they sit with other people, he says.

A wedding hosted by Ken’s Creative Kitchen can begin with a sophisticated cocktail party. Drinks like martinis and Manhattans will be favored, and entrees will be handed out on trays, so people don’t have to wait at the bar. A raw bar serving freshly shucked oysters and perhaps a fancy cheese plate or two will anchor proceedings.

Dinner can be a lovely seasonal salad, followed by a main dish such as beef tenderloin topped with au gratin potatoes and pretty bunches of French green beans tied with thin strips of leek. Wedding cakes are complemented by other desserts, giving guests more choices.

The old system of asking customers to choose between two or three entrees when they confirm has fallen out of favor, caterers and planners say. Many wedding guests now sit down to a plate of both seafood and meat, perhaps a crab cake and filet mignon, all beautifully served with high starch and seasonal vegetables.

Experts note that guests with allergies, vegetarians or vegans, can indicate this on the invitation and will be accommodated. The same will be true for any children attending the wedding, who will receive age-appropriate (and less expensive) meals, such as chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese.

“Everyone gets the same combo plate,” says Leslie Jefferson, owner of Annapolis-based Wedding Savvy, founded in 2002, which plans 25 to 30 weddings a year. “It’s an alternative to offering choice.”

Carving stations, once fairly common, have fallen out of favor, Nyland says. This is partly because guests don’t have to wait in line to refill their plates, and partly because it costs more, as stations must have enough food for returning guests for seconds or thirds.

Drinks, appetizers and desserts are good places for brides and grooms to add their own flavor to the festivities, experts say.

Nyland says couples often choose a signature drink that has meaning to them and even give it a fancy name. “It could be a loved one’s favorite or a nod to where they grew up,” she says. This drink, appropriately styled in a pretty glass with fun garnishes, is served during cocktail hour, complementing the full bar, and again during the reception.

“Appetizers tend to be bite-sized and butler-passed,” Jefferson says. “Guests will hold a drink, perhaps with a clutch under their arm, and they will try to shake hands or hug people.”

They’re also a good place for customization, Nyland says, noting that she worked with one couple who wanted a riff on tacos and tequila, for example, and another with a particular affection for bratwurst.

“A lot of our couples are real foodies,” she says. “We work with caterers who know how to personalize things. »

Come dessert time, giant four-tier wedding cakes are no longer the preferred option, organizers say. Instead, brides and grooms opt for smaller ceremony cakes, as well as other desserts.

“We’ll have a dessert table and the cake will kind of be in the center,” Jefferson says. “You could have tiers of displays that surround the cake with an assortment of desserts.”

Nyland says takeout mini desserts are popular because “people dance when the desserts are served.” She adds: “Mini cupcakes are very popular. Cannoli. This is a good place to give a nod to your heritage.

As weddings ramp up the exuberance, brides and grooms are embracing fanciful decorations and brighter colors. Nyland says she’s seeing a lot of pink this year, with bridesmaids wearing shades of the same color but not exactly matching each other’s dresses.

To make the look more cohesive, she might suggest specially formulated macarons in complementary colors, she says, or iced cupcakes to mimic the wedding floral arrangements.

Nyland says she saw a lot of pent-up demand after the pandemic. Last year, her boutique planned about 45 weddings, most with guest lists between 150 and 300 people. And almost everyone is there, she said.

“We find that people want to party,” she says. “That could mean a live band, a great bar, a sit-down dinner. People are in party mode.

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