Once, there was the event menu and the vegetarian option. Was the option interesting? Usually not. And according to executive chef Michael R. Vlasich, CEC, of the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, it often still isn't. He notes that vegetarians “usually get pasta primavera and are treated as second-rate guests — or a pain in the rear.”
But these days, vegetarian options are the least of caterers' concerns. Pleasing guests who demand highly specific menus often requires research and a huge dose of creativity. Here, caterers tell us about event menus that not only met specific demands but served up plenty of flavor.
GOT MILK? WELL, NO.
For one menu developed by Design Cuisine in Arlington, Va., the bride requested an entirely vegan menu, including the fusilli pasta with asparagus spears served to staff. Vegetables replaced meat, and soy replaced dairy right down to the strawberry mousse tart, which turned out so well, it was “surprising it was vegan,” CEO Kathy Valentine notes.
Not that vegan requests are unusual these days. Valentine says that a recent 300-guest party had 14 requests for vegan meals. Vegetarian meals are even more common — Design just saw 23 out of 86 guests request vegetarian meals. Vegetarian and vegan requests are so prevalent, Design Cuisine is considering making its “vegetarian” option entirely vegan.
HOLD THE ONIONS, THE GARLIC AND THE MEAT
No one said special requests are easy. The head of a private party that frequently dined at restaurant Melisse in Santa Monica, Calif., once requested a no-garlic, no-onion vegetarian menu to please one guest who was a vegetarian and another who couldn't be near garlic and onions. What was co-owner and executive chef Josiah Citron's take on the request? “I don't want more people coming and asking for it,” he notes. “It wasn't easy.” l
VEGAN BY DESIGN
Design Cuisine served this 100 percent vegan menu at a 400-guest wedding reception. Due to the lack of meat, the menu cost $42 a head (food only) rather than Design Cuisine's average of $50-plus.
Passed Hors d'oeuvre
Lacy Zucchini Pancakes
Wild Mushroom “Chopstick” Wonton Cylinders
Black Bean Cakes
Citrus-herb-marinated Seitan, or “Wheat Meat,” Skewers with Chimichurri
Plated First Course
Caramelized Onion Tart
Pan-seared Polenta Nera, or “Black Polenta,” with Bitter Greens Salad and Spring Vegetable Ragout
Strawberry Soy-milk Mousse Tart
Chocolate Soy-milk Mousse with Cherries
Tropical Fruit Display
MELISSE'S ALLERGY- AND VEGGIE-FRIENDLY MENU
Instead of chives in the dressing and shallots in the stock, Josiah Citrin relied on fennel, turnips, “celery and more celery” to infuse vegetarian fare with optimum flavor.
Truffled Pea Croquette with Brown Butter Pea Froth
Seasonal Vegetable Salad with Roasted Mushroom Emulsion and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Mushroom Olive Oil Broth
Ricotta Gnocchi with Roasted Summer Squash and Zucchini Flower Sauce
Roasted Tofu “Steak” with Tomato Fondue, Green Asparagus and Potato Nage
Chocolate Souffle Glace
Affairs to Remember Caterers
Bar-B-Que Express Catering
Indianapolis Marriott Downtown
'CAUSE THEY'VE GOT SPECIFICITY
Think Meg Ryan was a picky eater in the movie “When Harry Met Sally”? These caterers have faced their own very demanding diners:
For a wedding with a completely “medieval” theme, “The client wanted only a knife — no plates. I asked her if she'd like to purchase the linens that would be ruined, so she gave in and allowed plates and forks.”
— Jack Milan, president, Different Tastes, Boston
For a February 2009 Atlanta fundraiser for the Humane Society of the United States, Affairs to Remember will honor 11 canine “heroes.” Both two-legged and four-legged guests will be served vegan menus; humans will get bone-shaped cookies for dessert, but the client decided against having the human guests dine from doggy bowls. The event is “black-tie optional for dogs.”
— Patrick Cuccaro, general manager, Affairs to Remember Caterers, Atlanta
“A bride and groom asked us, a barbecue catering company, to do all-vegetarian food at their wedding. We respected their wishes, but the guests were disappointed, knowing that we specialized in barbecue. I saw one guest giving out coupons to Carl's Jr. after dinner was over!”
— Heather Johnson, sales representative, Bar-B-Que Express Catering, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.