By Kim Wadsworth
Photography by Harry Gerwien
Feeding those near and dear to you on your wedding day is a big responsibility and can consume a large part of your budget. Finding a caterer that will create and execute a reception menu that reflects your taste and price range can be challenging. Asking the right questions long before the tastings begin is a great place to start.
Editor Kim Wadsworth invited three of Tidewater’s premiere caterers– Louise Nagourney of Cuisine & Company; Cathy Carter of East Beach Catering; and Susan Byrne of Catering Concepts; along with ice sculpting expert Andrea Latham of Ice Art; to share their knowledge and experience in serving up some of the finest fare and culinary spreads in the area. Sharing breakfast– and inside tips– became the starter course of the day.
Where should a couple start when approaching a caterer?
Louise Nagourney: I like to start with a budget– it’s the biggest frustration. We customize all of our proposals and it helps to know their limits. Then we can create a menu for them.
Cathy Carter: It’s nice to make it their wedding. Customizing it to make it theirs happens once we have a budget in place.
Susan Byrne: Yes, a catering budget has to be at the top of the list. We have to handle it all and need to know that there’s money enough to take care of it.
Andrea Latham: Giving us a budget is essential before we can say how much an ice sculpture will cost.
CC: Once we have a budget, I like to guide couples about what foods to choose. They need to know that, for example, heavy hors d’oeuvres are not cheaper than serving a meal. They also need to know that, if they want great food, they have to lower the guest count in order to stay within their budget.
LN: Arrange to make monthly payments. It’s so much easier than paying one big bill at the end.
(Cathy Carter, East Beach Catering | Susan Byrne, Catering Concepts)
KW: How involved should a caterer get in the overall planning and execution of a reception beyond the food?
AL: Caterers know how to run the show.
CC: We do it all. If something goes wrong at the reception, we have to have a plan to take care of it.
SB: We just had a cake literally implode because the bride wanted it displayed outdoors when it was too hot and refused to listen. It became our problem and it’s something that could have been avoided if we were allowed to be more involved.
AL: An ice pedestal cake stand would have helped!
LN: The caterer is the last person standing. If anything goes wrong at a reception or is off kilter, it’s always our fault.
KW: Couples wants to “cut to the chase” and sample their menu. When should a tasting be scheduled and who is included?
LN: They can schedule it once they settle on a menu and it is normally the couple and their parents- or whoever is paying for it.
CC: We like to keep it to four people and charge for tastings. If they book us for the wedding, then we apply it to their catering fee. We suggest getting the proposal and menu set first before scheduling.
KW: What was one of the hardest lessons you learned about working with food and serving others?
SB: Trying to be everything to everybody– and killing ourselves in the process. We are all bleeding hearts with great ideas for our couples and then we “eat it.”
CC: I don’t do that any more. I deal with the facts and price everything based on what’s in the contract.
LN: Everything has to be in writing and listed. We like to keep our client on the same page in terms of what we’re providing and detailed out.
AL: We have to do 15-20 sculptures in a week so we’ve learned that there’s always room to add one more. We have a freezer. We’re good.
KW: At the end of the day, everyone wants a dazzling display and a memorable meal. How do you achieve that?
LN: People need to remember what the event is about and what the day represents. They also need to consider the facts of the day and the location they choose. If it’s an outdoor wedding and 95 degrees outside, things are going to happen.
AL: Keep in mind that items like ice sculptures look pretty but they really function to keep cold foods cold– especially outside in warm weather.
SB: Timing is everything. We all have worked with coordinators that have no sense of time. When a schedule is set and food is involved, there’s not much wiggle room. If the planner forgets to tell you that four people are going to make a toast before dinner, that’s a problem. We’re serving food fresh out of the oven. It’s not like a hotel.
AL: Offsite caterers have a totally different situation. They are setting up, hauling food, serving, packing everything back up, taking it away and returning it. It’s a really hard job.
CC: People have no idea what it takes to make it incredible. You’re talking two days just to prepare for a wedding; a day doing the event; and then another day or more to get it all back in place.
SB: We’re like a one-act play: we hit the road, then set the whole scene, do the play, then break it down– all in one night.
“Anything served in a special dish. People love the Pommes Frites bar of hot fries served with special sauces and five different signature salts. A beverage favorite is the “make it yourself” juice bar where pureed fruit juices are paired with liquors, bubbly waters or sodas.” – Cathy Carter, East Beach Catering
“We’re featuring anything that is presented with fresh eye appeal. We love using lots of fresh herbs, flavored oils and vinegars. Brides are definitely leaning towards Southern Virginia selections for a portion of their menus that reflect the location of their day.” – Louise Nagourney, Cuisine & Company
“Plain and simple, ice carvings at weddings make people happy.” – Andrea Latham, Ice Art
“Food truck-themed foods presented in mini dishes have been a fun food. Comfort food that refers to childhood favorites of our couples continues to offer a hint of yesteryear warmth, whimsy, and charm that everyone loves to include in their reception menu.”- Susan Byrne, Catering Concepts