As borders become more faint, and online dating services more prevalent, many of us are pushed out of our respective ethnic bubbles and into the arms of a special someone from a different background.
While Jews share many customs and traditions, we also have our share of diversity— including the kosher and not, and Ashkenazim and Sephardim, to name a few. Attempt to fuse these different customs into one wedding, and you’ll undoubtedly run into conflict. Particularly in an area that all Jews, regardless of background, feel quite passionate about: food.
Andrew Wiener, founder and owner of the Brookline, Mass.-based Catering by Andrew, a 2010 and 2011 The Knot.com’s “best of weddings” pick, discusses what families and caterers can do to create a menu that will leave all guests satisfied.
Wiener confirms that the food preferences across cultures differ greatly. However, this can stem from something as minor as the bride and groom being from different cities. In New York, you’ll see, “miles of chaffing dishes, sometimes after the party is over you can serve two more parties,” while in Boston, people tend to prefer room for the main course, Wiener says.
Sephardic and Ashkenazi differences are also challenging. “First of all, Persians (and other Sephardim) can’t even tell you how many people are coming. In Sephardic culture, especially Persian culture, they don’t RSVP, and if a party starts at 6, they won’t come until 8, but they stay all night long,” Wiener describes. “Then they dance like crazy and eat like crazy.” This eradicates the possibility of a sit down dinner, and many Sephardim adapt by serving buffet-style meals.
No doubt, this is in contrast with the Ashkenazi trend of arriving on time, and eating a meal in separate courses.
The differences extend beyond food; style is also important, Wiener says. “For Russians,” he describes, “the less you can see the table the more respectful it is.” Wiener shares the story of a Russian client of his, aptly named Boris, who requested that more food be put on the table. To Wiener’s objection of physically, there being no space left for the food, Boris responded, “just pile it on top of each other.”
One of Wiener’s greater challenges is creating a menu for two families — one kosher and one not. “Some families have no concept, it’s not within their reality of what kosher food is [or isn’t].”
This is difficult, Wiener says, because creativity won’t suffice — some food options are limited.
So, marrying the person you love, but concerned that half your guests will leave with a frustrated palette? Wiener suggests the following approach.
First, keep an eye on the big picture. Wedding planning can be hard and stressful, or it can be a lot of fun, and there’s really no reason why it has to be the former, he says. “My advice to people is to bring the families together at the table, to come up with a common ground. Find the items that families feel is necessary to serve. It’s a matter of making sure it’s a fun relationship, not an adversarial relationship. Keep the focus on the bride and groom, and what they want.”
Second, if one of the families is kosher, and the other is not, you’re going to have to find a great caterer. “We do well with this because we make good food, but when you have a family that doesn’t keep kosher, they are usually foodies, and certain things are just limited. We get very good [product], but a lot of people are used to eating at boutiquey restaurants. So, what we had to do was upgrade our culinary team to keep up. You have to be really up to speed.”
Third, if either the bride or groom comes from a family with specific culinary tastes, consider bringing in a specialized chef. “We have actually brought in chefs at times, we’ll bring in a Persian chef at times to give that flavor.”
Finally, the golden rule, Wiener says, is to keep the main course constant, but throw in a buffet style, or incorporate the different backgrounds into the cocktail hour. For example, if it is a partially Russian wedding, Wiener will include some trays of “zakuski,” or appetizers. Instead of serving a plated dessert, he’ll create a generous dessert buffet.
“For Persians it’s the same thing, we take what they normally serve at the buffets for dinner, and serve it as an hors d’oeuvre. We’ll make sure there’s a lot of extra food, a lot of choices, and then serve a sit down dinner.”
So, rejoice in having found the person you love, agree with your family on the big-ticket food items, and relax and enjoy your day. Who knows — watching your relatives light up at the foreign-yet-delicious tastes might provide some added amusement.
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