For Simcha Food, Less Is Suddenly More
Tue, 11/30/2010
Editorial Assistant
Guests at Justine Fisher and Rob Alloway’s wedding enjoyed a dairy dinner, which enabled them to have rich, decadent desserts.
Guests at Justine Fisher and Rob Alloway’s wedding enjoyed a dairy dinner, which enabled them to have rich, decadent desserts.

When it comes to the food at kosher weddings, bar mitzvahs and catered events these days, small is, well, big. Small portions, that is.

“The biggest trend we’re seeing is small plates,” said Ellen Vaknine, vice president of sales at Esprit Events, a glatt-kosher caterer based in Manhattan. “Three small, entrée-type food items on a plate as the main dish,” so that guests can enjoy several different dishes at one time, Vaknine adds.

And mini foods, especially desserts, are increasingly popular. Waiters and waitresses passing through the wedding reception crowd with “mini-desserts, mini-cupcakes, mini-sorbet cones, little doughnuts holes with powdered cinnamon sugar” are favorites at catered events, said Jeff Becker, president of Foremost Caterers, which also owns Ram Caterers and Simply Divine. “Lots of cute little pass-around stuff that everyone likes,” said Becker, “even little mini-Twinkies, Yodels, all that stuff that we grew up on as junk food made mini is popular today.”

Junk food is making the rounds at bar mitzvahs, too, especially when the guests of honor have a say in the menu planning. “[Bar/bat mitzvah boys and girls] are becoming very involved in creating their menus and in what’s going on in their affair,” said Shelly Sokolow, of Rave Catering and Event Planning.

Benjamin Kanfer, for one, got to help plan the food in the event celebrating his passage into adulthood. “He likes to eat so he helped select the menu,” said Lauren Kanfer, Benjamin’s mother. “He loves halibut so we had halibut. He likes chicken, meat skewers — everything was something that he liked,” at his bar mitzvah in April, which was catered by Foremost.

Justine Fisher knew exactly what she wanted at her wedding — even though it was a little unorthodox. “We had a dairy wedding because I hate pareve desserts,” said Fisher, who got married in October in Manhattan. So instead of passing around mini-beef egg- rolls and having several carving stations, guests at Fisher’s wedding snacked on mini-pizzas, creamy soup shots, a vegetarian noodle station and a gravlax table. Then everyone sat down for either striped bass or a Portobello mushroom stack, until the main event: dessert.

There, the “mini” trend continued. Guests were served a plate with a small key lime tart, crème caramel with sauce, and a chocolate truffle with raspberry coulis and a white chocolate drizzle.

And while dairy wedding receptions are still pretty unusual, Vaknine is seeing more curiosity about meat-free affairs. “There’s honestly lots of increasing interest in doing a dairy wedding,” she said. “We never used to see that. In the past 18 months, not only have we catered them; more and more people are interested in the meat-free option — they are almost embarrassed to ask because it sounds so out there.”

Though most kosher weddings still offer meat and traditional foods, there is an effort to steer clear of the heavy dishes that were once a staple at Jewish weddings. “I think that meat is still popular during a cocktail hour,” said Becker of Foremost. But today “dinners are definitely more prevalent to do both fish and chicken, where that’s not something that people have done in the past.

“There’s definitely a consciousness movement towards healthier food,” said Becker. “People are asking about wild salmon versus farm-raised or organic chickens versus non organic chickens. People are asking more about interesting stations with fresh vegetables, mini-salads at a cocktail hour served in martini glasses. People are definitely thinking lighter and healthier.”

In a nod to the tough economy, people may be scaling back bar mitzvah receptions, preferring a Kiddush after services and a kids’ party, rather than a full, sit-down affair. But caterers report that when it comes to weddings, people are still going for elegance, the recession notwithstanding.

“A wedding is still a wedding,” said Vaknine of Esprit Events, “and if somebody’s going to have a wedding in New York,” the costs are still going to be high.

“Weddings for the most part use the same formula,” said Becker. While people may be cutting back at bar mitzvahs or organizational affairs, he said, weddings still need the traditional cocktail hour and sit-down dinner. “I’m doing a wedding tomorrow for 900 people, and I do them for 70 or 80,” he said. Every wedding is unique, but “there is no trend in people paring back.”

The biggest trend in food now is to go bigger: more global, that is — incorporating cuisines from around the world on your dinner plate. “Definitely Asian fusion is big, and there’s now a big Latin trend. Mediterranean is also very big,” said Sokolow of Rave.

“Southwestern foods” are very popular, said Foremost’s Becker; he serves “fresh guacamole served with warm tortillas, ceviche and tuna tartare.”

And then there’s sushi, which some people are growing tired of. “There are clients who will definitely say no sushi,” said Vaknine, “but in general anything with Asian flavors, people are familiar with and they still really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s still very strong.”

Once the menu is set and the price decided on, presentation is still key to keeping the meal elegant and exciting. “People are looking for unique presentations, something that’s eye-popping,” said Becker. “They don’t want the same old thing on a flat piece of bread, or everything on a skewer,” he said. “They want to see things in little cones, or on little Japanese porcelain spoons.”

Unique designs extend beyond the food — to the tables themselves. The sushi station at Esprit Events is custom built to have live fish swimming through it. “We really try to make people say, ‘Wow,’” said Vaknine. “So even though, yes, it’s sushi, there is something a bit different to enjoy.”