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The Caterer

"We never do the same menu twice."
Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune

How many weddings have you done?
  • Photo by Brad Paris

At Prune, we've probably done about fifteen. On my own, hundreds. It's funny because it's usually the couple's first wedding and my hundredth. They're always so nervous, and I'm so casual. I have to engage them on their level; otherwise, they think I don't get how important it is.

What is the basic process for coming up with a menu?
First, I interview the couple to find out what food experiences they've had: what they grew up eating, their favorite restaurants, how they eat on a regular day. I try to find some hook. Generally, we have clients with a strong sense of style, so it's not difficult and, fortunately, we're at the point where if it doesn't seem like a good match, we don't do the catering.

How can a couple cut costs?
Frankly, I hate cutting costs. It drives me crazy. Either you can afford something or you can't. Rather than having cheap champagne or doing away with the linens, I need the budget set from the beginning.

Do people often try to cut costs at the last minute?
Oh, yes. They think they have all this money to work with, but then they spend it elsewhere. They buy the dress, pay for their stationery, arrange for the flowers, and by the time they get to the caterer, they're trying to cut costs because they loved the letter-press invitations and forgot they'd have to pay for the rehearsal dinner. It's like buying a house. You can never factor in all the little costs that come up.

Do you have a minimum budget?
Yes. We say that it's about $150 per person to answer the phone. This isn't to be snooty, I just haven't found a way to do it for less—except for my own wedding, which only cost a thousand dollars!

What was that like?
I had the greatest wedding. We went to City Hall dressed to the nines and then had ten Town Cars take us to 'ino. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and we had Lambrusco and panini. Instead of wedding cake, I brought burrata cheese for dessert. The whole thing cost like 800 bucks.

What was the most creative concept you've worked on lately?
We've been doing a lot of spit-roasted meats: spring lamb or suckling pigs cooked on a spit over real applewood coals. I think large meat-fests are a little out of the box, but they're so great because they're kind of rustic and you can contrast that with crystal glasses or linen napkins for a kind of diamonds-and-burlap effect.

Do you prefer wedding cakes or cake alternatives?
I love wedding-cake alternatives. Our signature for dessert are éclairs in the shape of swans. Swans mate for life, so we always make a male and a female. They're elegant and fun as hell. We serve them on little mirrors so it looks like they're swimming out on a lake. With so many good things to eat for dessert, to get stuck with fondant—ugh.

What mistakes do couples frequently make?
They freak out that not everyone's going to be happy, so they dumb down their menu. Just when you think you've gotten away from the beef-or-salmon conundrum, they get cold feet and bland it out. In my opinion, it's a very expensive party and you're throwing it. Your guests, if they're civilized and well-behaved, should act like good guests, which means "Thank you so much for having us and we accept any offer of food and generosity." If a guest throws a fit because the food isn't up their dietary alley, that's very rude.

Many couples run around so much that they barely get a chance to eat. What can they do to change that?
The way we handle that problem is to assign a captain at every wedding who does nothing but make sure the bride and groom always have a drink in hand, get a plate of hors d'oeuvre while they're taking their photos, and never miss anything. That server is white on rice for them. Plus, we make a package for the couple to take with them after the party. Sometimes they're hugely high on adrenaline during the reception—there's a million people to see, they want to dance, and they're not in the mood to eat. Often, their appetite kicks in at two in the morning when they're back at the hotel. This way, they don't end up ordering room-service steaks.

54 E. 1st St., at First Ave.; 212-677-6221.


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