Ask the Experts: The Caterer

Photo: Brad Paris

Stephan Baroni of Hudson Yards Catering

Everyone looks foward to the cocktail hour. What would you recommend?
Pass trays of Kir royales and litchi Bellinis. Offer bite-size canapés, amuses-bouches in little porcelain spoons, hors d’oeuvre-and-libation pairings: foie gras served with a shot of Vouvray; hamachi with tarragon and eucalyptus oil and a sake shot; smoked salmon roulade with caviar and a chilled shot of vodka. Small shots. You don’t want to get everybody loaded. Some nontraditional couples are going as far as doing a full cocktail hour pre-ceremony. This works only as long as guests are well taken care of, not wondering, “Is this dinner?” Or, “Is there more coming?”

What about food stations?
Do a raw bar moderne: seafood appetizers in glass dishes on a crushed ice display. Or an oyster bar and a sushi bar, and even a caviar station—a Lucite trough of crushed ice and glass bowls filled with one-kilo tins and classic garnishes. You can get great, affordable, wild or farm-raised American caviar. Not overly decadent.

What’s great for something more casual?
For our Blue Smoke weddings, we do a mint julep or a bourbon-mint-iced-tea signature cocktail, or you can also do a blood-orange margarita and a hibiscus mojito. We catered the wedding of Michael Anthony, the executive chef at Gramercy Tavern, and did barbecue on white linen tablecloths, served banquet-style, out in the garden. Everybody was eating ribs and shrimp with their fingers and loving it.

Where do you stand on the various service options?
Buffets are great if you have a very diverse menu. Family-style is also acceptable. For a traditional sit-down, offer a two-protein main course.

For example?
A lobster salad with basil and black truffle and haricots verts, paired with petit beef tenderloin with grilled Greenmarket vegetables and warm fingerling potatoes with a chive vinaigrette. Often people want a choice, and this is much better than having servers walking around table-to-table, asking “Chicken or beef?” Believe it or not, this still happens, particularly in hotels.

What else feels a little unsophisticated?
Napkins in the glass. Dinner rolls sitting on the table for an hour before guests arrive.

What’s a polite way to take care of guests with dietary restrictions?
Ask guests to inform you on the RSVP if they have restrictions, but be careful about inviting too many à la carte options. An appropriate line might be “Please advise us of any dietary restrictions you may have”—indicating that you will accommodate them.

Are dessert bars eclipsing the wedding cake?
They are becoming more popular, especially for the after-party. At one, two o’clock in the morning, you need something to absorb the alcohol. I love to come out with a mini-breakfast then. We do croque monsieurs and this dish called egg-in-a-hole. It’s a quail egg that’s served in a little bread basket with confetti of black truffle.

What’s the wildest party you’ve catered?
We’ve served through pouring rain for a client who didn’t want to get a tent. It became a big raucous party because all of a sudden, no one really cared anymore and everybody was drinking, eating, and dancing in the rain.

Tip From the Trade

“A local-microbrew beer bar is a non-cutesy way to personalize your reception.” Bottled beers, from $4.99 at Whole Foods Market Bowery Beer Room.


Beer Photo: Stewart Isbell for New York Magazine

Ask the Experts: The Caterer