Ask the Experts: The Caterer

Photo: Brad Paris

Mary Cleaver

How does the choice of venue affect the caterer?
It’s all about the limitations of the kitchen. The Astor Center has the best one. The Prince George Ballroom and Loft 11 have some kitchen space. I wouldn’t do a 200-person menu that required a very hot stove in a loft. Tented weddings can also be tricky; there was one where we ran out of propane.

What would you recommend for the cocktail hour?
Offer a New York-themed cocktail buffet—serve Manhattans and Hudson Valley Kir Royales. In addition to passed hors d’oeuvre, do stations, as long as you’re not doing a buffet for the main dinner. Have tasting tables of artisanal cheeses and an oyster bar where they’re shucked in front of guests.

How much food is too much?
Five to ten different hors d’oeuvre is good. In terms of liquor, opt for higher quality and less variety. I like Square One Organic Vodka, Juniper Green Organic Gin, Mathilde Liqueur, and wines from organic or sustainably grown grapes. For dinner, serve three to five courses.

What’s a good server-to-guest ratio?
For a formal, seated dinner one server per eight to ten guests is best. But there are many ways to have a wedding. The per-person for catering in New York—including food, staff, bar, rentals—is on average $350; $150 is considered low.

Are wedding cocktail parties gaining popularity?
Largely with couples who are paying for the event themselves. It’s cheaper than a seated dinner because you need less staff and fewer rentals.

How would you dress up the usual suspects?
I’d serve salmon as a first course, maple-cured, sliced very thin. For steak, I’d do a rib eye of grass-fed beef, sauced with a roasted cipolini onion demi-glace. And chicken: I’d rub it with Aleppo pepper and warm Moroccan spices and grill it over natural wood charcoal.

How have you personalized the menu to reflect a couple’s background? For a Japanese couple, we had a soba salad with mizuna and radish sprouts in a wasabi vinaigrette; for a Latino couple, carne mechada over green rice with sweet fried plantains, organic black beans and guasacaca sauce. We’ve also done entire vegan menus.

Have you ever done a “green” menu?
All our events fall on the “green” spectrum. We source our ingredients from local and organic family farms exercising environmentally friendly and humane practices. We want to contribute to a positive food supply and a minimal waste stream. We compost at events.

You must be sensitive to guests with dietary restrictions.
Yes. I’d write “please advise of dietary restrictions” on your invitations. You don’t want to open your wedding to be à la carte, but you do want to be as gracious as you can.

Do couples still want the fancy wedding cake?
It’s 50-50. We tend to do a passed sweet at the end, like espresso shots with vanilla ice cream.

What makes caterers batty?
When couples plan a party they can’t afford, don’t have all the decision makers involved from the beginning, or when they expect us to control the weather.

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Cake Photograph Courtesy of Cheryl Kleinman

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