In North Carolina, we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the top culinary talent in the county, and luckily for brides, many of those chefs are also linked to the wedding and catering industry.
We are proud of all of the NC Chefs who were recognized in this year’s James Beard Foundation nominations! Special shout out to the SB&G Family Members who made the list: Andrea Reusing of Lantern Restaurant & The Durham Hotel and Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner, Death & Taxes and more who were nominated for “Outstanding Chef,” and to Steven Devereaux Greene of Herons at The Umstead Hotel and Spa who was nominated for Best Chef: Southeast.
Event planners in the Triangle say more couples are willing to ditch entertainment or cut back on flowers or frills to ensure that they can savor a memorable meal with their wedding guests.
“A lot of our couples are restaurant regulars who want low-key receptions with cocktail time, a great sit-down meal and little programming,” says Lydia Campbell, who manages Lantern Table, the adjoining event space Chef Andrea Reusing added in fall 2013 to Lantern in Chapel Hill. “We often see wedding parties walk down the street to come here from Coker Arboretum or the Carolina Inn. It’s really lovely when people enjoy a little parade to our door.
Photo: F8 Photo Studios
More couples started lining up at Lantern’s door after Reusing earned the prestigious Best Chef Southeast award from the James Beard Foundation in 2011. Raleigh Chef Ashley Christensen experienced a similar boost for her modern Southern comfort food after receiving the same award three years later. She opened Bridge Club in summer 2015 to accommodate growing demand for private functions.
We hear from a lot of brides who say, ‘We want Ashley’s food, so tell me a date we can have it,’” says Jessie Koppenhaver, director of events. Couples can choose favorite menu items from any of her operations, ranging from legendary mac and cheese from Poole’s Diner to juicy fried chicken from Beasley’s.
With the release of her new cookbook (Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner), people are asking for recipes from it, too,” Koppenhaver says. “If we can make it work, we’re happy to oblige.”
While most restaurants typically finalize a wedding menu a few weeks before the event, tweaking options with the freshest seasonal ingredients, the menu is never fully settled until the day of the party at Second Empire in Raleigh.
Couples understand that Chef Daniel Schurr is very talented and they give him carte blanche,” says Nicolle Roberts, restaurant manager and special events coordinator. “This allows them to choose some things on the regular menu without it being the ‘regular menu’ item.”
It also makes it possible for Schurr to create satisfying alternate dishes for those with special requests or dietary restrictions. “We’re always able to present something delicious to meet the expectations of all our guests,” Roberts says.
Chef Teddy Diggs of Il Palio at the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill is gratified that couples count on him to prepare a sumptuous Italian supper for their big day. It’s not unusual for clients to ask him to go off-menu, however, to include a dish from their first date or to recreate a family recipe in tribute to a beloved gonna.
We don’t allow our sales team to even show a couple a menu until we’ve had a meeting,” says Diggs, who personally consults with brides and grooms before suggesting courses. “A marriage is a bond of relationships and cultures, and often they start with or are forged around food and drink. I want to deliver some significance in every dish served.”
The challenge of creating personalized menus sometimes takes Diggs well beyond the scope of Il Palio’s traditional Tuscan fare. The marriage of a Southern gal and a Persian guy “very engaged with his food culture” let Diggs leverage his Mediterranean expertise to create an elegant Halal meal using humanely processed proteins. “They really loved it,” he says, “because it connected to them as individuals.”
Of course, not everyone has perfectly plated meals and white linen tablecloths in mind when they think about sharing great food with friends and family. With locations inRaleigh and Durham, The Pit offers whole-hog, pit-cooked barbecue, ribs and a tempting array of starters and sides in a decidedly casual setting.
“There are a lot of Southern families marrying Northern families, and they want to introduce the less fortunate to the joys of real barbecue,” quips Liz Henderson, who manages events at the Durham site, a former 7UP bottling plant. “And when you’re paying just $25 a head for an upscale buffet with two appetizers, two meats, three sides and a dessert, you can afford to invite all of your friends and loved ones.”
Indeed, The Pit has played host to big rehearsal dinners that rival traditional weddings. “There’s a lot to be said for going casual,” says Henderson, who used to manage formal events for a top Triangle steakhouse. “It’s not for everyone, but our guests like having a chill wedding party with really great food.”
Regardless if you choose an informal blowout with paper napkins or a formal affair with fine linen, consider the wisdom of Julia Child, who said, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Sharing a celebration feast with those who love you will make your wedding meal deliciously memorable.
Article contributed by Jill Warren Lucas @JWLucasNC