The two of you go together like bacon and eggs, like macaroni and cheese, like peanut butter and jelly. But you would never dream of serving these everyday comfort foods at your wedding—at least not until you divulge your deepest food desires to the creative chefs and designers at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering.
"In California, we get to be a little playful; the rules aren't quite as rigid as in other parts of the country," explains Lauri Dorman, Vice President for the Emeryville-based caterer, where innovation has been a guiding principal for more than twenty-five years. Once couples confess their culinary passion, "We spin it and turn it and shake it upside down. We put a new twist on the old," she says.
From passed hors d'oeuvre of Macaroni Pearls—tiny, cheesy pasta beads served warm on a spoon—to a bacon and eggs amuse-bouche, a course of quail eggs tucked inside prosciutto cups, to miniature peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served with icy cold milk shots during dancing, each custom menu is "full of surprises," Dorman says.
Ethan Mantle, chef/owner of Componere Fine Catering, also in Emeryville, says that food-savvy brides and grooms "want a culinary experience." The trend is toward more, smaller-portioned courses and dishes that are "upscale and unique, yet traditional." His Vietnamese Pho, for example, features thin-sliced Snake River Farms’s Kobe beef tenderloin in a black summer-truffle beef broth.
Trios and quartets of appetizers, soups or sweets allow for an enticing and playful array of colors, flavors and textures, but Mantle cautions they must be thoughtfully coordinated. A dessert plate's four items might all feature Frog Hollow Farm’s stone fruit: hot apricot-filled doughnuts rolled in vanilla-bean sugar, ice cream sandwich triangles with layers of plum and white chocolate parfait, warm peach tarte tatin, and a shot glass of ice cream soda with a puree of fresh cherries and sparkling Kava.
Dorman emphasizes that a well-balanced menu features hot and cold dishes, selections from the land and sea, and perfectly paired wines. At Paula LeDuc, extraordinary attention is also given to creating a signature beverage for each wedding. "We are really having fun with infused cocktails," Dorman says. Mixologists use a rainbow of syrups prepared in-house, along with fresh seasonal items ranging from peaches to cucumbers, to concoct drinks tailored to each couple's preferences.
For all of the frivolity, left coast couples are serious about food quality and sustainability issues. Both caterers report a surge in requests for organic products. "We'll get the best; more often than not, it's organic," says Mantle. "We only serve wild fish," he adds. And Componere's practice of substantially reducing waste through recycling and composting also resonates with many clients.
Dorman says that locally grown and produced ingredients are in even greater demand. Like many fine restaurants, Paula LeDuc's menus often credit a farm, artisan cheese or salumi maker.
Mantle, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, whose experience includes stints in some of the world's top kitchens, also sees a restaurant-inspired trend of mixing plates, rather than selecting one china style. While he admits he initially "looked down on catering," he now finds his work more challenging and refreshing than the restaurant business. "Who says you have to compromise if you cater?" he asks, recalling a wedding at which a guest commented she'd never had a better meal. "People don't expect that level of an experience with catering," he admits, but "we really don't take shortcuts; our kitchen operates more like a top-tier restaurant than a catering kitchen. Every detail is precise."
Whether it is a fashionable soirée at San Francisco City Hall or a rustically elegant celebration at a Napa vineyard, Dorman says, "Every wedding is memorable because we're allowed to be extended parts of the family for the most important day in this couple's life. We're entrusted to bring a vision that transcends anything they thought they would ever have. We take that so seriously." Brides and grooms are assigned a waiter, who ensures they eat something during the whirl of their wedding day. When Paula LeDuc founded her business, catering was "all about the food," Dorman recalls. Now, "It's only about the people, celebrating and a memorable experience."