Tips, tricks, and advice from the pros.
Photos by Matt Kalinowski
What’s fresh, sustainable, and green all over? A wedding menu created by Robert Harris’s Season to Taste Catering.
Robert Harris was running East Coast Grill’s catering service when he came across The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book by Michael Pollan that explores the origins of the foods we eat. “It was like peeling back a veil,” Harris says. “It brought to light the negative effects of agribusinesses that rely on pesticides and treat animals with antibiotics.” Reading Pollan’s book, and shopping with his daughters at local farmers’ markets, changed the way the Cambridgeport resident thought about food—so much so that in 2005, he launched his own catering company, Season to Taste, based on principles of sustainability.
“People were starting to understand how this was important, and I tapped into it at the right time,” Harris recalls. Over the years, he has built a reputation as a chef devoted to local vendors, sourcing produce from the Kitchen Garden farm, ice cream from Toscanini’s, and coffee from Rao’s—all of which he combines to produce elegant, eco-friendly wedding feasts.
How is Season to Taste green?
We make the most sustainable, locally sourced, and seasonal food choices possible. For example, we offer only grass-fed beef from our farm partners in West Brookfield, and we typically have one or two cows culled and delivered to us per week during wedding season. Our dedication to local sourcing was initially problematic because the beef option on wedding menus has traditionally been a single cut of meat, like tenderloin or rib-eye, which translates to several animals per wedding. The solution we developed is to serve duets and trios, using multiple cuts and cooking techniques. Braises, grilled cuts, and homemade sausages allow us to create diverse and interesting menus.
Weddings are notorious for leftovers. How do you make sure nothing goes to waste?
We try our best to limit waste through careful planning and efficiency. When there are leftovers from events we cater, our clients can either keep them or leave them with us to donate to a shelter.
How does a couple know that they’ll click with a caterer?
These days, most brides and grooms do a lot of online research before picking up the phone. The aesthetics of a website are a good indicator of similar tastes, styles, and values.
Any strategies for keeping costs down?
You should never skimp on the food. Instead, look at the bar: Do you need a full bar? Just do beer, wine, and one specialty cocktail. Also, cut back on fancy table settings. Do you need ballroom chairs? Try folding fruitwood chairs instead.
How can a couple ensure that vegan or gluten-intolerant guests are satisfied?
Guests with restrictions tend to get the short end of the stick, and the cool thing about using locally sourced ingredients and cooking from scratch is that it’s easy to avoid things like gluten and just let the vibrant, fresh flavors shine through.
What are some good kid-approved wedding dishes?
Children can always have a smaller portion of what the grownups are having. But kids will be kids: Whole-grain pasta, fresh fruit salad, grilled cheese, and mini burgers are all good choices. We do a classic PB & J with organic peanut butter, and we make our own jams.
What is the biggest mistake couples make when planning their wedding menus?
Not taking their guests’ needs into consideration. While the big day is all about celebrating the union of two people in love, the best weddings are designed with everyone in mind. We love cooking for carnivores and vegetarians equally, but a whole roast pig might not be a hit at a wedding with mostly vegan guests.
Are there certain questions a bride and groom should ask the caterer at the tasting?
Not to get on my soapbox about this, but the same thing that everyone should be asking, all the time, about the things they put in their bodies: Where is this product from? Who grew that carrot and what is it sprayed with? We believe that knowing the source of the ingredients allows the consumer to make the best decision for the environment and for their own health.
What are some of the biggest trends in catering right now?
Natural-wood farm tables and benches for the reception are really hot. More and more people are looking at farmsfor their venue and embracing the farm-to-table movement. Popsicles, too.
How can a couple actually find time to eat on their wedding day?
We bring the food to them. After the ceremony, while the bride and groom are taking photographs or swarmed with their guests, we bring a plate with a sampling of all their appetizers to them, as well as a cocktail. But honestly, they don’t always get to enjoy their meal, which is why we go all out during the booking process with a five-course dinner paired with wine.
What food did you serve at your wedding?
[Sighs.] It was 1995. It was Cleveland in December. My wife and I met when we were young—17 and 20. We got married when I was 23, and she was 21, during Christmas break from culinary school. It wasn’t the best wedding food—something like walnut-crusted chicken, a veggie terrine, probably purchased and reheated, all the usual wedding food that we don’t do at Season to Taste. We’re hoping to have a big 30th anniversary celebration.
Season to Taste Catering, 2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-826-9037, seasontotastecatering.com.
Robert Harris dishes on his favorite warm-weather foods.
For a fun departure from traditional appetizer stations, stack six or seven types of tomatoes—like purple Cherokee and green zebra—on a big wooden board, and prepare them to order with mozzarella, basil purée, aged balsamic vinegar, and crusty bread.
Pair a sweet corn-basil-tomato relish with striped bass, which can be caught right off the coast of Massachusetts in the summer.
Buttermilk Biscuits with Berries
It’s simple and elegant—top with whipped cream for a fresh alternative to wedding cake.