The Food Affair

Limiting yourself to a venue’s predictable package of selections—hmm, the chicken or the beef?—is really, in a word, boring. So why not flip the reception equation around and have your food drive the whole theme of your party? Use your favorite cuisine as the starting point to dictate the decor and vibe of the entire event.

WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR RECEPTION, IF YOU’RE LIKE MOST BRIDES (OK, MAYBE JUST IF YOU’RE like me), you spend so much of your planning energy nitpicking over which purple flowers to put in which silver vases that the food you serve receives total afterthought.

And that’s kind of sad. Limiting yourself to a venue’s predictable package of selections—hmm, the chicken or the beef?—is really, in a word, boring. “I think it dumbs down the cuisine and kind of inhibits the opportunity for the bride and groom to really express themselves,” says Holly Safford, owner of The Catered Affair in Hingham. “It’s unfortunate, because a wedding is such a personal experience.”

So why not flip the reception equation around and have your food drive the whole theme of your party? Use your favorite cuisine as the starting point to dictate the decor and vibe of the entire event. With the help of experienced local vendors, ethnic can be elegant, and we’ve enlisted them to prove just that. Borrow all or incorporate just a few of their ideas to shake up boring wedding food and create a noteworthy atmosphere to match.


AN INDIAN-INSPIRED BASH IS ALL ABOUT SPICY COLOR AND ROMANTIC MYSTERY, SAYS LINDA Barck, co-owner of Tables of Content Catering in Roslindale—a vibe that starts right at the buffet table. She suggests mixing authentic Indian dishes, such as curried boneless chicken saag with wilted spinach and exotic spices in a marsala cream sauce, tandoori shrimp skewers dressed with apricot glaze, and cardamom-scented basmati rice with cashews and fresh vegetables, with more traditional fare, such as a ginger-crusted halibut, to whet the appetites of all your guests. The same holds for the bread: Be sure to serve naan, a round, flat Indian bread, with accompaniments like vegetable chutney or chickpea spread, alongside French baguettes and butter.

Nothing says exotic Indian like bold, saturated color, says Susan Callender, CEO of Boston Unique Events in Watertown, and those jewel-tone hues should be brought in at every opportunity. Vibrant silk linens in reds and turquoise with gold overlays, beaded gemstone-colored votives, ethnic rugs, and punchy roses and jasmine flowers should predominate. “Burning incense lends an exotic feel,” says Callender, as does staging a henna-painting party which, she says, makes your guests feel welcome. “And make sure to work in really fun Bollywood-style entertainment,” she says: not only the sitar, but even belly dancers.

French Bistro

JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING PARISIAN doesn’t mean you have to get all haute cuisine and fussy, says Safford. “When you think about a bistro menu you think about steak frites, you think about cassoulet, wonderful homemade comfort foods from France,” she says. Again, go authentic, with dishes such as duck rillettes (roasted and rendered duck that you spread on bread), pissaladière (a Provençal pizza with onions and olives) or croquembouche (a classic French wedding cake made of cream puffs).

Of course you’ll want to set up a chic bistro scene, too. That means small tables. Very small tables. “You want a bustling, warm feeling,” says Linda Matzkin, event planner and president of Hopple Popple Event Planners in Newton. “Make it wonderfully crowded, with people’s arms in each other’s plates.” And have those elbows resting on a table swathed in a crisp, white tablecloth, or, for a really casual atmosphere, a nubby-cotton bistro check in red or navy, she says. Bistro means simple and sophisticated chic. “I would do oversized starched white napkins, oversized flatware and oversized plain white plates,” says Barck.

And, since real bistros don’t have centerpieces, go for a small bistro lamp. Or, instead of a centerpiece, “have the caterer put together dipping sauces and chutneys, and wonderful breads and butters—large baguettes that you have to rip apart,” says Matzkin. And don’t forget about a cheese table—just be sure to make it extraordinary, an entire landscape of cheeses that are indigenous to a particular area, along with wonderful accompaniments such as olives, tapenades and figs, says Matzkin.

Here, too, little touches go a long way in setting the scene. Barck suggests placing individual menus at each setting to outline the bistro feel. And, mais oui, pipe in some Édith Piaf to really set the mood.

A Tuscan Feast

OBVIOUSLY, A MENU-DRIVEN SOIREE MEANS you have to start with the menu, so find a great caterer who will bring a creative interpretation to your favorites. “I think that it’s important to start with foods that you love,” says Safford. So if it’s got to be Italian, think authentic—no spaghetti and meatballs. When Safford created a sophisticated Italian country wedding on Nantucket, her menu included a pasta course of penne rigate with asparagus and lemon cream sauce, and a main course of grilled sirloin of beef Florentine—regional staples that are authentic and sophisticated.

To pull off this kind of party, it’s not just what you serve, but how you serve it. For a truly Italian feel, make sure to swap out ordinary round tables for long ones. “That way you can serve large platters of antipasti for each table, and guests can help themselves family-style,” says Barck.

Make sure to weave the motif through all the elements of the party. “Focusing the person’s eye on something that makes it feel like a Tuscan table as soon as the guests walk in is important,” says Matzkin. Go with a very rich print—in yummy mustard, amber, deep red and mango colors—for your linens, and pepper rustic touches, such as crockery, pottery, terra-cotta, copper, wooden bowls, baskets and lots of candles, throughout your space. To further make your guests feel like they’re partying under the Tuscan sun, bring seasonal blooms such as poppies and sunflowers, along with berried branches, fruits and vegetables, to your table.


WHAT COULD SET THE SCENE BETTER THAN having a sushi bar—with an authentic master sushi chef—take center stage? Barck’s clients also love when they prepare sushi tableside, where nigiri and maki rolls are created to order right in front of guests and served up on beautiful wooden sushi boats. Of course, not everyone loves raw fish, so some other Japanese-inspired options include wasabi-crusted salmon with mirin ginger butter sauce nestled atop tangled sesame soba noodles, or a ginger roast center-cut tenderloin topped with sauteed lobster and sesame soba noodles.

When it comes to decor, think Zen. Drape tables in neutral-hued linens, and set the tables with monochromatic square- or triangle-shaped plates. And, add in some charming bamboo touches in the place mats or table runners, says Callender. “Paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling—or even set atop your tables—give a nice soft, soothing glow,” she says. Play some shakuhachi flute in the background, and add red peonies and lotus flowers to the mix, and it all makes for a calm yet sophisticated soiree.