Phil Surette and Greg Topham Reflect on the Perfect Wedding Menu
East Meets West Catering will design a tasty menu for your wedding, no matter the order.
No two weddings are exactly alike—why should their menus be? So says the team behind East Meets West Catering, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. “We don’t have a menu A for this price and a menu B for this price,” assistant executive director Phil Surette (right) says. “Nobody’s wedding is cookie-cutter, so we try not to approach it like it is.” Instead, the seasoned Southie caterer works with clients to create completely customized wedding menus, whether they call for plated salmon or shots of crudités (yes, really). That’s because at its core, East Meets West just wants to help you throw the celebration you’ve always wanted. “It’s not about making East Meets West shine,” executive chef Greg Topham says. “It’s about making the clients shine.”
What does it mean to be a full-service catering company?
Surette: We not only do the food, but we can talk to you about different kinds of silverware and linens; we can help you with ice sculptures; we can talk to you about DJs and florists. We also have super-talented planners who can take care of the entire event for you, including day-of coordination. We can pretty much do anything that you need.
What logistics does the caterer need to consider before planning a menu?
Surette: A lot of it depends on where the wedding is. The caterer needs to think, “What do we want to accomplish, and what equipment do we need to make that happen?” Is it a house down the Cape, or is it a mountaintop in New Hampshire where you need a fire permit and tabletop butane stores? A lot of this revolves around doing a very good site visit, [which we’ll go on with a couple], to see what the site does and doesn’t have.
How do you work with a couple to decide on a menu?
Topham: It’s about talking to them and capturing their vision. Generally, it starts with the basics, such as where and when the wedding will take place, how many people will be there, whether it’s a plated meal or a buffet, et cetera. Then we go a bit further and ask, Where did the couple meet? What was a memorable meal they shared? What’s their favorite place to travel? Are there foods from their childhood they’d like to incorporate? We also talk about budget, which often determines the direction of the menu.
On that note, how do you keep clients on budget while honoring their vision?
Topham: After we create a menu, we let clients know what it will cost—and many times, there’s a bit of sticker shock. If things are beyond their budget, we’ll find out what their must-haves are and what we can eliminate or modify. It’s all about finding a happy medium between what they want, what they can afford, and how the food will fit in with the event. We don’t have tiered pricing or a “no substitutions” rule—if I tell you what you can have for a certain price, I’m telling you what I think you should have. And I don’t want to do that.
How do you accommodate allergies?
Topham: First, it’s important to understand the difference between an aversion and an allergy. We would have to isolate or omit an allergen, whereas an aversion is “I don’t like onions.” Shellfish allergies, for example, can be very dangerous. [But if you really want an oyster bar], we can isolate it so that your aunt [with a minor allergy] doesn’t have to go over to it. And then we’ll sift some things into the menu for her that won’t make her feel marginalized or “special in the wrong way.” We don’t want her to be a burden, but we want her to eat.
People have a lot of opinions about food. How do you manage input from a couple’s family when picking the menu?
Surette: We’ve learned that this isn’t just about the couple. It’s also about the father of a groom, or the mother of a bride, or the uncle of the mother of a bride, all of whom have something that just has to happen food-wise. We let the family dynamic play out, and then we help make a decision that keeps everyone happy. It does come down to what our couples want, but we try to make sure we’re listening to everyone.
212 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-269-2662, eastmeetswestcatering.com.
Executive chef Greg Topham recommends the perfect bar setup for your wedding location.
The bar: Tacos
Always a crowd pleaser, tacos are casual and easy to eat, but can also be elevated with interesting ingredients such as carne asada, grilled whitefish, and homemade guacamole and salsas.
The bar: Bourbon
Barns and oak barrels go hand in hand. Showcase the best in barrel-aged bourbons by offering four or five options to choose from, along with great glassware and clear, round ice cubes.
The bar: Poke
Who wouldn’t love to create their own poke bowl while enjoying a wedding at the beach? Give guests glass bowls with sushi rice and a choice of tuna or salmon poke, then let them add toppings such as avocado, scallion, and edamame.
The bar: Champagne
Everyone likes to walk the grounds of a fabulous estate with a glass of champagne. Offer the option to make a champagne cocktail with a dash of bitters, lemon juice, a sugar cube, and a lemon twist.
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