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Food for happy thoughts

CASSIE PENCE
eagle county correpondent

Event coordinator Nora Feeley of Events by Nora in Aspen once planned a wedding for tequila lovers. She set up a top-shelf tequila tasting bar at the reception and served gourmet quesadillas and tacos with a variety of homemade salsas.

The dinner was more than a meal, it was a tribute to the couple’s shared joy. It gave guests insight into the relationship, really making them feel included in the celebration. From flowers to music, brides often infuse special meaning into the wedding with small details. The bouquet, for example, might feature the very blooms given during courtship.

Reception food, however, is often overlooked as an outlet for romantic creativity. Most couples settle on the standard chicken or prime rib dinner. Couples wanting to spice up their wedding menu should consider theme, honeymoon, reception location or family recipes. Inspirations like these can lead to original food ideas and a truly unique celebration.

Cook up a theme

“People are getting married older now,” Feeley said . “And I think there’s a point where you’ve had the last chicken dinner you can tolerate.”

Looking back at the weddings she has planned, Feeley said the more interesting menus arose from a theme. One of her favorites had a Mediterranean motif. The caterer served all tapas ” little dishes of food ” and sangria.

“We had fun empanadas, spanikopita, chorizo sausage, hummus and olives,” said Feeley.

Casual cowboy suppers have been really popular in the mountains, Feeley said, where people want to experience the Wild West.

“People wear their cowboy hats and boots to the wedding, and the caterer has a smoker outside preparing the dinner,” Feeley said. A western menu could include buffet-style ribs, brats, beans and baked potatoes.

Chef Jimmy Nadell, co-owner of Conundrum Catering in Aspen, said his favorite theme is Italian.

“It’s the most romantic of all the cuisines,” Nadell said.

At a typical Italian-style wedding Nadell might serve risotto with white truffle oil, Florentine steak and tiramisu for dessert.

Preview the honeymoon

The best part about getting married is the honeymoon. Preview the exotic destination by serving food or drinks from the region.

“We’ve designed a drink menu to celebrate the bride and groom’s honeymoon to Tahiti,” said Matthew Charles, owner of Mountain Mixers in Vail, a beverage catering company. “We mixed up Mai Tais, Hurricanes and rum runners.”

To celebrate a Mexico honeymoon, Charles said he has served Coronas in buckets and set up a margarita bar.

Graze is the craze

The latest wedding food trend is scrapping the three-course plated dinner for active food stations, allowing guests to graze the night away.

“It’s a casual pace,” said Tom McNeill of the Gourmet Cowboy in Vail. “It’s a nice fit for the mountains.”

There might be a seafood station, a meat carving station, a salad station and a sushi station. The food at each station is usually mobile, letting guests mingle as they munch, like Gourmet Cowboy’s Thai noodles served in a gourmet Asian to-go box.

“We do changing stations, as well,” McNeill said. “We might set out cold shrimp first, and when that is gone, we’ll replace it with blackened salmon. It keeps it moving and it keeps it interesting.”

Location, location, location

Regardless of fads, some brides still want the traditional plated dinner. To give it a modern twist, chefs suggest choosing foods that are indigenous to the wedding’s location.

“At a higher-dollar wedding, I prepared elk,” said chef Vincent Monarca of Alpine Natural Foods in Frisco. “I like nice Colorado-grown food.”

Chef Kirk Weems of Allie’s Cabin in Beaver Creek said rack of lamb is an elegant, tasty choice for the mountains.

“We’re in a cabin in the woods in Colorado,” Weems said . “That’s the kind of food I cook.”

Chef Nadell agrees. He said Colorado wedding menus should highlight the state’s products, such as venison meats.

“Not too long ago I prepared Colorado walnut-basil crusted trout with buffalo tenderloin,” said Nadell. “It was ski and surf in the mountains. It went over very well.”

Mama knows best

A sentimental touch to the wedding menu is to feature a family recipe. Nadell was asked to prepare mom’s lasagna at a recent wedding. Instead of a big, bulky platter, he cut it up small and served it as hors d’oeuvres.

“They were little one-biters served in an Asian spoon,” said Nadell.

Chef McNeill said he often receives requests to duplicate family recipes.

“It makes the family feel more a part of the menu and the reception,” McNeill said.

It’s silly to think food doesn’t matter at a wedding. The only reason guests don’t remember the food is because it probably wasn’t worth remembering. With a little thought, the wedding menu can be just as exciting ” and memorable ” as Uncle Earl doing the “Electric Slide.”


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