How to Craft Custom Food and Cocktails for Your Wedding
Decide what to eat and drink at your reception with the help of local bar and culinary pros.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
No matter what your budget or background, local chefs advise you to choose the food spread that works best for your event. “I would advise people to really explore their heritage and its flavors,” says chef Sha-King Cehum, of SaludPGH and co-founder of Juice Up 412. Barbecue catering may work well for a do-it-yourself backyard garden party, while an Italian buffet might befit a grand hotel event.
Mobile vendors are prepared to work in confined spaces and pack everything they need, says Tony Marinho, co-owner of the Street Foods truck, which runs Innovative Mobile Catering. For custom food lineups, IMC meets with clients to go over priorities, such as number of attendees, budget and ingredients. The team puts together a different menu each time, though certain dishes, such as chicken satay skewers with peanut dipping sauce, remain go-tos because they’re transportable and popular.
IMC PHOTO BY Freyvogel Photography
Melding disparate cuisines
Sometimes the catering company is faced with a challenge: A couple once asked Marinho and his partner, Jeff Hurff, to fold the flavor profiles of Vietnamese and Italian cuisines into a single menu. The chefs delivered by using Thai basil for a Vietnamese pesto and chicken sake as a main dish, substituting the rice liquor for marsala wine.
Presence of heritage
In a nod to his roots, Cehum picks light bites featuring Puerto Rican flavors for three different wedding scenarios:
- intimate DIY reception: Mini mofongo cups, made of fried plantains, contain various fillings and can be eaten in a bite or two.
- mid-sized traditional party: Baked empanadas can appeal to many palates; plus they pair nicely with alcoholic drinks.
- large, lavish event: Attendees love finger foods, so step up the game with a spread of exotic fruits, jams and cheeses; one example would be papaya or cantaloupe with sheep’s-milk cheese on a crostini.
IMC PHOTO BY Freyvogel Photography
How to impress your (hungry) night-owl attendees
The guys from IMC and fellow Art Institute of Pittsburgh culinary grad Ricci Minella, owner of ’Burgh Bites, are among the mobile businesses that can continue a party once dinner’s ended. IMC’s comfort-food picks — tots, sliders and the like — go over big with loved ones who’ve worked up an appetite dancing; the same can be said for ’Burgh Bites’ similar offerings.
Want to pick premade dish options from a restaurant? This trio is used to handling a range of requests for small and large plates.
- Legends of the North Shore: classic Italian as it should be
- big Burrito Catering: a melting pot of tastes — from Mediterranean to Caribbean fusion
- Carmi Restaurant: soulful greens, yams and more, prepared with love
In the last few years, signature cocktails have become the norm at weddings. “I think it’s just the coolest thing . . . It’s fun to be a part of,” says Mike Mills, bar manager at downtown’s Butcher and the Rye and partner of Liquid Flair Entertainment. “[The drink] tastes good and has a one-in-a-million feel.”
How to craft a custom drink
Mills says that he “exhausts all options” in creating an original drink for the happy couple. He and partner Steve Pacacha use a drink questionnaire that includes what Mills considers to be odd questions — where the pair met, their favorite movie and so on. He says knowing that information will help him and Pacacha to choose ingredients to incorporate into the beverage.
One of their couples had their first date at a ball field, so Liquid Flair considered working in a flavor that reminded them of the ballpark, such as beer or a peanut liqueur.
For those who seek a budget-friendly drink, Sarah Anne Clarke, a bartender at Tender Bar + Kitchen in Lawrenceville, suggests tweaking a well-known cocktail recipe as opposed to building a beverage from the ground up.
Take a whiskey or gin sour: The cocktail still would be a hit if you sub in a strawberry-infused simple syrup; that small adjustment results in a more customized drink without a big price tag.
How to pick a standard drink
When picking a classic cocktail, Mills recommends thinking about the atmosphere and food menu. A dainty occasion might call for a punch, whereas the Champagne-filled French 75 could do the trick in a refined setting.
For a soirée, Clarke suggests batching, or combining ingredients in a container in advance. Choose a cocktail that will hold up well — perhaps comprising a liquor, fruit and syrup — regardless of whether a bartender will be on site to freshly shake each drink. Just don’t use egg whites or be set on a 15-ingredient concoction.
Clarke notes that certain spirits such as whiskey, gin and vodka have a broad appeal. Stock them at the bar, or keep them in mind while choosing ingredients for an original drink.
Both Clarke and Mills suggest considering glassware when planning what you’ll sip on your wedding day. If you’ll have limited access to different types, stick to drinks that won’t be affected by a universal glass.
Source of inspiration
Looking for cocktail ideas to pass to your bartender or mix on your own? Clarke recommends perusing Imbibe magazine’s website.