Dawn Weinberger, Freelance Writer

Catering to the bride

Special dietary needs don’t have to spell trouble

By Dawn Weinberger

Roasted new potatoes with tarragon and lemon. Panzella bread salad. Summer tomatoes with fresh basil and balsamic vinaigrette. Wood-roasted vegetable medley. These dishes sound so utterly irresistible, even a bona fide carnivore would dig in without hesitation.

That’s why Kurt Beadell, catering director for Salvador Molly’s, offers these and many other delicious options to the vegan bride who desires a wedding reception that reflects her lifestyle. They key, he says, is using high-quality, seasonal produce and lots of herbs and spices.

“If you do it right, no one will know the difference,” Kurt says.

Whether for health reasons or philosophical beliefs, the number of people following vegan, gluten-free and other special diets cannot go unnoticed. As a result, more and more brides are serving such meals at their wedding.

Erin Aigner, married July 19th , 2003, is a perfect example. Along with her mother and sister, Erin is gluten-intolerant (all foods containing wheat or wheat derivatives cannot be consumed). Her new husband, Hunter Shobe, is a seafood-eating vegetarian. She knew would be a challenge to put together a menu that would meet their needs and keep her 125 guests happy, but that didn’t stop her.

“I did this mostly for the convenience of my family,” she says. “I find that (it) doesn’t inconvenience anyone else to eat the way I eat. I wanted to see if I could do it without inconveniencing me.”

Erin encountered many venues unable to work with her, since their on-site caterers were not accustomed to preparing gluten-free cuisine and they did not permit outside caterers to serve on their premises. Because the food served at a wedding should be remembered fondly, Molli Barss, owner of Soiree, a local event-planning company, advises brides with specific dietary needs to avoid these venues altogether.

“Don’t pick a site that won’t let outside caterers in if they aren’t experienced with the type of menu you want,” she says.

This is simply a matter of asking the right questions.

“Always make sure they know what they are doing,” Kurt says. “You don’t want your wedding day to be a crapshoot. You don’t want to hire someone who tells you they can do it, and then they start experimenting.”

Hotels can be particularly difficult to work with because many have restaurants attached with standard menus. Even other large event facilities require brides to choose from a set buffet fare – no substitutions allowed. Fortunately, after lots of shopping around, Erin discovered that the RiverPlace Hotel was able to accommodate her gluten-free and vegetarian needs (according to Molli, the EcoTrust Conference Center in the Pearl District and The Treasury in Downtown Portland are also good places to check out). Executive chef Matthew Young ordered special gluten-free pasta and other ingredients, and ensured that the kitchen was free of potential cross-contamination. Erin was able to enjoy her day without worry, and her guests didn’t blink an eye as they indulged in coconut shrimp with fresh salsa and crab cakes.

In Erin’s case, her immediate family members were on-board with her plans. Other brides face pressure to serve “regular” food. Emiko Bandillo and Chad Miller, devoted vegans and owners of Food Fight!, a vegan grocery store in Southeast Portland, received many requests from family to serve meat at their April 2002 wedding.

“But we wouldn’t have compromised on that,” Emiko says, adding that her parents eventually got used to the idea.

Molli says each bride should evaluate her individual situation when making this important decision.

“I can see (both sides),” she says. “Part of throwing the party is to entertain guests. Then again, the wedding should be reflect the bride and groom. Guests can try something different for a change.”

Once issues with the menu are ironed out, it is time to move to perhaps one of the most important parts of the wedding reception: the cake. When prepared correctly, gluten-free and vegan cakes are surprisingly luscious. Shopping for a cake doesn’t have to be as tricky as choosing a caterer, just as long as the bride heads directly for a bakery that focuses on special cakes. In Portland, brides have their choice of three – Piece of Cake, Black Sheep, and Grass Roots. With these bakeries, there is no worry of cross-contamination, the use of experimental recipes, or erroneous ingredients (such as soy margarine containing whey, a milk-derivative). Be forewarned – gluten-free and vegan cakes can be slightly more expensive than a standard cake, simply because the ingredients cost more.

“Usually, it is about $1 more per serving,” says Mary De Vault, owner of Piece of Cake.

Though not an option for vegans, Erin choose to serve New York cheesecake with fruit topping (sans crust) at her wedding. Only one lactose-intolerant bridesmaid had to abstain.

“It was very well-received,” she says. For gluten-free, I think cheesecake is the way to go.”

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