Scene-stealing cuisine

New rule for wedding fare:
There are no rules

Story by Mara Severin

Chicken or fish? It's an age-old wedding question, second only to: "Do you take this man…?" But modern couples have some new ideas of their own and they want more from their wedding feast. They want exciting food for their exciting day. And with help from today's creative caterers they are leaving that dusty old menu on the shelf.

"People are becoming more and more adventurous," says Cherie Jordan of Saucy Sisters Catering. "They don't want the same old pigs-in-a-blanket," she says. "And they're keeping us caterers on our toes." So throw out the old recipes, rip up the boy-girl seating charts, and break down the cordoned-off bridal table. Today's wedding food is party food. It's all about fun and it's all about you.

For starters… more starters! Small bites have big impact

If variety is the spice of life then the spiciest receptions are cocktail parties with lots of hors d'oeuvres. "I'd say 90 percent of the events we do are heavy appetizers and small bites," says Susie Linford of The Event Divas of Alaska. The list of some of her most popular items reads like a foodie's fantasy: Black bean and corn salad served in a martini glass, guacamole shooters with mango salsa, tequila marinated shrimp with a wasabi cocktail sauce, gorgonzola stuffed wild scallops with a maple bacon wrap, and seared black sesame ahi tuna with a roasted pepper reduction. Regional meets seasonal meets ethnic meets fine-dining. With small bites, anything goes.

At left: Guacamole shooters by The Events Divas of Alaska: Each small glass holds layered mango salsa, sour cream and chunky guacamole with a curly celery stick for scooping out and spreading on a corn chip, or eating directly.

Of course with weddings and receptions presentation is everything. "Table-scaping is the trend," says Susie. "You really want to go for the wow factor," she says. Her edible centerpieces – personal sized watermelons that hold chicken skewers and beautifully carved baby-pepper flowers, "get a lot of oohs and aahs."

"People like to try a lot of different flavors, textures and colors," agrees Cherie. And the key to successful hors d'oeuvres is in the way they're eaten. The goal is no knives, she says. "The more creative the vessel, "the more excited people are." This means beautifully constructed tasting forks where a nuanced and composed dish can be eaten in one tidy bite. Shot glasses, spoons, skewers, wraps and rolls are delicious ways to savor, sip, and sample a variety of exciting tastes.

Edible spoons are also hugely popular. Cherie's spoons are handmade and provide an exciting complementary flavor component – for example, a bite of homemade mozzarella nestled in a pesto-flavored spoon.

Desserts: Express yourself!

The growing trend in smaller portions has made its way to desserts as well, says Susie. Instead of enormous cakes, many couples are requesting a personal "bistro" cake that they can cut together but the main desserts are a selection of mini cupcakes, mini eclaires, chocolate truffles, mini pies and fresh fruit.

Some people wouldn't dream of giving up on an elaborate cake, says Cherie, but for some people that's not what they're excited about. "Maybe your favorite dessert is crème brulee," says Cherie. She recently served warm, one-bite chocolate chip cookies served with a shot of ice-cold milk. "Milk and cookies," she says, "reflected this couples personality so well," she says. "All in that one delicious little bite."

Next stop: Taco Station

There are as many ways to choose a menu as there are couples. Maybe you'd like to recreate a meal that was special for you – your first date or the day you got engaged. Perhaps you want to pay homage to your heritage and would like a family specialty served on the big day. Maybe you just really, really love macaroni and cheese. And maybe you want to do it all!

Well don't despair. There is a way for an elegant oyster to go to the same party as a beefy burrito: food stations. "They're becoming more and more popular," says Cherie. You can have a sushi station, a taco station or a grilled cheese station. You can choose your ingredients, watch a chef prepare your food, and just generally get involved. "It's interactive," says Cherie. So not only is it delicious but it, "gets people chatting. It can be an excellent ice-breaker."

Comfort food favorites made fabulous

Of course, you don't have to be a "foodie" to know good food and to know what you like. It used to be that there was "special occasion" food and then the food you ate the rest of the time, says Susie. But comfort foods and familiar favorites are finding a place at the table and they're getting a makeover. Think macaroni and cheese with manchego, or deviled eggs with a hint of wasabi and a luxurious stripe of caviar. Or chic shrimp and grits, suggests Cherie, who makes a cheesy and authentic version that is becoming quite popular.

In Alaska, comfort food often means fresh fish and food cooked in the open air. Wes Masters has found his niche in hearty, fresh, on–location catering with a special expertise in Barbecue. His Masters Catering offers everything from fine-dining to Mexican and Indian buffets, "95 percent of the weddings I do are barbecue packages," he says. "Alaskans want to be outside and they want to enjoy the sun. They want good food and they want it to look nice," he adds. "We do that and we put smiles on people's faces.

This style of reception also has the interactive appeal of a food station." We bring the raw product. We cook it fresh and to order. The food's done right in front of you," he says. And that's a "trend" that Alaskans will always follow.