Local Caterers Weigh in on Catering Your Wedding Meal to a Dietary Restriction
If you happen to find yourself with a food allergy or following a special diet but don’t want to be the odd-man-out at your own wedding, fear not. Dallas caterers are ready and willing to meet your needs.
We talked to two local catering groups and one cake company about creating an entire wedding meal based around dietary restrictions—and for them, it’s a piece of (gluten-free) cake.
The Main Course
Have you ever catered a wedding meal to one specific diet?
Krista Nabors, Culinary Art Catering: I have. I’ve had a couple recently in the last couple of years that wanted to have a paleo-friendly event. Those are pretty easy to do because both keto and paleo are usually meat, vegetables, and a fat of some sort. I’ve done some keto-friendly options, and what they would do is have a sauce on the side that maybe wasn’t keto so their guests could add that to the order, but most of the menu items were still keto or paleo.
Lauren Twichell, Wolfgang Puck Catering: Yes, quite a few times now. Recently, I did a wedding that was entirely vegan, which was really interesting. It was a 350-person wedding, and it was a multicultural wedding as well. The bride practiced kosher, so we already didn’t have shellfish or pork, and the couple lives a vegan lifestyle, so we just went ahead and made the entire wedding vegan. Then we also made it gluten free. We wrote the most amazing menu. It had a little bit of Indian flare, but it was not totally Indian food. It was delicious. I would become vegan if my chef cooked this for me every day.
Because you have had a couple of weddings with brides who follow specific food plans, has that prompted you to create a menu outline that others could use if they also want to do a dinner catered to a restriction?
KN: Some of the standard menus already include options that fall in the paleo-friendly category, like the bone-in roasted chicken. It would include their salad and their choice of vegetable, and then a starch. Maybe if it has whipped potatoes, we would offer sweet potatoes or something else that would suit the specific style.
It is kind of customized. We haven’t put a paleo menu on our full menu packet just because it’s not an everyday thing, but that’s something that we get a lot of requests for. I have girls come and want an all-vegetarian wedding, and I encourage them to think about how we can also incorporate some items that can please everyone, but also give you and your vegetarian friends plenty of options, as well.
LT: Some of the items that we already have created fall within those dietary restrictions, but we do not have a specific vegan or vegetarian menu. However, I do have our chefs create seasonal vegan options. So it is not as extensive as our core set of menus, but seasonally, they’re writing new menu items that are options. Also, our core menus really do have a lot of options that fall in the categories already.
What practices do you have in place to prevent cross contamination, especially if there is a severe allergy?
KN: Everything is completely cleaned and sterilized, and they’ll prepare the special entree before preparing anything else. Then, they’ll move it completely out of the way, seal it off (it’s usually in a disposable container) and it’s taken straight to the event, and it stays in that container until it’s plated. And when it’s plated, of course there are gloves even though they’re not touching the food.
We had one recent event where there was a guest who was so allergic to nuts that we had to guarantee none of our staff at the event would have any contact with that item for 24 hours prior. And it was a kid, so we literally had to tell all our staff they couldn’t be around peanuts for 24 hours.
LT: A lot of it is educational for me with our clients: making sure they know we cannot guarantee that our items are completely gluten free, for example—they are in a kitchen that has flour. But our practice is that we keep everything that’s gluten-free in a very specific part of the kitchen. We’re preparing foods right there, so there is no cross-contamination. [It’s the] same thing with an allergy. We’re extremely careful to keep it separated, but we’re not a completely gluten-free or nut-free kitchen, so I also do have to let my guests know, but we’ve never had any issue or concern.
Do you ever venture into baking? If a bride requested almond flour rolls, for example, would that be something that you would do?
KN: No, we would definitely outsource that. We do outsource a lot of our baked goods anyhow, because our local bakeries here can produce these things a lot more cost efficiently, and in a much better way because that’s what they do. So we have a couple of local bakeries that we work with and deliver our baked goods fresh every day. I never want to sacrifice quality or put out a product that’s not as good as [a bride was] expecting because it’s not our specialty. I’d rather do what we’re good at, and let our partners do what they’re good at.
LT: Yes! The second floor of our kitchen is our pastry kitchen. So, for the vegan wedding we did, we were absolutely baking—we made all the breads, even if they’re vegan, everything in house.
How much would adjusting a menu for dietary restrictions impact the cost?
KN: They’re pretty equal in price. Most of the time it’s just removing items that aren’t acceptable on that diet. With paleo, it’s a starch, a vegetable, and a meat. And the starch is just going to be a sweet potato, anyway. I’ve rarely increased the price unless I have to outsource a roll or something like that. But if they’re willing to go with what’s in house and it’s a clean menu, it’s typically going to be about the same price.
LT: Not at all. It’s more about ensuring that we’re producing the food quality of a Wolfgang Puck standard while using these different food items. So we don’t usually upcharge or change the cost based on dietary restriction.
Have you ever done a cake for a bride with a dietary restriction? If so, what kinds of restrictions?
Lauren Kitchens, Fancy Cakes by Lauren: Gluten-free, dairy-free, eggless cakes—we can do them all!
If you are creating a cake for a bride with a specific allergy, what kinds of practices do you have in place to ensure there is as little cross contamination as possible?
LK: Allergy-sensitive cakes are not made on the same day as our regular cakes. A high amount of caution has to be set in place regarding utensils and ingredients, and there is no room for error. That being said, even with every precaution made, there is still gluten in the air at the bakery, so we cannot categorize our gluten-free cakes as “celiac safe.” We discuss the sensitivity issues with each of our clients who suffer from a gluten intolerance, and we have gone so far as to bring a pre-packaged celiac-safe dessert from Whole Foods to place behind the cake for one of our brides suffering from severe celiac disease. We just didn’t want her to go without cake for her wedding day.
Say a bride is on the keto diet for health issues and cannot have any refined sugar. How would you handle decorating the cake without being able to use beautiful but sugary embellishments like regular frostings and fondant?
LK: A faux wedding cake is the best option for our brides with dietary restrictions, including keto-following clients. The brilliance of the fake cake is the bride can have the cake she’s always wanted… a cake that showcases as the center focus of attention at the reception. None of the actual servings of cake are in this cake display, although the cake is decorated with all edible sugar items and buttercream or fondant icings. A real section of keto-friendly cake can be placed into the bottom tier for the couple to cut and serve to each other for the cake cutting ceremony.
How might price be impacted by customizing a cake for a restriction, if at all?
LK: The pricing of a cake with dietary restrictions can be up to twice the amount of a regular cake. It just depends on the allergy or requests of the client. Having to make the kitchen safe for this type of cake preparation is timely and costly. Also, typically the ingredients are priced higher than the normal cake ingredients. Another option is to serve the regular cake to the masses and have the special dietary cake for the couple or for a small group of guests.
Anything else you’d like to add?
LK: Never feel pressure to have to endure the costs of a dietary-restricted menu for all the guests. Special concessions can be made for a handful of people instead. A good venue can handle this without causing any confusion in the kitchen.