Wedding Menus Change With the Times

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A soup offering from Betty the Caterer
A soup offering from Betty the Caterer (Courtesy of Betty the Caterer)

When Jeff Kalinsky started at Betty the Caterer 27 years ago, there were certain truths about clients’ weddings, events and what they wanted to eat.

Weddings would likely be black tie; the meals were typically three-course and served at the table. The bride’s mother was the one who held the greatest decision making power of the final menu.

That was just how it was.

Quicker than you can whisk an empty dumpling platter back to the kitchen for a refill, client demands have changed, Kalinsky said. From presentation to unique dietary needs, the elements of a catered wedding reception are in a new era.

“It’s not like it’s just a carving station with corned beef and turkey anymore,” Kalinsky said.

The most obvious changes in wedding menus and catering service that Kalinsky and others have noticed are fairly easy to guess.

The problem of dietary restrictions, from nut allergies to vegan diets to gluten issues — alongside the occupational hazard of kashrut, of course — has come to a position of much greater prominence for kosher caterers in recent years.

Betty the Caterer, Kalinsky said, has “totally eliminated” the presence of nuts in its in-house bakery, and the days of a beef-only slider bar are in the past. Today, alongside beef and chicken options, vegetarian simcha-goers can expect to find more in the way of portobello mushroom and black bean burgers. And pescatarians needn’t feel left out, Kalinsky said. They do salmon, too.

The biggest challenges in that arena have come in the form of the gluten-free event, of which Kalinsky is relieved to have only done at a few bar and bat mitzvahs.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, but we did it,” he said.

Another major shift in menu creation that he’s noticed: The bride’s voice seems to have grown in recent years, by his observation. Whereas brides in their early 20s would typically cede control of the menu creation process to their mothers, the brides he works with now are typically older, a little more self-assured and taking on the task themselves.

Difficult as it may be to adjust to communal shifts, Kalinsky said, that’s just the name of the game.

“You have to keep up with what’s happening in the communities,” he said. “If you can’t adapt to what your client wants, they’re going to find it somewhere else.”

Leslie Rosen can certainly sympathize with that.

Her company — Leslie Rosen Catering — wasn’t even kosher when she began 46 years ago. She was previously a teacher of young children, and it wasn’t even until her son was born that she began to decorate cakes for clients. In the early `90s, Rabbi Marshall Maltzman at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood proposed that she ditch her old model and become a kosher caterer. In fact, Maltzman allowed her use of the synagogue kitchen, and asked that she cater his daughter’s wedding.

That is all a long way of saying: She’s no stranger to the big change required of a kosher catering company in 2019. One of those changes is the somewhat shrunken scale of the meals she’s asked to provide.

Sushi from Kosher Catering Philadelphia
A typical offering from Kosher Catering Philadelphia (Photo by Daniel Israel)

“Today’s generation, they do not want these big, over-the-top meals,” she said.

Rosen stresses that this trend could simply be an idiosyncrasy of her own clientele. But by and large, she said, her wedding clients have started to favor, in far greater numbers, casual, relaxed food to go along with a casual, relaxed setting. This actually plays to her strengths as a caterer, Rosen believes; hors d’oeuvres, unconventionally arranged in atypical serving surfaces (think repurposed paper clip holders), are her specialty.

“It is very important to me, always, with anything I did, that everything had to look as good as it tasted,” Rosen said. “People eat with their eyes first, and I always wanted it to be really creative, whatever menu I did.”

Eye-catching as she tries to be, there are also little tricks to use. Pigs in a blanket — or, in the parlance of kosher caterers, “miniature hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry” — can be presented on a bed of wheatgrass, for example. It’s not an ostentatious presentation, but it’s the kind of creativity clients increasingly expect.

The “kosher world often moves a little bit slower than the regular world” when it comes to these catering innovations, Rosen said, but those gaps are closing.

Daniel Israel has owned his catering company, Kosher Catering Philadelphia, for just three years. But even he’s seen marked changes in that short period.

The Northeast Philadelphia native spent time working at the now-closed Deux Chemineés when he was still in high school, and worked as a mashgiach and chef for a few years. In his three years as the head chef of his catering outfit, he’s noticed that customers who may have once shelled out for caterers to come in from Lakewood, New Jersey and New York are going with more affordable options. Additionally, for events where just a few of the guests keep kosher, clients seem to increasingly opt for a few sealed kosher meals to be arranged, rather than an entirely kosher event.

Changes or not, Israel still follows his true north.

“I’m in it to make good food,” he said. ❤

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