When you think of a wedding, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Over-the-top sophistication, perhaps, with stunning brides, debonair grooms, and meticulously dressed guests. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the popcorn, s’mores, and mini-donuts.
Mini-donuts—seriously? You bet! S’mores and mini-donuts are now happily coexisting with gorgeous white gowns and glasses of sparkling champagne. Weddings, birthdays, anniversaries— celebrations of every size, shape, and colour—are starting to loosen up.
Well, the food is, anyway.
“People are tired of the sit-down chicken-dinner experience,” says Liana Robberecht, executive chef at WinSport in Calgary. “Now, when someone comes in to plan an event, they want something with an element of fun to it, and they want something that reflects who they are. It’s where food and personality come together.”
Once upon a time, celebratory dinners had the tendency (to be honest) to teeter toward the boring side. Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t the event itself that was to blame. No, it was the food that was the culprit: the quintessential, formal, stick-to-your-ribs fare that seemed to monopolize plates everywhere.
It was almost formulaic: plunk chicken breast or prime rib on a plate here, deposit roasted potatoes or rice pilaf there. It was, dare we say, often unimaginative, lacklustre and yes, humdrum. But it was also what we expected.
But then something happened: we started taking a real interest in our food. Not only what we were eating, but also where it was coming from. Celebrity chefs and food blogs began popping up everywhere, and Pinterest became the go-to site for any and all inspiration. Food is now cool. It’s important. And it sends a message.
So send in those troops of mini-donuts, gooey s’mores, bite-size ice cream sandwiches, and pillowy soft mounds of cotton candy. Oh, and we can’t forget about the drinks! How does a colour-coordinated signature cocktail (blue margaritas, anyone?) or a pint or two of craft beer sound to wash everything down?
At WinSport, Robberecht offers food that’s injected with personality and then some. “We sit down with our clients and together we figure out what they want and what kind of story they want to tell,” she explains. “Whether the menu is centred around a favourite food, something they ate on their first date, or a dish their grandma used to make, we translate their ideas into something fun and interesting that we can put on a plate.”
Plate may not be the right word. Guests at WinSport have been spotted nibbling on little bags stuffed full of popcorn. Not just regular popcorn, mind you: popcorn that has been topped with one (or more!) of a dizzying array of flavoured seasonings and sauces (lemon butter, buffalo, curry, sugar & spice—even truffle).
“Really, the food is a reflection of the person or people hosting the event,” explains Robberecht.
Food stations are huge right now, and not only do they inject something completely different into the event, they allow guests to customize the offerings and take as much or as little as they want. It also gives them a chance to sample a bunch of different options.
“People aren’t sitting at the same table all night, talking to the same people. Food stations really get people mingling and moving about,” says Robberecht. “And guests love the variety—it gives them the ability to actually choose what they’re going to indulge in next.”
Think cheese and port, apples and caramel, chips and dip, individual flatbreads, mini tacos, sliders, coffee and cookies, cupcakes and yes, even sushi. The options are endless!
“Our caramel apple station is really popular for dessert,” says Robberecht. “Everyone loves caramel apples, but no one wants to eat the whole thing—they’re big and they’re messy! So instead we do apple wedges dipped in caramel, and guests can top them with whatever they want: Skor bits, M&M’s, roasted nuts, chocolate, and more.
“And then there’s the chip bar. Not only do we make our own potato chips, but we also whip up a variety of dips to dunk them in.” Ranch is a natural option, of course, but flavours like caramelized onion, spinach-artichoke, and buttermilk-herb make munching on those chips even more addictive!
So yes, food bars are ultra-hot right now, but that’s not to say all tradition has gone out the window. Most functions held at WinSport still have a sit-down dinner component, with guests settling in at tables for a more leisurely salad and entrée course.
Zana Murray, the owner of Stir Catering in Edmonton, is seeing a similar pattern with her clients.
“I had one couple who went to Corso 32 (in Edmonton) on their very first date, and they absolutely loved the arancini (essentially deep-fried stuffed rice balls). It was a special memory for them, so that’s what we made as appetizers for the reception: little arancini.”
Another couple had a fondness for spicy pub food, so Murray centred the menu around classic pub fare. Well, elevated pub fare might be a more accurate description. Imagine tartlet shells stuffed with shredded chicken and hot sauce. Now top that off with a dollop of ranch sauce and a sliver of celery—kind of like buffalo wings all grown up!
“I also did a wedding for a bride who loved confections, so that’s what we created: sweet treats galore. Rice Krispie squares, puffed wheat squares, peanut butter marshmallow squares, and little apple/rhubarb pies with meringue topping. It’s all about showcasing someone’s personality through the food. But at the same time, it’s also about offering something a bit different. Different and memorable.”
Murray has done tiny perogy tartlets with a sautéed onion topping, cocktail hot dogs with a myriad of add-ons, mini mac ‘n cheese bundles, caramel popcorn, macarons, cheese and charcuterie— oodles of bite-size nibbles of favourite comfort foods. She’s even brought in a food truck that specializes in French fries.
“We were doing a surprise birthday party, and the birthday boy loved anything meat,” says Murray. “So we brought in a food truck and, during cocktails, we served fresh French fries on silver platters. It just fit the theme so well.”
Even though the food itself is trending toward a bit more casual and fun, presentation is still huge. It creates interest, and it’s yet another way of elevating the food and adding personality. So in addition to French fries on silver platters, expect silky dessert custards lined up in mason jars and delectable cookies snuggled into vases. Retro servingware is also huge.
“A lot of couples will have a beautiful menu with a lot of twists to it and then they’ll do something completely wacky like bring in McDonald’s for a late-night snack. The juxtaposition between all the sophistication of the wedding and then the more casual, fun foods makes it so whimsical.
“The food, in whatever form it takes, has really become such a priority.”
– Jan Hostyn