Food is rapidly becoming one of the most important elements to planning a wedding, especially with all the great locally-resourced options here in the Shenandoah Valley. But with so many options comes a challenge for a couple looking to hire a chef, what do you need to consider? Here are tips and words of advice from an actual chef, Eric Foxx-Nettnin from Magnolia’s at the Mill.
What are some things a bride should consider when picking a chef for their wedding?
It is so important to get face time with your chef in order to get all of your questions answered. Sometimes you have an initial meeting with a chef but the day of your wedding comes and you end up getting a watered-down experience of what you were expecting. Ask questions. Know exactly who will be there on your wedding day so you know exactly what to expect. Also, make sure to do a tasting and know exactly what you are paying for. Some people will charge $3/person for a cherry tomato and slice of cheese. Understand the value in what you are paying for and make sure it is fair.
Is there a difference between hiring a caterer v a chef?
Sometimes the two can be interchangeable but not always. Catering companies don’t always have a chef in charge of the food they provide, but they may have an owner that fancies themselves as a chef. Typically it is best to look for one person to design the menu and plan everything out. It will result in smooth sailing and a cohesive menu. Sometimes restaurants will have a chef, sometimes they will have a kitchen manager (and these people might be even better than a chef!) At the end of the day, meet the person who will be in charge of your menu, regardless of title and make sure you like what you see (and taste) from this person or catering company.
How soon in advance should you book a chef?
It is important to book a chef or catering company at least three months out to ensure you get the exact date and time you are looking for. It is often a first come first serve basis when it comes to busy season for weddings. Make sure to get the dialogue started early to avoid scheduling issues.
What kind of service style do you find works best?
It is really reliant on what kind of event you want. More people are moving towards a light-hearted atmosphere where people can get up, move around and serve themselves. Refined buffets are becoming popular. It is important to consider your venue. Some are better suited for buffets while others are better setup for plated service. Typically we see larger groups of people tend to do buffets while smaller groups have sit-down service.
Even if you have the fastest crew in the world by the time the 180th person is getting fed the first 30 people are either getting antsy to eat or have finished their meal.
Have you ever run across issues catering in a specific type of venue?
It is becoming very popular to have rustic wedding set in nothing more than a barn in a field. Make sure you consider this when picking a chef: are they equipped to serve your venue? We have catered a barn where we essentially had to bring a mobile kitchen with us.
What is the biggest wedding you have catered and what was the challenge?
The biggest wedding I’ve ever done was 1100 people. The challenge was orchestrating all the moving parts. Dealing with the anxious bride, groom, and wedding planner, venue owner, etc. You just need to stay organized, stay calm and communicate. You will always run into challenges but it is important to keep all the moving parts on track.
Do you see any particular trends in terms of food?
Yes, right now we are seeing a lot of refined american food. We like to let people customize their menu at Magnolia’s so it feels like they are really picking their menu rather than doing what everyone else has done. We present sample menus and our entire menu so they can choose from what they like and mix and match. We try to accommodate if somebody wants something that isn’t on the menu but we know we have the ability to do.
How should a bride and groom accommodate people who have allergies or special diets, especially for big weddings?
That is one of the big questions that has been top of mind for a lot of chefs and catering companies recently. We have designed our menu to be about 80% gluten free and also have the ability to easily manipulate items to be gluten free if necessary. My advice to couples dealing with a large group of people is to get a solid list of allergies and dietary restrictions as SOON as possible and get it to the chef. The longer a chef has to be prepared for allergy, the better off everyone is.
Final words of wisdom?
It is your wedding, the biggest thing is you need to make sure you get what you want hands-down. There are so many options in our area, so there is really no need to compromise. Continue asking questions until you feel 100% comfortable with your chef, catering company, or whoever will be serving your wedding.
Thank you for your words of wisdom, Erik! We hope this helps you when considering who to pick to cater your wedding. If you are interested in learning more about Magnolia’s at the Mill you can learn more here.