Creating a wedding menu that transcends borders

If you and your spouse are from different backgrounds, designing a wedding menu all of your guests will love might be challenging.  (Tracy Hunter)
If you and your spouse are from different backgrounds, designing a wedding menu all of your guests will love might be challenging. (Tracy Hunter)

(JointMedia News Service) — As borders become more faint, and online dating services more prevalent, many of us are pushed out of our respective ethnic bubbles and into the arms of a special someone from a different background.

While Jews share many customs and traditions, we also have our share of diversity — including the kosher and not, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, to name a few. Attempt to fuse these different customs into one wedding, and you’ll undoubtedly run into conflict, particularly in an area that all Jews, regardless of background, feel quite passionate about: food.

Andrew Wiener, owner of Catering by Andrew in Brookline, Mass., a 2010 and 2011 “the knot, best of weddings” pick, discusses what families and caterers can do to create a menu that will leave all guests satisfied.

Wiener notes that differences can stem from something as minor as the bride and groom being from different cities. In New York, you’ll see “miles of chafing dishes, sometimes after the party is over you can serve two more parties,” while in Boston, people tend to prefer room for the main course, Wiener says.

Sephardic and Ashkenazi differences are also challenging. “First of all, Persians (and other Sephardim) can’t even tell you how many people are coming. In Sephardic culture, especially Persian culture, they don’t RSVP, and if a party starts at 6, they won’t come until 8, but they stay all night long,” Wiener says. “Then they dance like crazy and eat like crazy.” Many Sephardim adapt by serving buffet-style meals.

The differences extend beyond food; style is also important, Wiener says. “For Russians,” he says, “the less you can see the table the more respectful it is.”

One of Wiener’s greater challenges is creating a menu for two families — one keeping kosher and one not. “Some families have no concept; it’s not within their reality of what kosher food is [or isn’t].”

So, marrying the person you love, but concerned that half your guests will leave with a frustrated palate? Wiener suggests the following approach.

First, keep an eye on the big picture. Wedding planning can be hard and stressful, or it can be a lot of fun, and there’s really no reason why it has to be the former, he says. “My advice to people is to bring the families together at the table, to come up with a common ground. Find the items that families feel is necessary to serve. It’s a matter of making sure it’s a fun relationship, not an adversarial relationship. Keep the focus on the bride and groom, and what they want.”

Second, if one of the families keeps kosher, and the other does not, you’re going to have to find a great caterer. “When you have a family that doesn’t keep kosher, they are usually foodies, and certain things are just limited. We get very good [product], but a lot of people are used to eating at boutiquey restaurants. So, what we had to do was upgrade our culinary team to keep up.”

Third, if either the bride or groom comes from a family with specific culinary tastes, consider bringing in a specialized chef. “We’ll bring in a Persian chef at times to give that flavor.”

Finally, the golden rule, Wiener says, is to keep the main course constant, but throw in a buffet style, or incorporate the different backgrounds into the cocktail hour. For example, if it is a partially Russian wedding, Wiener will include some trays of zakuski, or appetizers. Instead of serving a plated dessert, he’ll create a generous dessert buffet.

“For Persians, it’s the same thing, we take what they normally serve at the buffets for dinner, and serve it as hors d’oeuvres. We’ll make sure there’s a lot of extra food, a lot of choices, and then serve a sit down dinner.”