Wine has contributed to a majority of decisions in my life ever since I fell in love with it in college, including my career path, moving halfway around the world, and some poor quality late night food choices. Sometimes it inspires bad ideas, sometimes good, and sometimes just flat out crazy. The latter was the momentum behind one of my recent adventures, catering my cousin’s wedding for 130 guests, including the cake.
It all started with some harmless bragging at Thanksgiving, I had recently made a giant wedding-style cake for a big family birthday, and after a few glasses of wine suggested that I make the cake for my cousin David and his fiancée (now wife) Mariah’s upcoming June nuptials. Over the course of the next few days, this turned into an offer to cater the whole thing.
Now I’ve been to culinary school, and have worked for periods as a private cook, done a tiny bit of catering here and there, but am by no means a chef. For the rest of the autumn and winter beyond a little brainstorming with the couple, I mostly procrastinated and didn’t let the responsibility of making or breaking someone’s wedding sink in. David and Mariah happen to be the most laid back people on the planet, and were, shall we say, “leisurely”, about planning their wedding. So it was that only six weeks before the wedding I hopped on a plane down to San Diego to actually sit down and spend a couple days organizing things and planning what in fact we were going to do!
Early on we had established that I wouldn’t be able to do a multi-course, plated meal, and that we’d have to have a buffet. The couple love Mexican and Thai food, so we figured we’d go for a taco bar and a curry bar, not the fanciest, but delicious. My main priority was to show off California for all of the out-of-state visitors. Produce from San Diego in June? Yes please! Californian wine? Check! And no San Diego experience could be complete without craft beer.
My reconnaissance mission yielded great results, and we spent two days testing recipes, working out our menu, and doing craft beer tastings. We even discovered a tortilla factory on Yelp in an attempt to find lunch in the random industrial area where the party rentals place was located! It was clearly fated that Esperanza’s would provide the tortillas for the wedding. In the end we decided to have beef tacos, fish tacos, green chicken curry, rendang vegetarian curry, a salad bar to be determined by produce closer to the time, a meyer lemon wedding cake with berry filling, flourless chocolate cakes, and classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting cupcakes.
For libations I sourced a keg of delicious 2010 Faith or Fact Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel, as well as bottles of 2010 Chance Creek Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. For bubbles we had Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva Cava, and for beer we had a keg of awesome local Stone Brewing Saison.
In so many ways this wedding was a testament to how much so many people love David and Mariah, not just from a food perspective, but on every level of detail. It was thrilling and wonderful to be part of such an incredible community of people who were willing to help out at all times. Most essential for me were Susan and Tim Garner, David’s mom and stepdad, who rented a beautiful house by the beach with a giant kitchen, with the intent that I would take over and use it for the catering. They ran to the shops for me, Tim was my grill-master, they helped us shuffle everything to and from the event, and generally provided a wonderful space and support.
My sister was my primary sous-chef, managing all the frostings and fillings for the cake and cupcakes, grilling 300 tortillas, and generally doing everything I told her to do. My dad and my other sister were dish-washing pros, and on the day I had cousins pitching in to wash dishes too.
Keeping it local was also a group effort, with plenty of the produce coming from David and Mariah’s wonderful garden. All of the vegetables for the curries came from their garden, summer squash in the chicken curry, and some wonderful pumpkin for the vegetarian one. The cake was flavored with meyer lemons from their garden, and the berry filling came from Mariah’s aunt’s beautiful little farm. For the tacos we got a variety of local line-caught fish from a friend, and Mariah’s mother brought twelve pounds of grass-fed beef from her home state of Idaho. For salads we went with an Asian inspired cole-slaw with cashews, sesame, and peaches, a roasted baby squash mix, and my for-a-crowd version of esquites, a grilled Mexican corn salad.
We designed the menu so mostly everything could be prepared ahead of time, but the day was still pretty intense! Re-heating, organizing, and distributing the food was a mammoth task, especially because all of my relatives kept coming into the kitchen to try to say hi to me, at which I told everyone to GO AWAY PLEASE AND LET ME GET ON WITH IT. I had wonderful help from the photographer’s son Connor and his friend Mika, who were the best catering helpers and servers you could imagine, and another friend Tina, who was an absolute beast behind the scenes and was a multi-tasking dish washing machine.
In the end we only had a few minor hiccups, but the beauty of catering, or any sort of event, is that nothing ever goes exactly as planned and you just have to figure out how to make it work. For example my cousins spent an hour making mini pupusas for hors d’oeuvres, which turned out to be inedible for service the next day (and that’s why you test things instead of assuming they’ll work…) and had to be thrown out. We also had hoped that the bride, a glass artist, would be able to top the cake with hand-blown sugar sculptures, but in the end there wasn’t time so we just went with flowers. All in all it was an incredible experience, doing something for my family, with my family, and it all turned out delicious. I won’t be doing it again any time soon though, so don’t any other cousins get any ideas and watch what you do when sipping wine can lead to crazy ventures!