Jessica Gillis and her husband, chef Mataio Gillis, have been serving up special meals with Ciaò Thyme catering for 12 years and now offer take-out and dine-in meals downtown. We asked her about making wedding meals special.
Q. What are the considerations in selecting a menu?
A. When you are selecting a menu there are several factors to consider including: budget, time-of-day for reception, seasonal flavors and themes, and presentation style.
Couples with limited budgets might think about holding their reception during a non-meal time, say from 2-4 p.m. or 7-11 p.m., and offering desserts or limited appetizers. Or they might consider using a grocery store catering division and forgo the service aspect to save pennies. Alternatively, we have had people with smaller budgets do intimate weddings in our dining room and offer a multi-course meal to a small group of folks.
We live in such an abundant food area, with a thriving farmers market and local farms. I always recommend looking into what fruits and vegetables are available here during the month of your wedding. This will help you think about foods that would be at their best for your event. If you need help, you might check out the Sustainable Connections Food and Farm Finder that gives hints to local, seasonal produce and food products.
Menus that are cohesive make guests feel good, you can achieve this by following a theme. I like clients to think about favorite flavors or restaurants and think about a theme for their menu. That might be as simple as Mediterranean, or Northwest with lots of seafood, Mexican or Asian. If they are torn between two very different cuisines, I suggest choosing one for their rehearsal dinner.
Presentation is important when you are planning a reception. You want the style of service to enhance your event. For some that means a cocktail party atmosphere with a lot of small foods passed around. For others it means a buffet where folks can choose their favorites. Still other prefer family style service and a feel that's more like Thanksgiving. Whatever the style, be sure that your caterer offers that style and that the menu is best suited to that style.
Q. What are the pros and cons of table service?
A. Table service is typically thought of as a more formal, elegant presentation style than buffet. With this style of service, guests remain seated at the table and are attended to.
Personally, I think table service, for any wedding over 35 guests, has more cons than pros. Plated service is most common at hotels or big commercial kitchens where they have the equipment and space necessary to keep plates hot. This generally includes plate covers or heat lamps, which can dry the food out or overcook food by trapping steam. Rental costs and labor costs are also much higher for plated service.
I typically present my clients that are interested in this option with family style as a viable alternative. Family style allows the guests to remain seated and allows the caterer the flexibility to cook things to order and plate them more quickly. Sometimes, I offer one or two plated courses - like salads or room temperature dishes that won't lose quality by being served in that style. Then, we serve the warm dishes family style.
Q. What are the pros and cons of a buffet?
A. Buffets can be beautiful. They offer people a chance to mingle and the opportunity to choose what they want to eat. Buffets are generally a less expensive style of service, as they require less labor and sometimes fewer rentals.
Some couples don't like the idea of guests having to stand in a line for their food. However, if tables are released in a timely manor, folks should not have to wait long.
Q. What local foods show up on wedding menus?
A. Salmon is probably the most common local food that shows up on menus in our area. Shellfish, vegetables and berries are the next most likely local foods to find on northwest menus. At Ciaò Thyme we aim to get as much local on your wedding table as possible. So, the entire menu is designed around seasonal availability. If local foods are important to you, make sure your caterer works with local farmers!
Q. What's for dessert (beyond cake)?
A. Dessert is fair game these days. While some folks love the tradition of the wedding cake, we have seen many deviations in past years. Fresh fruit and berry tarts and pies are really popular for summer weddings. Others want warm chocolate chip cookies -- straight from the oven -- with milk. We have done dessert buffets with everything from panna cotta or crème brulee to individual galettes and Mallard ice cream! Milkshakes, candy buffets, chocolate truffles, spiced caramels, you name it -- somebody has done it!
Q. How do you accommodate guests' dietary needs?
A. Dietary restrictions and allergies are becoming more common. If you have folks attending your wedding who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or have other food allergies, it's important to communicate this to your caterer. When we know in advance, we can accommodate special needs. If you have several folks who have dietary concerns, you might consider writing a majority of your menu in a way that those folks can eat without worry. So, perhaps you do several vegetarian or gluten-free side dishes just to be safe.
Q. What are the options for beverages and bar service?
A. Beverages are a natural complement to your meal. At Ciaò Thyme we craft non-alcoholic drinks that will pair with the foods we are serving. That might be rosemary lemonade, mint-jasmine iced tea, or pomegranate-black currant spritzer. Sometimes we make special elixirs to mix with alcohol for signature cocktails.
Wine and beer offerings are the most common at wedding bars. Paired wines and microbrews can show off Washington winemakers and brewers. Occasionally, people offer full alcohol bars or signature cocktails to supplement.
Q. What do you love to see on the menu at a wedding?
A. I love to see the season represented through food. I also love it when the couple getting married has some food item that means something to them and their relationship that we can showcase on the menu.
Q. What's the most extravagant wedding feast you've seen?
A. A few years ago, we catered a fantastical feast at Scimitar Ranch in Anacortes. The bride and groom were food lovers and their menu was over the top! We served passed appetizers following the ceremony and then guests walked down the hill to find four stations of food set up that included a glorious cheese table, fire-and-ice seafood bar, fresh sides and salads, and a mixed grill table. We made desserts too and then late night snacks!
Ciaothyme is at 207 Unity St. For more information call 360-733-1267 or go online to web.ciaothyme.com