The prospect of finding satisfying wedding or b’nai mitzvah reception food has long been daunting to most vegetarians and vegans, no matter how expertly the dishes are executed. Sides and substitutions can only fill up a person so much.
Those who’ve done their family celebration circuit will often recall RSVPing “vegetarian” only to get a plate of steamed vegetables, overdone pasta or a pile of starchy sides for their trouble.
Thankfully, today’s caterers and event planners are increasingly attuned to the growing number of vegetarians and vegans and the more sophisticated tastes of those maintaining a glatt kosher diet. They’ve been aided by the farm-to-table culinary movement, too.
“There’s a definite trend in kosher weddings and b’nai mitzvahs with chefs upping their game in terms of the kinds of foods and options that you would not necessarily see a couple of years ago,” said Michele Grant, who founded The Kosher Palate catering two years ago.
“There is no reason why families shouldn’t serve their guests [who have] specific dietary needs the most amazing food. This is a particularly amazing time to be doing things kosher and vegetarian in Los Angeles, as what’s happening with artisanal food purveyors is revolutionary.”
Event planner Alexandra Rembac of Sterling Engagements agreed that these are exciting times.
“We’re in the midst of the ‘foodie generation,’ where people are not only seeking out delicious food but also are vested in the quality of the ingredients and preparation and nutritional value,” she said. “They’re exploring everything from general organic to vegan and vegetarian at their favorite restaurants, which is informing how families are planning weddings and [b’nai] mitzvahs. … It is important that as much care is put into meatless dishes as with beef, chicken and fish dishes.”
Teri Kane recently helped coordinate her daughter’s all-vegetarian Malibu wedding with Ruth Hurwitz of Tarte Catering in Thousand Oaks and event planner Michael
Habicht. She explained that while her daughter and son-in-law mapped out the menu they wanted for their big day, she made her daughter’s bat mitzvah and other family events vegetarian long before it became trendy or common.
“Between our kosher friends and family, and those who are vegetarians, we’ve long felt a beautifully prepared vegetarian menu was the perfect option,” Kane said. “One thing we did at my daughter’s wedding was a series of multiple food stations with separate menus and food themes that were open all evening so that the party never stopped for a ‘sit down’ moment.”
Habicht said chefs are executing all sorts of new and fun ideas that tap into the vegetarian and kosher worlds, and the Kane wedding was a great example.
“We did a count of guests who were glatt kosher in the Old World sense, and how many dishes we had to prepare for those guests as opposed to general vegetarian that was kosher style. We had fun with the challenge, including bringing in a pizza oven to the site and making vegetarian kosher pizzas,” he said.
Rembac pointed to the emergence of menus and food stations that are interactive, compelling guests to get engaged in the preparation process in ways that make non-meat eaters feel included. These include the return of pasta and salad bars as well as soup bars that incorporate organic herbs, seasonal vegetables and family-style platters with an assortment of sides such as braised kale and brussels sprouts, which are both in vogue right now.
Grant, meanwhile, noted that while portobello mushrooms are now a commonplace substitute for beef, many savvy vegetarians and vegans are hungry for the next creative thing.
“I grill a mushroom cap and use it as a bun, and then do one of our favorite veggie burger patties, such as a black bean and quinoa cake,” she said. “I top it with garlic and jalapeno on the cap.
“My goal, first and foremost, is to make really interesting and wonderful-tasting food in whatever category you want to place it in. Tempeh is another versatile meat alternative, with a nuttiness and nice texture that can be adapted in different dishes.”
The downside of planning a memorable vegetarian feast is that it may involve more of an investment.
“It takes more time and thought to prepare these vegetarian and vegan dishes, and [the use of] seasonal produce may also add to the cost per meal,” Habicht explained. “In some cases, when meals are specially created for a vegan or vegetarian attendee, ingredients cannot be purchased in bulk. If your family is glatt kosher, I would do my research and find a caterer who not only has the facilities and supplies necessary, but also experience in elevating their dishes beyond what people consider standard fare.”
Or, you could just go shopping at a place like Whole Foods.
“When we did our vegan bar mitzvah, we had Chinese food, lots of vegan baked goods and salads from Whole Foods,” said Charles Stahler of The Vegetarian Resource Group, based in Baltimore and focused on educating the public on vegetarianism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition and the environment. “To please non-vegetarians, we included popular ethnic foods from [the store’s] Italian and Chinese section.”
Rachel Safran, chef and healthy eating coordinator for Whole Foods’ Southern Pacific region, stresses that vegan and vegetarian trends are having an impact on formal and informal catering, especially as the percentage of the population identifying themselves as “vegetarian” or “vegan” has doubled in the last 10 years. However, families planning a milestone event need to do their homework and be very upfront with a caterer or food purveyor about their expectations, she said.
“It is the responsibility of any consumer to clearly articulate concerns and review ingredients before purchasing or consuming,” she said.