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Stick a Fork in Me

Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

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Some parts of planning a wedding are all about taste – literally. As summer stretched into fall, we found ourselves mulling one of the most important parts of the event: the food.

Some friends who are planning their weddings this year have chosen venues – country clubs, for instance – that come with a kitchen and their own caterers. Ours didn't, which we liked, because it gave us the chance to build our own menu from scratch. But it also meant more research and more decisions.

We started with the Atrium's list of preferred caterers, which was tucked into the glossy folder of information we got when we booked the venue. I sent e-mails to most of them one evening, and a few days later, Reese and I were poring over pages of entrees and hors d'oeuvres, salads and desserts. We quickly decided against a sit-down dinner, because we wanted the reception to be as dynamic and un-stuffy as possible. Instead, we opted for food stations and a mix of round dinner tables and high cocktail tables – no assigned seats – where people could sit or stand before hitting the dance floor.

The list of potential caterers was slashed early on by the simple fact that some didn't return my e-mails and calls. Easy enough. The ones who did, though, were attentive, accommodating and professional. They also fed us.

Reese and I met with one caterer on a weekday during our lunch break. There, we were whisked into a meeting room and presented with platters of chicken salad and crackers, pimento cheese and chocolate cheesecake desserts, while we talked menu options.

At another, we mapped out a feast of pasta and carving stations, salad and grilled vegetables, crab cakes, shrimp and grits and more. We saw pictures of the company's lavish receptions and artful arrangements. We collected sample menus and pricing, and then took the whole stack of information back to my parents for further discussion.

It was difficult to decide. No two caterers, it seemed, had the same pricing structure, which made comparisons complicated. Some offered a flat fee for the open bar, others charged by consumption. One caterer would provide beer and wine, but we'd have to provide the liquor, which made us nervous.

Eventually, I delegated the task to my parents, who liked to have a hand in the big decisions (and the most expensive), anyway. My mom called our top choices and jotted notes on the menus they sent. My parents set up a meeting with one specific caterer, where they sampled the crab cakes – my family is from Maryland, and my dad is picky about his crab cakes – and the other menu items that soon won them over.

Reese and I had heard good things about this particular company, and we'd tasted their food at friends' weddings. We liked the staff and their ideas, and now, my parents were on board. That was enough for us, and shortly after, it was a done deal.

Our menu wasn't complete yet, though. Next item of business: finding a wedding cake. We set up an appointment at a bakery that came highly recommended by my wedding planner and a few friends. We rolled up one evening after work, flipped through binders full of ideas and, to our delight, were brought a large plate full of tiny triangles of cake.

There was almond (my favorite) and vanilla, chocolate chip, a rich, dense chocolate and spoonfulls of icing and filling. Everything was delicious. We left with a bag full of cake scraps and a paper plate of leftover slices. Soon after, we sent our deposit and cake order form.

The countdown continues, and a long list of details remains, but one thing's for sure – the guests at our wedding will be well-fed.

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