Photography by Chelsey Cunningham
We're getting to the end of our ongoing Wedding Series, chronicling my wedding this past February and all the allergy-related details that went into organizing it. In this segment we're talking about planning the menu and working together with the kitchen and event staff to ensure your needs are met.
My allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, and legumes. We had over 20 people on our guest list with some type of food allergy, so it was important to us that everyone was accommodated and felt comfortable.
Communicating with the Chef
The first step after ensuring the venue we chose was open to accommodating food allergies was to speak to the event manager. This was a different person than the sales manager who sold us on the space. We met one afternoon for tea to go over all the details for our wedding. Immediately I went on about the food, my allergies, and how as a kid I always dreamt about whether or not I'd be able to eat at my wedding and not so much about what the wedding itself would look like. It seemed like this was a departure from what most brides request or how they describe their vision for the day. I would imagine most people talk about the flowers or the bar, or the flow of the event, but I was fixated on the safety of the meal and the fact that we would need an entirely custom menu.
He ensured me he'd speak with the chef and that we would go over all the details together. This was when the level of service offered by The Ritz was most important. It was something that we weren't able to get with other venues, and definitely something you pay a premium for. I sent over a detailed list of my allergies and common foods these allergens are found in. They sent back a marked up custom menu and I reviewed it with my questions and comments. Most importantly I was concerned with whether the menu for everyone would be Mandy-friendly, and I did have to clarify that point as their initial suggestion was to make me a different variation on what everyone else would be served.
It was important to me that everyone's food be safe for me; as the bride I would be on the receiving end of lots of kisses, hugs, and face brushes. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to freely kiss my new husband! My biggest fear was for people to clink their classes and for us to have to hug or wave it off.
The Menu Tasting
After all the back and forth on the food we got to do the menu tasting. I had no idea this was even going to happen, and it turned out to be the best part of the whole planning process. What a beautiful surprise.
Brandon and I and our parents got to sit at the chef's table in the kitchen of The Ritz and sample a small portion of two options of each course (salad, pasta, entree, dessert) and several wines. Chef John was amazing at describing the dishes to us, as well as how he modified each one and what they would do to ensure the kitchen was safe. He and his team considered every detail imaginable. The bread was usually made at a local bakery, but for our wedding they would sanitize the kitchen and have the bread made in house in a controlled environment. The whole kitchen team was briefed on the allergies and all ingredients in each dish were considered. He was able to tell me what he put into everything, how it was made, how it could be changed. I hit a little road block with the dessert, which is always a touchy subject for me. The pastry chef had prepared 2 types of sorbet as well as a vegan panna cotta using coconut milk. I just couldn't bring myself to eat the panna cotta. I took a bite and it was so delicious, but my brain was just telling me that this thing in front of me was an unwelcome intruder and I could not ignore it. We served the panna cotta to our guests but I opted for the raspberry sorbet on the night of the wedding.
It was an amazing experience all around, and I have never enjoyed sitting leisurely in a restaurant for three hours talking about food as much as I did that day. We all left feeling excited about the food and breathed a collective sigh of relief that my eating at the wedding would not be stressful.
The night before the wedding we had the rehearsal dinner. I bounced around ideas of where to hold it, but given that our families were staying at the Ritz all weekend and that the kitchen was already preparing Mandy-safe meals, it was the best fit. We had about 20 people and did a sit down, 4 course meal. I requested that chef John and his team cater the rehearsal dinner as well, and they allowed it despite the fact that the TOCA kitchen team is generally responsible for all meals served in their restaurant. We opted to serve every course that we didn't go with for the wedding reception, which meant we had a beet and pear salad, pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, beef short rib with a Barolo jus, and mango sorbet.
When we got to the restaurant after rehearsing both ceremonies, I was introduced to the manager taking care of our dinner that evening. I let him know I was the girl with the allergies and he told me not to worry, everything was already taken care of. The dinner was incredible and everyone was so wowed by the food.
Unworried by the safety of the plate in front of me, I was able to enjoy the intimate meal with our families and bridal party. The focus was on the event at hand; that Brandon and I would be married less than 24 hours later, that our siblings and their loved ones were there and part of the event, that our niece and nephew were wearing balloons on their wrists and couldn't wait to put on the gifts we gave them (suspenders, hair bows, and kids fragrance). We went to bed stuffed, happy, and way too excited to sleep!