Food stations at weddings aren’t new—but theatrical presentation, dozens of toppings and guest-friendly chefs are.
Eating Local Wisconsin Wedding Catering
- The Washington Hotel, Door County
When Leah Caplan adds wheat berries to her pilaf, it’s more than gourmet flair. The proprietor/chef of The Washington Hotel on Door County’s Washington Island makes local ingredients a priority on her menus, and island-grown wheat in some form emerges at the hotel’s wedding receptions. The same is possible with Lake Superior’s ubiquitous whitefish (eaten as a smoked dip, inside crepes or atop delicate pizzas). Caplan’s mill grinds this wheat into flour, which is used in breads and crusts that bake in her wood-fired brick oven. The wheat berry adds protein to salads and side dishes. The grain also—through Capital Brewery (Middleton)—finds its way into the recipe for Island Wheat and Rustic Ale beer.
- Underground Catering, Madison
Constantly feeding the desire to connect to where we live is Underground Catering, a renegade quartet of earthy and energetic food professionals whose sophisticated menus come loaded with local ingredients all year. The foursome works as a team (“there is no chef—we all have different strengths,” says spokesman Ben Hunter). They often can or freeze whatever is in season (to expand options year-round), and couples should expect spontaneity in reception planning. Each warm season seems to have great “buy local” potential. “April is gorgeous because everything is fresh and new,” Hunter says, as an example. “We love spring pullet eggs with their golden rich yolks, and can make a pasta with it—handmade noodles dressed with sautéed ramps, morels and a fresh sheep’s milk cheese” from Butler Farms (Whitehall). Produce for Underground’s meals comes from local farms, including Garden To Be (Mount Horeb) and Shooting Star (Mineral Point). Ingredients that can’t be found locally will be fair trade (like Just Coffee products of Madison) or sustainable (as in ocean species that are not overfished). Underground Catering’s mobile kitchen goes just about anywhere, from parks to converted barns. Although reception prices have soared as high as $300 per person, “we work hard to come up with a menu that a couple wants and can afford.”
- Shully’s Cuisine and Events, Thiensville
Scott Shully of Shully’s Cuisine and Events says an all-organic menu tends to add 15 to 25 percent to the reception meal tab, and it’s up to the couple to decide how to define and run with the concept. Organic and local are not synonymous: A groom who was a butcher insisted on a wedding meal with organic meat from upstate New York, Shully notes, and about 80 percent of the reception menu, including wines, was organic. The 25-year caterer thinks highly of Strauss Veal and Lamb International, in suburban Milwaukee, whose free-range products come from Australia. But he also incorporates various artisan Wisconsin cheeses on menus, patronizes the seasonal Thiensville Farmers’ Market and also favors River Valley Ranch mushroom farm (Burlington).
- The Creamery Restaurant, Downsville
Brian Griep, executive chef at The Creamery Restaurant, presents à la carte choices for wedding receptions. He prefers plated dinners “to ensure the best quality food and to preserve the quality and freshness of ingredients,” or appetizer stations. Breads and wedding cakes are made from scratch. Cake adornments can include edible flowers picked on the property. Preferred purveyors include numerous ingredients from Dragsmith Farms and The Six Rivers Co-op (Barron); vegetables from Sylvan Hills Farm (Menomonie); and spring-fed trout from Bullfrog Fish Farm (Downsville). Including local ingredients enhances freshness, helps the local economy “and is just the right thing to do,” Griep says.
- Hinterland, Green Bay and Milwaukee
Kelly Qualley’s local favorites include Branch River Trout (Denmark) and grass-fed Beltie Beef (Milladore). Qualley is executive chef for Hinterland, a micro brewer in Green Bay and Milwaukee that caters upscale fare in fashionably laid-back surroundings. “We prepare really great products simply,” he says. “Seasonality of products is a worldwide thing—we go out of our way to get the best of what is in season,” but also stay close to home when possible. An exception is seafood, brought in fresh and often, since customers crave it. More than one-half of Hinterland’s produce comes from the land and greenhouses of Ledgeview Gardens (DePere). Keune Farms (Seymour) delivers its own organic products and those of others (eggs from Amish farms, Michigan peaches). Hinterland’s beer can be paired with small bites for casual to elegant appetizer receptions. Smoked meats from Nueske’s (Wittenberg) show up in wontons and quesadillas.
- Buck Rub Restaurant, Wautoma
Jeremy Thoren of Buck Rub Restaurant mixes his penchant for wild game with everything from berries to squash from Mielke Farm Market. “I do many custom menus based on the customer’s likes and needs,” the executive chef says. “Pretty much anything our clientele can dream up, I can make for them.” One example for autumn: grilled venison tenderloin, stuffed with cranberries and apricots, topped with red currant cabernet sauce. Wisconsin wild game farms are among the purveyors; Thoren often cooks on the Hunters Exchange television station.