Finding a caterer who not only understands what gluten free means (it’s not, “just avoid the couscous on the buffet”) but also has the knowledge and expertise to cook 100% gluten free is a challenge. Finding a caterer who can cook delicious AND affordable gluten free food–no $2 upcharge per GFree roll–sounds like an impossible task.
When planning my wedding, I queried a dozen independent caterers as well as in-house caterers at special events facilities in and around metro Atlanta. Several didn’t even bother to answer me. A few seemed to confuse gluten free with the Atkins diet. “We’ll do an all meat and no carbs dinner,” one offered.
Another said I could just take the rolls off my plate and they wouldn’t put gravy on my chicken breast but everyone else should have the gravy because not having the gravy would made the dish less spectacular.
Uh, no, thanks.
My favorite response was, “Well, the bride never eats at her wedding, anyway. You could just bring snacks for yourself and let us make an unforgettable banquet for your guests.”
I get that cooking gluten free is a challenge. To say the meal is gluten free means the caterer has taken certain precautions, although there currently are no laws covering GF dining.
The place to start is the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America’s Gluten Free Food Services Certification program. This program instructs food service providers on best practices for preparing and serving gluten free food. It clearly explains the key concerns like sourcing ingredients and avoiding cross-contamination.
The FDA’s new requirements for labeling a food gluten free helps with “sourcing ingredients.” That means each ingredient, including corn starch and vinegar, either does NOT contain wheat, rye, barley or contaminated oats, or contains no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. The Celiac Disease Foundation has a consumer-friendly overview of the regs.
Other organizations like the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America have their own certification programs. That little circle with “Certified GF” symbol you see on products comes from this program. I personally look for this on labels before I buy.
Food storage and food prep must be done segregated from prep and storage of gluten-containing foods. Cooking gluten free pasta? It has to be in a pot that did not cook regular pasta (or anything else that had gluten in it) and drained in a gluten free colander. Prep surfaces should be thoroughly and deeply cleaned, or better yet, be dedicated to prepping gluten free food. That’s a lot of work.
Serving utensils and platters and even servers’ uniforms must be squeaky clean or specific to serving gluten free food.
Yes, we gluten free people are difficult to feed, so I get why the average caterer wants to wipe their floury hands free of us. I’d rather they did than promise something they know they can’t deliver with the hope that no one will notice the semolina stuck to the bottom of the pan from last week’s lasagna. Our guts notice and protest violently.
Some of you will wonder why everything had to be GFree. That’s a lot of expense, you say.
I say, who wants to get sick from being kissed by her groom after he wolfs down the pasta carbonara or bussed by a dear friend after she’s licked the pasta bowl clean? Not me.
Enter Jennifer Hanna of Contemporary Catering in Newnan, GA. Contemporary Catering did it all for our wedding. On a tight budget and people still are raving about our food a month later!
We started with a conference call. When we told Jennifer our budget and why–those medical bills piled high but the good news of being cancer free made the surgery priceless–she came back with a menu better than we could have imagined. Was it too good to be true? Our free tasting convinced us we’d struck gold.
What did we get?
- Mocktail hour complete with a roasted vegetable cheesecake served in cups with tiny spoons, mushroom caps stuffed with herbed cheese, and barbecued chicken skewers, along with a hot beverage bar where guests could have coffees, teas and cocoas with all kinds of add-ins.
- A beautiful mixed baby greens salad with thinly sliced fresh pears, cranberries, and slivered almonds in a delicate vinaigrette.
- Roasted gingered baby carrots so tender and naturally sweet.
- Roasted green beans and mushrooms.
- Carved prime rib with gluten free breads.
- Roasted Mediterranean boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
- The mashed potato bar.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had more than my fair share of banquet chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes. What Contemporary Catering’s chef produces in her kitchen is NOT banquet food. It is beautiful and tasty food that honors its ingredients.
The chicken breasts and the chicken skewers both were juicy and tender, with real tomato tang. The green beans roasted with mushrooms sang like a verdant hymn to the earth.
The carved prime rib, well, that beef charmed even the most suspicious tongues. I don’t eat beef in general but I tasted this beef and it made me like beef, at least for the night. The chefs had cuts for everyone, from the well done tip to the rare center.
The mashed potato bar was the runaway star. It featured both white potatoes and sweet potatoes scooped into martini glasses. Guests then piled on their favorite toppings: smoky bacon (the real deal), shredded aged cheddar, brown sugar, coconut, caramelized onions, sour cream, and crumbled feta. Mixing and matching yielded some interesting results. Who knew coconut and cheddar could tango on a tater?
We threw a lot of kinks into the game plan: no corn or soy ingredients, dairy free options for the mashed spuds, and a special kid’s plate. Contemporary Catering delivered without sacrificing flavor. The GF mac and cheese and chicken tenders pleased little ones and parents alike, who had no idea their plate lacked grainy goop. My dear friend on a GF, paleo, anti-inflammatory diet nearly cried when she walked up to the buffet with me and discovered there were plenty of options for her.
We even had GF bread and rolls. I smiled when I saw the Kinnikinnick package back in the kitchen. Kinnikinnick spanks Udi’s, in my opinion. Their multi grain bread and rolls stayed moist even after being on the buffet table for three hours and they retained their nutty, yeasty flavor. We enjoyed some leftover chicken on some leftover bread with Daiya cheese as a midnight snack when we got home. Yum!
Charlotte, the catering table designer, put together lovely, yet simple accents for the buffet tables according to our theme: winter in the city. We were thrilled with the final, clean look (I hate overwrought buffet decor).
Huge shout out to the attentive and friendly servers. They kept the buffets filled and pretty, they responded to every guest’s request, and they went out of their way to make sure the bridal party had everything we needed. This bride was in gluten free, wedded bliss.
That’s how we did it. How did you pull off a gluten free affair?