Ask the expert: a caterer’s dos and don’ts for the big day

Ask the expert: a caterer’s dos and don’ts for the big day

Arpi Magyar became a culinary star in the kitchen at Splendido, and now his catering company, Couture Cuisine and Event Artistry, delights palates at more than 150 weddings a year. His dos and don’ts for the big day.

Photograph by Vanessa Heins 

How much of the wedding budget should be for food and booze?
About 60 per cent of a wedding budget should be devoted to the food, booze, staffing and rentals. But I never know what they’re spending on everything else—a bride can spend $10,000 on a dress.

Where should couples splurge?
Most people should spend an extra $500 to $600 on better wine. It makes all the difference, and it’s only the equivalent of two flower arrangements.

Where should they save their money?
Don’t serve wedding cake as dessert—it never looks good on the plate, and most of them aren’t that tasty. Get a small, symbolic cake and serve a plated dessert. My favourite thing to do is an assortment of samples: a crème brûlée in an espresso cup, maybe a miniature molten chocolate cake, and a quenelle of raspberry sorbet.

Has the recession changed the way people cater weddings?
For sure. Fewer cheese plates. They’re a luxury item—at the end of the night, after the coffee and dessert—and at $9 a person, that can mean spending thousands of dollars just on cheese. People are also shying away from more expensive main courses. I’ve done fewer veal chops this year and a lot more poultry. Playing it safe with beef, chicken or salmon is always smart.

Then how do you get creative as a chef?

I’ll put extra things on the plate that aren’t on the menu. I get these beautiful micro-herbs, like cilantro, mint and
basil sprouts, which taste fantastic and look great. It changes the whole dish.

Have you noticed any trends at weddings?
People are opting for more cocktail receptions instead of dinner. But they can be tricky; if people are coming at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, you have to feed them well. Six canapés per person isn’t going to cut it.

What do you love most about catering weddings?
I like the challenge. We catered an event for an Iranian family, so I had to study Persian food. When the grandma comes up to you at the end and says, “Your rice is better than mine,” that’s the best. I’ve been cooking for 40 years, and I still love getting that kind of compliment.

Any insider tips for making the wedding meal go smoothly?
Keep the speeches to a minimum. They really screw up the timing of the kitchen. If a speech goes longer than three minutes, get the band to start playing.

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