If you think that producing a wedding for 200+ people is challenging, consider sitting around a table with your fiance's Jewish mother and Italian father informing them that the entire weekend—from Friday's rehearsal dinner through Sunday's brunch—will be vegetarian. Erica was sticking to one simple rule: We don't serve meat at dinner parties and this event would be no different. Yet, as often happens with weddings, the event was becoming about everybody but the bride and groom. The battle turned Black-Gate-of-Mordor epic.
On one side stood the 200 or so meatatarians who were already imagining a weekend of tree bark, tofu and, as my best man Mark likes to comment, rain water. Our timing turned out to be impeccable, however. The NY Times featured Erica in an article about vegetarian weddings, creating a thin veneer of shelter to take cover under. Her mother promised she'd hire a hot dog cart to park outside of the venue; Mark, a Korean food truck. Our meatless coup was finally accepted, even if not acceptable.
While the entire ordeal was not completely on the level of hobbits and ewoks, there was—is—resistance. With the wedding just two weeks away, some guests have promised to salt strips of bacon to hide in their suit pockets, to wolf down steaks prior to the ceremony. What amazes me is not that people use opportunities like this to take potshots at vegetarians, but how many people actually assumed that every dish would by necessity include some form of tofu, tempeh or seitan. America is such a meat culture that many of us have forgotten how to creatively use the plants that spring from our soil.
Part of the blame falls on food companies that have concocted so many disgusting formulations of mock meat, often stocked in supermarket freezers right next to real tendons and dairy, that people truly believe a person becomes vegetarian to eat fake animals. Partly the disconnect we have from our kitchens and the ease of throwing a bland wing or shank into the oven. Partly food subsidies that keep meat cheap and organic produce expensive. More relevant to this article (and our wedding) than blame, however, is discovery, something I'm certain our guests will experience. What follows is a selection of dishes that our caterer, Corner Stone Caterer in Rye, NY, has devised to appease every-tarian possible.
After a diverse cheese plate, Middle Eastern tapas and our signature cocktail, Zubrowka (Polish bison grass vodka) with fresh apple cider, come the appetizers: Asian Pear wedge filled with herbed chevre, mint and pine nuts; Mango Vietnamese Veggie Roll, with marinated jicama, carrot, seaweed and lemongrass; Tuscan Aritchoke Bruschetta, an olive flatbread with roasted garlic and artichoke spread, watercress and fresh basil tomato; Corn & Scallion Fritters with fresh pineapple and jalapeno preserve; Vegetable Samosas with mango chutney; and Wild Mushroom Barquettes, a ragout of portabella, black forest and chantrelles with fresh thyme.
After an Island Green Salad—watercress with pear fan, beet spiral and candied walnuts, doused with a curry apricot dressing and served with petite brioche with fresh herbs—we evolve to entrees: Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter, with roasted red pepper and parsley garnish, and Grilled Polenta with Sauteed Spinach and Artichoke Flower in a balsamic glaze with plum tomato, sided by Spaghetti Squash and Grilled Asparagus with roasted garlic olive oil and lemon.
In lieu of the customary wedding cake, we opted for a selection of desserts: Cranberry Pear Tartlettes, Rugelah, Biscotti, Cannoli, Lemon Squares, Chocolate Mousse Eclairs, Chocolate Dipped Strawberries and Petite Cooke Assortment, along with three different truffles from Chillmark Chocolate, our go-to place on Martha's Vineyard.
Erica and I decided to leave meat out of diets for various reasons; self-torture and starvation were never two of them. A wholesome and delicious meal (well, three meals—I left out the rehearsal dinner and brunch) is completely possible without the use of meat. While I know a handful of chefs who get really creative with chicken, pork and beef, most often we fall back on default mode for most meals: A little pepper, a lot of salt, maybe some chipotle or cholula, if we're feeling crazy.
It never ceases to amaze me that people assume I have limited culinary choices. It's impossible to explain how much variety was introduced into my diet when forgoing meat, something I'm certain our wedding guests will quickly understand. As for the in-laws, well, that hurdle was cleared the moment we sat down for a tasting at our caterers. The menu, of course, proved better in person than on this screen.
Image: Wedding Photography by Jon Day