Even the most stalwart supporters of local and organic foods admit there’s a near-insurmountable problem with an all-WNC-grown wedding feast: winter.
Wedding banquets are meant to be lavish and luxe, a description rarely applied to the hardy squashes and potatoes that permeate area produce sections come December. Visions of grilled Buncombe County lamp chops nestled in a bed of lightly gingered snow peas plucked from Haywood County soil often vanish when couples consult a calendar-savvy caterer: Turns out even springtime brides aren’t guaranteed a full slate of locally grown ingredients.
“We just had a father of a bride who wanted all local produce for a May event,” Celine & Co. chef Kim Lloyd relates. “We said ‘That’s great, but what if it freezes again?’”
Still, Lloyd says, it’s not all chow-chow and salty country hams in the off-growing season. The catering company has worked hard to accommodate the growing number of betrothed couples requesting matrimonial menus studded with local foods. Lloyd has prepared shells stuffed with local cheese and elaborate displays of grilled local vegetables for couples set on mounting an earth-friendly reception.
“It’s definitely a trend,” Lloyd says. “People are saying ‘If I have all these guests flying into Asheville, what can I do to counteract the environmental impact?’”
Often their answer is an edible one, with couples gravitating toward local, organic and meat-free menus. Although veering away from the traditional chicken breast-and-veg plate can be pricy, Asheville caterers say the wedding meal is a terrific opportunity for couples to demonstrate their environmental awareness—and for chefs to exercise their creativity.
Indeed, Ragan Evans, co-owner of The Colorful Palate in downtown Asheville, advises DIY-brides to outsource a seasonal reception, since coordinating an all-local menu requires a thorough familiarity with farmers and remarkable organizational skill.
“You shouldn’t have to do all the work yourself,” says Evans, who relies heavily on Hickory Nut Gap Farm and Sunburst Trout Farm for featured ingredients. She’s not shy about pushing mountain trout on parties of all sorts, including the snazzy receptions where guests don’t expect to encounter anything waterborne that isn’t served with claw crackers and a ramekin of drawn butter.
“We’ve had really fancy décor and served pickled okra and trout,” Evans says. “A lot of people are really into that. They figure they’re in the mountains.”
Evans is also a great fan of North Carolina libations, including locally brewed beer and wines from the Yadkin Valley.
According to Lloyd, green-minded couples should consider not just what they serve, but what they don’t. A Styrofoam bowl of Asheville-grown pinto beans cooked with Hickory Nut Gap Farm bacon is still a Styrofoam bowl. An emptied beer can will outlast most marriages by decades.
“Obviously, not using any disposable items is important,” Lloyd says. “And try to reduce the amount of food so nothing goes in the garbage. A plated dinner would be a more green option.”
Lloyd reminds brides who have grand ideas about contributing their leftovers to charity that health codes prohibit buffet food from being redistributed: Anything left uneaten must be trashed. And if the menu is largely organic, that’s a high-cost waste.
“A lot of people who call, we have to discuss cost with them,” Lloyd says. “We tell them it’s just like when you go to the grocery store: Organic is more expensive. So they may end up using a less expensive cost of meat, like a whole chicken instead of a breast.”
Jodi Rhoden, owner of Short Street Cakes, a home-based Asheville cakery that specializes in vegan and gluten-free wedding cakes, said most of her customers don’t mind paying a little extra for organic ingredients. But she anticipates another price spike soon.
“My flour costs just went up 50 percent,” she groans.
According to Rhoden, the mad dash for a share of the growing biodiesel market has caused many farmers to strip their wheat fields for corn planting.
“It’s an interesting little twist,” says Rhoden, who’s far more infatuated with the other ingredients in her cakes: “They’re loaded with sugar and butter,” she admits. Still, she estimates a third of her clients request vegan versions of her thoroughly Southern concoctions.
“People are so excited just to be able to eat their own wedding cake,” Rhoden says.
The cakes are also easy on the eyes, since she uses only fresh flowers as decorations, stressing their “pure, natural simplicity.” Although Rhoden’s flowers are edible, she cautions brides against proving their eco-commitment by gnawing on the garnish. “Definitely ask before you eat a flower off a cake,” Rhoden says. “You don’t really want to eat a zinnia, you know.”