Not long ago, wedding guests faced a pretty standard list of menu options, generally some variation of “Would you like the chicken, the fish or the vegetarian plate?” No more. With the rise of foodie culture, people are increasingly sophisticated about what they eat, says Thomas Ciszak, chef and partner at Chakra Restaurant in Paramus, and also chef and culinary director at Blue Morel in Morristown. Like many couples today, you may have kindled your romance over chefs’ tasting menus, brisk mornings at the farmers’ market or pints of hoppy artisanal brew. And you may want those tastes reflected in your wedding. As Ciszak says, “If your regular lifestyle includes organic and natural, if you buy from local farms and businesses, why wouldn’t you do that on one of the most important days of your life?” The farm-to-table route involves a few extra considerations. Costs are generally higher, and you also need to consider what’s in season on your big day. But it’s worth it. The superb quality can add a dazzling, unforgettable note. And for couples keen to support local farmers and producers, the New Jersey area is bursting with tantalizing options. “I think people don’t realize how large the variety is of really special stuff,” Ciszak says, noting scallops, poultry, pork, berries, corn and tomatoes as among Jersey’s best local offerings. Robby Younes, vice president of hospitality at Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County, adds that his team makes ricotta and cream cheese in-house, pours excellent local craft beers and spirits and works with a small foraging team to source exotic items like fresh wild morels.
Flowers are another way to play with the local theme. “We grow lots and lots of our own flowers, including well over a thousand dahlias, and use a lot of them for our floral design,” says Katherine Rodriguez, owner of Crossed Keys Inn in Andover. “I get the bride who comes and says, ‘I want my bouquet to look like I just went out to my garden and hand-picked it.’” She says the inn is expanding its vegetable garden, too, growing herbs, lettuces and cherry tomatoes to grace guests’ meals.
The farm-to-table concept is “definitely trending,” agrees Kristen Polhemus of Hamilton-based Reverie Events. If you’re interested, she says, “You really have to start with finding a venue that offers the farm-to-table option. And normally those are venues that will grow their food right on site or have a relationship with a local farm.” Click here for our top eight farm-to-table venues in the Garden State.
When it comes to menu planning, Ciszak says initial meetings should occur many months ahead (as with any wedding). However, you also need to check in later. “When it gets closer to the season, like two or three months before, we have a good idea of what’s out in the farms.” Couples need to be flexible, Younes adds. To reap the freshest, most beautiful options, a few menu changes might be suggested based on farmers’ reports. Finally, Ciszak has two cautions. He advises a subtle touch with the whole concept. He’s not a fan of the gimmicky approach—say, place settings resting on “a sliver of a tree trunk.” Couples, he adds, should also work carefully with the caterer to ensure their food choices aren’t too personal and will also appeal to guests. “That’s really important,” he says. “That’s where we can assist.”