Elegant Taste
Elegant Taste From hors d’oeuvres to desserts, the skills of a talented caterer can ensure that a special event is fêted rather than forgotten
by Jennifer Updike

Although September typically marks the end of summer, it’s also the month many couples choose to celebrate new beginnings by hosting the wedding of their dreams.

Such a momentous commitment inevitably comes with many, painstaking decisions: where to host the wedding; whom to invite; where to honeymoon, etc. Planning all the details of a wedding can be one of the most stressful times in a couple’s life. However, turning to the right people for help—including qualified catering professionals to feed guests in style—can help alleviate the stress and ensure that a marriage starts on firm footing.

For a wedding or any large-scale special event, one should figure on booking a qualified caterer 12 to 18 months in advance of the event. Doing so can ensure that one’s caterer of choice has the date available and can adequately accommodate special requests, according to David K. Simms, owner of Philadelphia-based Eatible Delights Catering, which does off-site catering for wedding receptions, banquets and bar mitzvahs, as well as summer barbecues, holiday events and other special occasions.

“You want a caterer that has style, a caterer that has substance, a caterer that is licensed and insured,” he says. “Of course, you also want a caterer that serves great food.”

Before making calls to one’s “A list” of caterers, however, it is essential to understand the bounds of one’s budget and how an event should be catered: sit down vs. buffet with carving stations, for example, as well as the extent of offerings in terms of hors d’oeuvres, the dessert table and the availability of alcohol. A catered event is an investment, after all, and should be treated as such.

“People have to know how much they really want to spend,” Simms says. “I was out to dinner at Redstone [in Plymouth Meeting] not too long ago, and there were eight of us. The bill came to $400, which seemed like a lot at first glance, but when you break it down, that’s $50 a person, which is reasonable. Most people don’t have a realistic budget as to what [catering an event] will actually cost.”

Costs will differ based on the size and scope of the event, though Simms suggests as much as $75 per person, including tax and service charges. According to Ron Inverso, owner of Ron’s Original Bar & Grille in Exton, which caters a significant number of business meetings, graduations and other special events, the number might be closer to $50. Some businesses, however, will look to spend significantly less to have a meeting catered—as little as $10 per person, according to Inverso—and Ron’s does its best to accommodate any budget.

“Everyone wants the best value for their money,” he says. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are trying to get catering done at a certain price. We see ourselves as a helpful hand in getting people prepared for a party or whatever kind of special event they’re having. We offer [catering services] at a reasonable price, but first and foremost we’re about the food and serving a good quality product.

“We take pride in the healthiness of our food,” he continues. “Everything we do is made from scratch; our roast beef is hormone free, and our chicken is hormone free. That kind of quality is on the higher end in terms of cost, but there’s so much food we ingest, and I think it’s better to ingest food that is better for you. We treat customers like we would treat our family, and the way I look at it, the healthier we keep our customers, the longer they will be around.”

Robert Bennett is an equally passionate proponent of quality over quantity. As executive chef of Classic Cake, Bennett prides himself on creating unique desserts—cakes, cookies, pastries, etc.—to help transform any special occasion into a memorable event. He’s used to the pressure; in 1985, he “got the call” from the White House to create the cake used to commemorate President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration.

“We’re not cheap,” says Bennett, a New England Culinary Institute graduate who worked as executive pastry chef at Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin for 14 years. “We’re not pounding our chest or being arrogant, but we’re probably one of the most expensive bakeries out there.”

There’s a good reason why. The bakery, which maintains its production and distribution headquarters in Philadelphia, and has retail locations in Cherry Hill and Sewell, N.J., is known for its exceptionally high standards in terms of ingredients and design, particularly with its custom-made wedding cakes. Classic Cake’s other specialties include carrot cake, chocolate entremet (a French delicacy consisting of devil’s food cake layered with dark chocolate mousse) and the tower of croquembouche (another French dessert, made with choux pastry balls arranged in a cone shape), as well as French macarons (sweet, meringue-based desserts).

For ornate wedding cakes, couples should expect to spend as much as $15 per person, while supplemental dessert tables—plan for 2.5 pieces per person, Bennett says—can be orchestrated for $5 to $6 per person.

“We always like variety,” he says. “The important thing is to have something for everyone. Older people tend to not like the ‘fancy stuff,’ just a good simple coffee cake. We have a cinnamon pecan coffee cake and always like to include it for that very reason.”

Simms of Eatible Delights couldn’t agree more on the variety front. He’s careful to advise clients to offer multiple options when making selections for dinner menus.

“I’m adamant about what does not work well, because my goal is to make sure every event, whether it’s for a bar mitzvah, a wedding or a graduation party, is a success,” he says. “I won’t sell two chicken dishes for the same event—chicken salad and chicken Marsala would be an example—because that doesn’t offer any depth and variety.”

Before making decisions on which caterer to employ for a particular special event, Simms and others suggest the following: Research caterers to learn more about the skills and backgrounds of the people behind the websites. Readily available resources, such as the Yellow Pages and MerchantCircle, can help event planners investigate prospects.

Perhaps the best way to research potential providers, however, would to approach it the same way one might go about selecting a mate: put in the time to learn more about a suitor’s strengths and potential weaknesses; refuse to compromise on the important stuff; and, above all, go with your gut.

Professional References
The Philadelphia area has more than its share of catering professionals who have earned a reputation for helping make special events ... well, special. Following are just a few.

Classic Cake
215-288-7440 | classiccake.com

Eatible Delights
267-360-0330 | eatibledelights.com

Ron’s Original Bar & Grille
610-594-9900 | ronsoriginal.com