How local, innovative fresh and seasonal foods have arrived at the wedding feast.
Blackstone Caterers is one of Newport’s own. And what they are serving is “local.” General Manager John Edick and his Operations Manager Jess Kriss comb the countryside for all that is available and in the right quantity. “We scour Farm Fresh Rhode Island (the online site that connects local farmers to their communities) and get out to anyone we know who might have what we need,” says Kriss. “I’ve literally been in the field saying, ‘I’ll take them … these ones here … everything you’ve got.’” When the dish calls for yellow pear tomatoes or variegated zucchini, or when the theme of the event is a black and white ball as it was for International Yacht Restoration School this year, Edick and Kriss are out on a hunt. Their food is an edible map of the county and state.
But isn’t catering weddings all about quick, simple, sit, eat and dance the night away? Steven James, the catering manager for the Hyatt Regency Newport sees this culinary ethos influencing the entire format of the wedding. “Catering in this way has turned the occasion into a food event. Our traditional Wampanoag Indian clambake is certainly local and popular for that very reason.” James also points to the wave of television food programs that have taken hold of people’s imagination and in turn educated them in the ways of what they eat. “The clients we’re hearing from,” echoes Edick, “are people who know about food, who are coming for a destination wedding and want to taste what Rhode Island has to offer. It’s our job to get them that.” Normally it is the wedding date, which dictates whatever else follows. But if doing more than just feeding and watering the guests is important, then couples can put tradition on the back burner and schedule a tasting long before the invites go out.
In the “you either are or you aren’t” world of locavorism, variety, quality and availability can sometimes hamper the advocate. Kyle Ketchum, executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Newport is busy introducing more and more local produce to every aspect of the hotel’s culinary output. “We’re setting higher standards because a new generation of food consumers want to put a better product into themselves,” says Ketchum. “But we can’t always get the quantity. For example, I sometimes have to use three or four farmers to get the amount of local corn I need.” While Blackstone professes loyalty and optimism for Rhode Island food producers, sometimes quality and variety can force them outside of their ideology. With Newport County meat producers freezing their meat because slaughterhouses are so far away, Blackstone manages to support them anyway by buying what they can such as ground beef, which thaws without much change. “By doing what we can, we hope to build demand and make it so that these farmers eventually have fresh meat for sale,” says Edick. “In fact, our demand is making it so that people are now coming to us asking, ‘What do you need?’ ‘What can I grow for you?’”
Oysters from Matunuck, Aquidneck Honey and any amount of fresh vegetables and fruit from South County to the northern tip of Portsmouth is an investment, but one that the newly wed and their guests will remember. “We lose a lot of events to price,” smiles Edick holding firm to his company’s beliefs and the Rhode Island’s popular movement, “and I think that’s perfect.” –MP