I Cooked for My Own Wedding

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It’s not a challenge many brides sign up for — but if you do, take my advice (and learn from my mistakes).

Category:
Wedding

How many brides step in a puddle of vinaigrette on their wedding day? Well, not exactly step in — more like drip it down the side of their leg and into a pool in their kitten-heeled shoe. Not many, I would think, but I did. Wiping salad dressing off of my foot was a real thing that I did, on the day I said, “I do.”

And how, exactly, did vinaigrette find its way into my shoe? Well, 10 minutes after my husband and I exchanged vows in our friend’s living room in Brooklyn, I had to dress the salad for dinner, after I carved the beef. To save money, and because I was working as a chef at Food Network Kitchen, I had decided to cook everything for our 32 wedding guests. And the moment I felt that slippery oil in my shoe, I knew I was in over my head. Thankfully, my friend Alex, seeing my panic, promptly pushed a glass of Prosecco into my hand and waved me away so that Paul and I could enjoy our special day together. And probably so that I wouldn’t stain my secondhand dress.

It was 2008 and we certainly weren’t the only couple too broke to afford even a modest wedding — on average, that year, it cost $35,000 to throw a big bash, and our final bill was only a fraction of that. In fact, our thriftiness was so “trendy,” we were even featured in a New York Times article on the subject. I catered the whole party for only $200 in groceries, thanks also in part to a scaled-down guest list that included only close family and a few friends. Plus, many of our guests offered to help out by providing things like floral arrangements (also Alex), wedding favors and music, instead of giving us gifts.

Cooking for your own wedding isn’t for the faint of heart (or the sane, probably) — but it is doable. These are some of the lessons I learned. 

Here’s what worked:

We stuck to dishes served at room temperature.
Not having to worry about using an oven or keeping food hot or cold was a major boon on our big day. I roasted the beef tenderloin the night before and served it at room temperature with an arugula pesto. We also served a bunch of mezze-type dips and salads, all of which held up nicely.

I outsourced some of the work.
My mom made my favorite cookies, and Paul’s mom made his favorite chocolate cake. Our pastry chef friend, Nancy, baked a ton of little sweets and drove them to New York all the way from Ohio. Paul even joined in on the fun and prepared the lentil-walnut salad he made me when we were first dating. We ended up with a nice spread that was both inexpensive and sentimental.

We started a new tradition.
Serving pie instead of a traditional wedding cake saved a bunch of money. And now every year we eat delicious sour cream apple pie for our anniversary, which is so fun and special.

And here’s what didn’t work:

I prepped nearly everything by myself.
The two days before our wedding were filled with endless trips to grocery and wholesale stores. I was slightly late to our rehearsal dinner because I had too many herbs to chop. Buying more ready-made food from specialty markets or asking people to bring a dish instead of a gift could have saved me some valuable time.

Our menu was supersized.
I had too many food ambitions for our wedding (I’m a chef — I couldn’t help myself!). Instead of making multiple salads and offering two different kinds of meat, it would have been just fine if I had scaled back and put out more bowls of olives, snacks and nuts.

I got caught up in the details.
I certainly wasn’t a bridezilla — wait, Alex, was I? — but right before the big day I did lose sight of what was most important (marrying Paul, of course!). I was so fixated on feeding everyone well that I didn’t realize they cared more about seeing us get hitched than about dinner.

In the end, our wedding day was lovely, mostly because our family and friends were so generous with their help. Paul and I had so much fun that we actually forgot to eat anything! At the end of the evening, as we were packing away the extra food in his car, we realized we were starving. We ate the lentil salad right out of the trunk. I think some of it fell into my shoe, but it was too dark and I was too happy to be sure.