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Food + Cooking

That Takes the Cake

You’ve found your soul mate. You’ve gathered before family and friends to say “I do.” You’ve found the fairy tale gown, assembled the gift bags, procured a band... but what about the food? The perfect affair has to be accompanied by the perfect cuisine. Above all, it must be crowned by the perfect cake. This is pressure. And maybe it’s that pressure that can lead couples to make some truly outrageous choices.

By Jennifer Wright
That Takes the Cake

New York party planner and host of WEtv’s My Fair Wedding David Tutera explains, “One of the reasons food is so important at a wedding is that it aids in telling who the couple is. It can play an important role in establishing their identity.”

Precisely what identity they are establishing can be open to speculation. What self portrait, for example, was the couple who recently wed in the Turks and Caicos painting with the $50,000 cake they ordered?

But what establishes that personal character and what just seems too saccharine? At what moment does the effort to create a unique identity move from the sublime to the ridiculous?

Nowhere does “over the top” seem more evident than in the cake. The dessert did prove to be a centerpiece for one couple hosting. The 8-foot wide, 5-foot high cake showed the bride and groom, meticulously recreated in fondant, perched inside a gigantic edible carriage. The creation was glittering with a “cake canopy” covered in Swarovski crystals and jewels. Joan Spitler, co-owner of Los Angeles-based The Cake Divas, justifies her work, insisting, “The couple loved it. It fit them. It was a Cinderella-type fantasy wedding. And the cake is the most important food at a wedding. It’s the one thing everybody shares. There’s something very ancient and special about that.”

Doubtless the guests enjoyed the cake—though they might have satisfied their sweet teeth just as well without the crystals and jewels. But what message does a $50,000 wedding cake convey about a couple? Its opulence surely went beyond the respect for ancient, special traditions described by Ms. Spitler.

Sometimes, wedding food may be as much about feeding one’s ego and the hunger for life to be played out on a grand scale as it is about good taste. The majority of people don’t possess a Marie Antoinette mindset regarding pastries. The average wedding cake runs around $543 according to The Bridal Association of America, almost a negligible sum compared to The Cake Divas’ opulent creation. Yet even the burden of the Cake Divas’ work pales when compared to the 1.3 million dollar diamond encrusted wedding cake recently displayed at the Dallas Bridal Show, which currently holds the record for the world’s most expensive cake—though the idea of eating around diamonds seems almost as terrifying as the cost.

Then there are times when the bride finds her identity by wearing the cake. Here the value may be sentimental rather than material. Ukrainian pastry chef Valentyn Shtefano convinced his wife to wear a wedding dress lovingly created out of 1,500 cream puffs. To offset the 20-pound weight of the gown, her tiara, necklace and bouquet were made from caramelized sugar. The bride loved it so much that she didn’t want to take it off—ever.

In this case, the cake certainly represented who Valentyn and Viktoriya were—though it may be more a reflection on the baker than the bride. Certainly, the substantial publicity regarding the “cake dress” helped his career. So, while it may indeed have been the bride taking the cake, no one forgot that the groom was making it.

If a bride wants to make sure that it’s her day—and only her’s—she might follow Chidi Ogbuta’s frosting-coated footsteps. The Texas resident ordered a 5-foot tall (life sized) cake that was an exact replica of her in her wedding dress. According to Ogbuta, the cake was intended to fulfill a childhood dream of having a doll made in her own likeness. One just hopes that the groom didn’t cut into that cake with too much zeal.

And then they are those couples that are bound together because they have the same values, or the same fixations—for instance, the movie Ghostbusters. For Donna Marie and Ricky, no flowery cakes would do. Instead, they wanted the first scene of Ghostbusters (Staypuft being nuked atop the Empire State Building) meticulously depicted in cake. The creator, Geof Manthorne of Charm City Cakes, notes that one of the biggest problems was figuring out how to hide all the cables. Figures of the bride and groom, perched atop a pumpkin cinnamon layer, stood in for the Ghostbusters crew. Clearly kindred spirits, the bride and groom loved the cake so much they want to order another one—an homage to Alien.

Of course, there are also those who don’t want to show off their skills or fulfill youthful fantasies—they just want to be seen as pieces of meat. For instance, the couple who requested a meat cake from Colette Peters of Colette’s Cakes in New York City. Her creation featured a layer of shish-kabobs and roses that appeared crafted from bacon. It should come as little surprise to learn that the wedding was held at The Museum of Sex. Though the couple may have been less avant-garde than they thought—medieval wedding cakes were comprised of cockscombs, lamb testicles, sweetbreads, oysters and sometimes, calves feet. (A fun fact for couples considering medieval-themed weddings to keep in mind if they want their prince and princess identities to be truly authentic.)

Moving away from the sweet sublime of the dessert, there are many opportunities to define a couple’s character earlier in the meal.

Buffet or served meal? Family-style or white glove? Those are the least of your worries. Consider instead—burgers or tacos? Or maybe both!

Burger King and Taco Bell both cater weddings, which can be topped off with a wedding cake created of Krispy Kreme donuts. Recently a North Dakota couple, who ate at the same McDonald’s table each week during their courtship, decided to hold their wedding at that same location.

Still, these catering services have little on the international Hong Kong McDonald’s. The McWedding package began there January 1st and is scheduled to host about 10 weddings per month. It offers full Big Mac catering, a wedding cake made out of (packaged) apple pies, and kiddy toys for guests. There’s even a special twist on the kissing game; the bride and groom nibble on each end of a French fry and meet, like a gluttonous Benjamin Button, in the middle. Just don’t expect a champagne toast—since it’s a family establishment, only soft drinks are served. Which is all well and good as the minimum $1,000 price tag tends to appeal to couples who are young, or younger, at heart.

While some people are lovin’ the McWedding, others are less enthusiastic. “I think it’s a disaster,” says Tutera. “I think it’s a terrible idea, and if someone suggested it on my show it would be the first thing I’d tell them to change.” He suggests wowing wedding attendees with food through subtler means such as color coordinating it with the wedding shades. He recently planned a wedding with entirely pink food—salmon lollipops, a pomegranate and pink citrus baby spinach salad with apricot dressing, and handmade pink ravioli in fire-roasted red pepper sauce. Mr. Tutera goes on to note that, when planning a food-centric wedding, it is important to make sure that the food remains accessible to the guests, even if they’re not foodies.

Tutera isn’t the only who frowns on kiddie menu food. At one five-star hotel, the staff was less than amused by the bride’s request for chicken fingers and French fries, sniffing that their kitchen was “based on a culinary foundation.” Perhaps the hotel might have felt more warmly if, like the bride and groom in North Dakota, the couple had shared a weekly plate of French fries in the casino.

Planner Mindy Weiss welcomes whimsy (if not McNuggets). She fondly recalls couples who have added carefree touches to their weddings by catering hot dogs at a black tie affair, or flying in the Miami food fetish, Joe’s stone crabs. There are also wonderful opportunities to present specialty foods from couples’ homelands or to choose menus to suit dietary preferences.

When questioned about the menu, the standby response at most wedding locales is “continental cuisine”—enough to strike fear into any foodie’s heart when he recalls Calvin Trillin’s memorable retort “that continent is Antarctica.” Couples who aren’t brave enough to veer away from that continent run the risk of having their food choices—and identity as a couple—labeled “generic.” Terror of being remembered as “that couple that served soggy tuna steaks” may incentivize you to spend a literal fortune on food.

If you’re so inclined, The Wynn in Las Vegas is able to accommodate. They recently planned a Persian Wedding party where the food cost more than 1 million dollars for a mere 125 guests. How do you run up that total? According to the Wynn’s Katie Conway, “The chefs had to order over 100 pounds of authentic Persian cucumbers for this 3-part kosher soiree,” but that was the least of the extravagance. The event also featured 1 kilo of Russian Osetra Caviar (at $6,000 per kilo) and 2 kilos of Red Kosher Caviar (at $625 per kilo), as well as 125 terrines of foie gras, Oxtail Consomme with Black Truffles En Croute, 125 Truffles Arancini and an endless variety of other delicacies. Lest it all seem a little too rich, there was also a chocolate fountain where guests could dip Oreos.

So—buffet or 10 courses? Foie gras or chicken fingers? Modestly priced or budget blowing? The more subtle and subdued among us will find it easy to question those who want a jewel-covered cake or to French kiss via a fry. The outrageous isn’t for everyone. But the remarkable thing is that those people—the couples who see themselves in a wedding cake that looks just like them—found a partner whose tastes run so closely to their own. The idea of finding someone who will embrace your McDonald’s fixation or who will agree that Ghostbusters must be a centerpiece at your wedding, well, perhaps that is what makes some people go together like pink ravioli and salmon pops. For some couples, food itself is the food of love. And if it is unusual food and unorthodox cakes that define their identity and outlook on the world? Well, then play on.