Finding a caterer was stressful and difficult; we had wanted choice, but in a way, we had too much choice. The Town Hall had traditionally used Fosters in-house caterers, but from 2012 they were going to have a preferred list: so we could essentially seek out the caterer of our dreams and ask them if they were happy with them.
…There are a lot of caterers in Oxfordshire.
Contacting all, filtering them and asking for quotes is a lengthy, boring and complicated process, especially when they all have their own expertise which they want to show off and were convinced that packages were the way forward.
Unfortunately, I had very specific ideas what I wanted, but am abysmal at saying no, so I tended to say maybe and then run away to hide.
My specific demands:
– I once ate a very nice cheese pate at St Hugh’s formal. Three years after eating it, I finally plucked up the courage to email the catering manager, and the chef sent me his recipe – nice man. I really wanted this as a starter: Guy loves his cheese, and I wanted it to be veggie so everyone had the same.
– It seems to be a Somerville “thing” to serve desserts or sorbet palate cleansers containing blackcurrant. I rather like blackcurrant, and had the idea of a Cassis sorbet palate cleanser between the starter and the main. And Somerville was where we met and where we fell in love…
– Most importantly of all, the vegetarian and meat main courses much be thematically and visually similar.
If the veggie had risotto, the meaties had risotto. You can do versions of any dish. Even chunks of meat may be replaced with battered veg, nut roasts or mixed vegetable ‘things’.
This is particularly important to me because whenever I’ve been to a set menu event, I get something completely different and comparatively crap looking to everybody else, with which I cannot even mix the side veg served to the table – at least not tastily! This always leaves me feeling disappointed and left out, not to mention the fact that the vegetarian dish is usually served well in advance or well after the meat, so that either my food is cold, theirs is, or we’re not eating together. This upsets me and I wanted everyone to feel equally special and included at our wedding.
For similar reasons, I made sure blackcurrant sorbets and elderflower fizz for toasts were available to those who didn’t drink alcohol. I labelled which layers of cake had alcohol in them and made sure there were alcohol-free and chocolate-free layers for those with these restrictions, asked for some non-chocolate sweets to be served with the coffee and didn’t serve fish (we didn’t have any vegans or nut-allergies).
– I wanted to serve our cake for dessert.
You wouldn’t believe the fuss we encountered over the main course! If I hadn’t been a keen cook myself, I might have believed the caterers who made such a hoo-ha that this
couldn’t be done in budget
was something we didn’t understand
I didn’t cave. I had no pretentions to being the kind of bride who would be too excited to eat: I would eat. And as the most expensive part of the wedding day, and essentially a gift to our guests, I felt entitled to have my concern heard and not to be bullied by my caterers. This was discrimination: mild, unintentional discrimination though it may be.
If the objection had been to using the recipe for the starter, I would have been disappointed and moved on, but instead I spent many a sleepless night, and cried several times on Guy’s shoulder.
We also went through a ‘haggling situation’ with Lamb Caterers.
We were going to book them, but in the end pissed us off too much. You see, their price was overbudget, (advised expectations of around £30 per head are laughable for any served sit-down meal in Oxfordshire – and I wanted it to be like formal hall!) so naturally we tried to negotiate it down…
Neither of us are great hagglers, so we focussed our efforts on making compromises and cuttingthings out: dessert, glassware, chocolates, doing a family style serving to each table rather than individuals. And you know what happened?
They put the price up.
Every time we negotiated with them we cut something else out, asked for a re-quote and the price increased. We were getting stressed. We now didn’t have all of the things we had originally wanted and we were afraid to ask for anything else to be reduced or skipped because the price would probably, inexplicably, increase. Whenever Guy tried to insist that we wanted to reduce the cost, they made him feel like an idiot. Time was ticking and I was worried that if we didn’t book soon we wouldn’t be able to get a caterer for our date.
Cue sleepless nights and crying in Guy’s arms.
Guy decided he had had enough. He returned to the drawing board and started looking for a new caterer. This time he ended up hunting on Guides for Brides and contacted several new possibilities. Three replied (many don’t bother to reply).
Of these, two were out of our price range, uninterested and unimpressed by the main course proposal.
And the other one was Cathy from Wrighton’s.
I have looked at the recipe for the starter and that’s no problem at all, I am away for the weekend but I’ll put a few ideas together next week and e-mail them to you, once you’ve had a look through and given it a bit of thought perhaps we can have a chat either on the phone or I can come to you… At the moment the most obvious ideas that are coming to mind are things like Beef and mushroom in red wine with a hint of horseradish with a root vegetable medley in a similar red wine sauce or perhaps something with a morrocan feel, I do a mean butternut squash and sweet potato tagine, which we can easily do a carnivore version of with the addition of chicken, or lamb.
Sorbet will not pose any difficulty.
As I say I’ll do some ideas and some number crunching and send something on next week.
I was immediately impressed that a caterer, a butcher-based caterer no less, had ventured on suggesting making similar meat and veggie dishes by putting meat in a veggie dish. This woman knew about food; she could think about it from different perspectives. Most amazing of all, she had ideas: she wanted to come up with ideas, and she readily took to the challenge of our main with excitement and enthusiasm – so very different from all the other caterers!
We were over the moon.
We discussed things with her a bit more and waited anxiously for the quote. It came – oh… it was only just shy of Lamb’s starting quote – but! Wait! Hang on a minute! Lamb had quoted ex VAT. Wrighton’s quoted inc VAT. It was a substantially better deal!
And so we booked with Wrighton’s.
And now my frustrated rantings transform, as if by magic, into excited ravings: because Cathy really is that good.
I’m sorry, good? FANTASTIC.
We had a phone call with her, and it truly was one of the most exciting parts of the wedding planning. Why? Because Cath made us feel special, she made us look forward to our Wedding Breakfast and she showed keenness and enthusiasm and dedication to our plans. Nothing was too much for her. She gave us advice, ideas and included us in the synthesis. It was thrilling.
Talking to her, I felt a weight had been lifted from us; and I had complete and utter confidence in everything she was in change of!
She also offered to lay out the tables for us – a great relief for our ushers. In order to make things as easy for her as possible, I put together little table “packs” which were delivered to the Town Hall the day before.
We told Cathy all kinds of things we liked to eat and she constructed a beautiful main dish to go with the rest of the meal. Here is the final choice (look how pretty it is with the pastry meshing!):
Apple and Wensleydale Pate with melba points, accompanied by mixed leaves, walnut oil and red onion marmalade.
Blackcurrant and Creme de Cassis Sorbet
Confit of Duck or A Troop of Mushrooms and Walnut Wellingtons
complimented by a Sauce of Port, Redcurrant and Oranges, Baby Potatoes with Butter and Fragrant Rosemary, Garden Peas and Assorted Caramelised Root Vegetables
Coffee and Tea with after dinner mints
The real thing was not to be sniffed at either – totally delicious and beautifully presented – we were not disappointed! Here is another beautiful picture of our food:
(we don’t actually have that many, so if anyone had any more of it being served, eaten or presented, I’d be most grateful to see them)
In addition, when the caterers came to serve our (4 tiered, 4 flavoured) cake, one of the waitresses came and asked me which I would like, or whether I would like a little of all four layers (yes please!) and whether I could make a decision on my husband’s behalf (he would like all four too)! This was a really lovely touch, and Guy was very pleased and excited when he was suddenly brought 4 pieces of cake, for we had been circulating the room speaking with our guests, and the cake got to him before I did!
Even more touching was Cath bringing me the cork from the first bottle of champagne they opened split with a 50 pence piece. She had tears in her eyes.
Here is my review. It doesn’t cut it, of course, but it was the best concise construction I could come up with:
Cathy Steer and her team provided an invaluable service for our wedding in May.
They offered a good price, quoted VAT inclusive with no hidden costs and flexible deadlines and were easy to communicate with.
Cathy demonstrated an unrivalled enthusiasm for food and eagerness to meet challenges and create a menu to our personal requirements.
Presentation was flawless and the food stunningly delicious: we continue to receive compliments from our guests.
Timings were excellent, staff friendly, attentive and thoughful and the team went beyond the contract to provide additional support and make the day stress free.
I do not believe you could find make their match.