The Evolution Of The South Asian Wedding
Entertaining Company (EC) has been catering South Asian and, specifically, Indian weddings and events for years. One thing our team has learned in that time: Indian cuisine begins and ends in the home and is very individualized to each proverbial hearth.
Styles of cooking, levels of spice and preparation methods differ not only from region to region and city to city, but house to house. So, when EC works with a new client in this market, the goal is to “listen” to how the client and their families eat so that the food fits the taste of those who will enjoy it. Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get it just right, i.e. house visits.
“We see ourselves as an extension of the clients’ home, that’s how specific we’re getting,” says Pashman. “Our executive chef, Shawn Doolin, and I actually went to a home in Wheaton, Ill., and cooked with the mother of the family, to get the recipe and make sure these foods were at the wedding and represented in nearly the exact way they had enjoyed them for years.”
Respect For Tradition
Given the respect for Indian cooking as practiced in the home, EC puts a premium on adhering to traditional Indian flavor profiles. “We’re tweaking the presentation style to fit a more modern aesthetic, but the flavors still need to be there,” says Pashman. “Getting that right takes more than work. It’s a labor of love and it’s a spell Pashman and Doolin have both been under the power of for a while and it shows.
“Wendy has a passion for Indian food and culture,” says Siddarth Sawhney, owner of Precision Sound & Lighting and Modern Event Rental (firstname.lastname@example.org). He’s one of the vendors we work with regularly. “Wendy is always educating herself, as well as her team, and has earned a reputation as someone who does these events right.”
Between taking advantage of every learning opportunity related to Indian food culture and listening to clients, EC navigates India’s rich and diverse culinary landscape. For example, spice levels vary from family to family, so EC makes sure to calibrate that important factor in South Asian cuisine to fit the occasion. “We’re listening to the family and developing the menus based on them, from spice levels to traditional foods eaten in the places they come from in India,” says Pashman. “It’s about finding a balance that works for both families.”
Bound By Modernity
On the flip side, EC is finding that more and more young couples are choosing to walk that line between tradition and delivering a fine-dining experience to which they have grown accustomed as they dine their way through chef-driven restaurants here in Chicago and around the world.
“The next Indian generation grew up here and are more Americanized, so the food has gone more fusion and I think Wendy’s a great fit,” says Sawhney. “For instance, there’s a lot of street food in India, kind of like American hot dogs but vegetarian, and Wendy knows how to present even those in a very elegant way. We want those foods we grew up with but also grew up in America and want to display both.”
Usually, Indian weddings are planned with input from a multi-generational decision-making team include the bride, groom, siblings, parents and grandparents. However, EC is starting to see the bride and groom drive the decision making process, giving more latitude as to what is presented and then delivered to the client.
Wedding planner Hope Weis (email@example.com) is a friend, a highly respected wedding planner and another person on our go-to list for being a part of our “Indian Dream Team.” She breaks it down like this: “A modern Indian wedding is contemporary bride and groom who want a nod to their roots and their parents, but they want it more contemporary. They choose to have Indian food but want it served in an elegant way and with an elegant, coursed presentation.”
It’s the same as far as the style of the wedding, another place Sawhney comes in as his company, Modern Event Rental, provides highly customized furniture rental, most of which they fabricate at their 15,000-sq.-ft. warehouse. This means they’re able to imbue traditional Indian décor into more modern treatments specific to each event. “Every occasion has it’s own image, it’s own class, and both companies and people want their event to be different,” he says, offering an example of a new piece of furniture he’s working on. “Imagine paisley as a field and we’re having a plasma cutter cut out a lotus flower pattern and all the way around it, four feet tall and two and a half feet wide,” he says. “All the way around it are 15 votive candle holders. The border will also have little swirls of steel welded onto it. It’s a distinctive decor piece.” Oh, and he’s going to plate it in gold.
“Certainly, the trend is to cater to the new millennial generation, which definitely is different from generations past,” says Weis. “Their priorities are more about the guests’ experience as opposed to their own. They’ve usually done a lot of research to make sure their families happy.” A final trend noticed: Multiple families covering the cost of the wedding as opposed to just the bride’s parents.
A New Kind Of Indian Wedding
EC recently worked with Weis, Rishi Patel of HMR Design Group (firstname.lastname@example.org) and others on what turned out to be a fairly revolutionary Indian wedding celebration held at Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s most renowned event spaces and one not frequented by private caterers.
Referred by Patel, EC was thrilled to be considered an Indian vendor at this event, not solely as a caterer. The in-house events team at Navy Pier covered front-of-the-house duties while the EC team prepared the food on-site. Working together helped EC ensure traditions were upheld. For instance, the Indian culture places great emphasis on very hot food, so EC worked closely with the Navy Pier staff to ensure soup served from a large terrine was served piping hot.
“These are very sophisticated families and young adults,” says Pashman of her burgeoning wave of younger clients finding themselves a bit more in the driver’s seat. “They want the level of sophistication they’ve come to expect applied to traditional, tasty Indian food.
“What sets ours food apart? For instance, our Saag Paneer is made from fresh spinach instead of frozen, which is what you’ll usually find,” continues Pashman. “That’s why ours is very green compared to the dull green you’re used to seeing. There’s a freshness quotient that people love and we must fulfill, so we also do much of the cooking on-site when working at a hotel.
“We don’t use hot boxes. Rather, our kitchen staff comes in and finishes the food at the hotel or other venue. It’s not delivered and left sitting for hours—that’s not fresh. Our clients expect much of what they have come to expect when eating out: fresh, sophisticated, stylish, and a very clean presentation,” finishes Pashman.
The EC team also worked very closely with Weis on this one and thoroughly appreciated what she brought to the experience. Her role? Logistics, timeline, execution, and liaison between contractors—basically she was in charge of all the moving parts. “My job is to make sure everything works out properly. We had multiple kinds of entertainment, lots of guests, a live video feed, and more. Everyone has a job to do and it all has to be timed perfectly.
“That wedding definitely stood out because EC is now offering something that was not previously offered in Chicago: elegant, coursed service for Indian food, marrying the families’ traditions and types of food, yet doing it in a way that the bride and groom want it as far as presentation and quality,” says Weis, noting her coordinating job can be tough. “Timing is really difficult because things go longer than you expected, people aren’t on time. There’s some chaos in that we need to take care of consideration and work through.
“At Navy Pier, we had Bollywood dancers, a couple of different video presentations that were more like films. All of that has to be worked through in the flow of the evening.” Sounds fun, right?
We’re always looking for partners with something new to bring to the table and you’ll hear more soon about others we already work with, like Drish Singh of Drish Couture Events (email@example.com) and Rachel Bradley Sullivan of Rachel Bradley Events (firstname.lastname@example.org), two key people with whom we do this kind of work.
It Takes A Team!
“We work very well with other teams,” says Pashman, noting that EC is also currently doing South Asian catering work with Marriott Hotels, the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers and The Blackstone Hotel, to name a few.
The same sentiment extends to and from her fellow vendors, says Sawhney. “Vendors do have an impact on each other, you have to work as a team. If I’m making a display table for food, I need to know certain things to make it right and Wendy is great at giving thoughtful feedback that helps me to make sure the food will not only display well, but that the display won’t affect the food adversely.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably as highly passionate about Indian culture and cuisine as the folks here at Entertaining Company, and if you think you’re someone we might be able to work with, contact us through our website, on Facebook.com/EntertainingCompany, and Twitter.com/Entertaining_Co.