Food, glorious food! Your choice of wedding menu is going to be a huge talking point on your special day – choose wisely and you’ll leave a lasting impression. This year was all about hearty dishes and the craze for comfort food is set to continue for couples getting married in 2016. With that in mind we caught up with Head Chef Jay at Belfast’s Stormont Hotel, who revealed why local produce is at the heart of their wedding menu. If you have a sweet tooth, his ideas for winter desserts are mouth-watering and he also offered some essential advice on navigating conflicting opinions from family members.
Tell us about your passion for food Jay?
I suppose my passion for food started at a very early age. I was born in Brooklyn, New York and we lived in a multi-cultural neighbourhood where I was exposed to all sorts of different cuisines from young age. I always found myself in the kitchen helping my mother and grandmother (peeling vegetables, washing lettuce, tasting cookies!!!).
How did you become a chef and have you worked anywhere interesting previously?
I fell into being a chef accidentally when a friend of mine was cooking in a restaurant in our neighbourhood. They were hiring and I was between jobs at the time. At 17 years old I became the youngest Kitchen Manager the restaurant ever had. It was just such a natural fit for me. I’ve worked at many interesting restaurants over the years. I apprenticed at The St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco while I attended the California Culinary Academy (it overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge). I did my externship at the Grill in Beverly Hills (lots of actors and movie stars would eat there back in those days). I was the Head Chef of Golf & Country Club in El Cerrito California and even cooked for the Governor of California at the time. Closer to home I worked very briefly at The Culloden Estate & Spa and was the opening Chef for Christies Brasserie on Linenhall Street behind City Hall.
Why is it so important at the Stormont Hotel to source local produce? What impact does this have on the wedding menu?
There are so many advantages to sourcing local products. Freshness of ingredients (low food mileage always tastes better), re-investing in the local economy, comfort in knowing the quality and heritage of your foods, confidence in products. It just all makes sense and it’s something we have been doing for so long now. I wouldn’t even think of writing a menu without looking in my own back yard first. For weddings it allows me to guarantee the couple that the food they will be eating is of the highest standard and as fresh as it can be. It’s a really nice selling point.
You are cooking for couples and their guests every day. What’s your favourite thing to cook at a wedding?
I don’t really have a favourite thing to cook for weddings, because I personally meet with each couple during the menu tasting about a month or so before the wedding. I feel like I get to know them and they get to know me, so every wedding I do has a personal resonance to it.
What advice would you give couples when planning their wedding menu?
The first thing I always tell them is; this is the one occasion where they are totally allowed to be selfish, the day is all about them!! So my first bit of advice is always pick a meal that you, the wedding couple will enjoy. A second bit of advice is when coming for the menu tasting, leave Mom and Dad at home!! This bit is a little unsettling for many people (brides in particular), but I find the parents are usually much more concerned with the guests and not actually with what the couples want themselves. Remember it’s my job to make the guests happy, and I won’t let you down.
What are the latest foodie trends emerging for 2016 weddings?
I think more and more people are moving towards comfort food for weddings. They want to be well fed; they seem to be spending the bulk of the wedding fund on venues and unusual entertainment for their guests. I don’t think anything beats a well cooked meal. Beef or chicken with some nice potatoes and vegetables, a great sauce and a delicious pudding and your guests are really well set up for the rest of the evening.
What is your most memorable wedding? Have you cooked anything totally unique that was a hit with your guests?
Its hard to pick just one, I do remember doing a Carvery style wedding for a couple, several years ago and that was a great success. We served starters and desserts but for the main course the tables were called up one by one and we carved Beef, Turkey and Ham for everyone. They really loved it. Another time we did a full afternoon tea for a wedding arrival and that was amazing, scones with Jam & Cream, mini pastries, finger sandwiches it was presented on lovely platters and the guests just went crazy over it.
What are your top picks for winter themed desserts and canapes?
This would have to be our Deep Filled Apple & Cinnamon Tart with Glastry Farm Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or of course Sticky Toffee Pudding, you can’t beat these on a cold winter afternoon! We do bespoke canapés for weddings, there is really nothing I won’t try when it comes to these. A lovely couple of winter ideas are slow braised beef arancini with mozzarella, chicken curry tartlets, portavogie prawns wrapped in prosciutto just to name a few.
For more information on weddings at Stormont Hotel, call the Wedding Coordinator now on +44 (0) 28 9067 6007 or email email@example.com