By Mary Vyn
In my first post for The Kind Bride I’m sharing a glimpse of how chefs set up a kitchen, whether a venue has one or not. This process is commonly called staging. It can happen in a commercial kitchen, under a tent, or in a church basement.
Regardless of the place, if there’s food at your reception, it’s being staged. It’s where we charbroil broccolini and paint plates with sauce. It’s all the things that happen to your meal just before it’s served.
A staging area can take many forms but must follow basic food safety rules of sanitation, temperature, and allergen awareness — not the most romantic aspect of your wedding, but certainly one that protects the party.
I remember the day my teacher Chef Eric told me to clean my station and start again. When he circled back to me he said — ‘Now, keep it that tidy forever.’ The lesson had profound impact. It made me faster and lighter and my food more delicious. As all the ingredients are being moved, divided, rearranged and transformed, the one constant is clean space. A clean board, a clean bowl, clean towel, clean hands. All the tools in a kitchen must be brought back to readiness over and over again.
It may sound, at first glance, like a headache of behind the scenes information. Why should a couple concern themselves with their caterer’s workspace?
The truth is, in many cases, the staging area has both financial and aesthetic implications.
As you’re exploring options in venues and vendors, staging can be a meaningful aspect of your contracts to be aware of. Ask your venue what resources they provide to vendors and what systems should be followed.
For instance, if your venue is on an island, they may restrict the use of running water. Others have old electrical systems that could be zapped by rental equipment. Most venues have a protocol for trash and recycling; sometimes there’s a draining area for surplus ice. Understood in advance, all these issues can be managed well. Being in the loop protects your security deposit and prevents unexpected charges.
As vendors we are transient, but we have to function as if everything’s familiar. We need confidence in our surroundings to be successful. Venue site visits are a crucial step in preparation. When my team does a site visit, we map out production and pathways for service. We check all the hum drum practical things; it’s part of our job to integrate what we do with the facilities available. Ask your caterer if they have this kind of information and confirm it with your venue manager.
As for aesthetics, my career as a private chef may be an influence, but I truly believe the kitchen should be an extension of the party — pretty enough that guests of honor can stop by and feel a sense of pride. When I’m in charge, I keep flowers or herbs at the helm. For me, beauty is essential to function.
If the kitchen area is exposed to the party, don’t be shy to ask about appearances. All the effort you put into creating a scene shouldn’t be ruined by anything. You have every right to inquire how dish racks and trash cans will be disguised. You may also want to check if and when kitchen visits are welcome, as some chefs prefer a hard boundary. Always ask, for safety’s sake, before entering.
That’s just a snapshot of what matters in staging a kitchen. Feel free to send questions galore.
Photos by Rachel Leiner
Mary Vyn catered her first wedding at age 18. Since then she’s been a private chef to the stars, restaurant owner and nutritional counselor. Her latest project, Akara, performs plant based wedding receptions. Mary loves dancing, live music, soft clothing and other people’s babies. She lives in Stoneham, Ma on the edge of a wilderness reserve, The Fells.