As a chef and food writer, I always dreamt of a wedding that was less about the dress and invitations — and more about the menu.
Spending my summers in Israel and having my Israeli mother cook dinner almost every night meant Israeli food had been one of the cornerstones of my life: Hot bread you can tear with your hands and dip in mezze, fork-tender meat that was stewed overnight, fried eggplant stuffed into a pita with egg, tehina and amba. Malawach, labane, whole roasted fish, char-gilled kebabs and salatim, tzatziki with grilled eggplant, fresh jams made the way your Hungarian grandmother prepared them in Europe, and fruits and vegetables so sweet, one bite makes you think, yes, this is how God intended a plum or an apricot, or a tomato or a cucumber to taste.
So when Michael and I got engaged, and we decided on a small wedding party in Israel, I knew I wanted a party that put cuisine at its very center.
I went straight to Amit Stein and Menashe Shani, the duo behind Israel’s ‘Ink and CO’ events company. “Look, for food, there are a lot of great caterers in Israel,” Stein told me as we rode through the Judean hills towards Jerusalem, going to review venues. “But if you want a chef that is going to come to the table and feed you a taste of the food with his hands, like you are in his home, it’s Erez Hanan Catering. They can do anything.”
That was exactly what I was looking for — not the standard wedding hall package, but an experience that was curated, detail-oriented. Something personal. I quickly learned that I’m not alone.
“Times are changing,” Shani tells me. “People are thinking more and more about the content of the evening. There are so many different styles to a wedding and every couple has a story, and all the details connect to that story. Someone might love the Boqueria market in Barcelona and want to recreate that vibe. Someone else might love secret supper clubs. It all depends on the couple.”
Take for example the creative idea used by Adeena Sussman, Forward food contributor and author of ‘Tahini’ and the upcoming Israeli cookbook, ‘Sababa’ (Spring 2019), in her Tel Aviv wedding to Jay Shofet.
“We had a ‘flipped’ wedding,” Sussman told me. “Guests arrived to a full complement of tables groaning with freshly baked stuffed breads, vegetables like kohlrabi roasted and dressed in unique but authentic preparations, and cocktails with fresh mango puree and hot chili infused spirits. Then we moved into our dinner, all of this before our chuppah, so by the time we had the ceremony people were full, happy and ready to focus on our chuppah, which was very special, intimate, and admittedly long — so we were glad people had already eaten and drank to their hearts’ content!”
For our wedding, we chose to have our huppah at the Davidson Archaeological Garden, a magnificent outdoor space at the base of the Temple Mount. Cyprus trees lined the courtyard, and large limestone ruins lay beside excavated sites from the first and second temple periods. We wanted the food to feel equally, of the land, a sense less of season and more related to terroir. Simple. No foams, nothing molecular. Just foods that have been made and enjoyed here in Israel for centuries. With the smell of rosemary in the air, Erez and Hanan served champagne, Israeli goat cheeses, fresh figs and a rustic spelt bread on simple wooden boards, adorned with olive branches.
After the ceremony. the reception followed in the boutique Alegra hotel, in the small village of Ein Kerem. This hotel, over 100 years old, had a beautiful rooftop complete with a trellis of grapes from which designer Chris Weys and his team hung small glass bulbs with votives to create a romantic setting for a cocktail hour.
Guests sipped pomegranate mint cocktails while Chef Erez served an array of carpaccio and crudo. Colorful plates of unfussy watermelon salad, mushrooms, tuna and sea bass were served, garnished with bright acid, fresh herbs, olive oil and sea salt. Crostini of lamb tartare and tomatoes provided no frills, rustic and delicious bites. At dinner, a family-style three-course feast was served, with seven kinds of bread to start.
Instead of the usual Viennese buffet dessert table, we opted for a more intimate, Middle Eastern twist: A coffee, tea and dessert table inside an open kitchen dining space, overflowing with blocks of halvah, chocolate, figs, baklava and kanafeh set up in cascading clusters. Guests took shots of arak, while Hanan made mufleta, a Sephardic Moroccan crepe. He prepared them a la minute as guests danced around the dessert table.
By the end of 5 baccanialian days, we were full. Full of life. Like the satisfaction you get when you tear a piece of hot pita and dip it in hummus. It was, as they say in Arabic, a total haflah.
Check out more stories in the Forward’s guide to Jewish weddings.
Danielle Rehfeld Colen is the chef and founder of The Inherited Plate. She graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, The George Washington University and has worked in professional NYC kitchens and in private homes for the last 10 years. Danielle has tested recipes at Real Simple, Women’s Day and wrote and developed recipes for her food column ‘What’s Cooking’ in The Riverdale Press for 5 years. Most recently, her work was published in The Boston Globe. She caters, teaches private cooking classes and cooks with professional chefs and home cooks from all over the world to preserve and share their authentic family recipes, stories and special culinary knowledge. She lives in NYC. Follow her on Instagram @daniellerehfeld@theinheritedplate and on Twitter @daniellerehfeld.
How A Chef Designs Her Own Wedding Menu