A chilled corn velouté, foie gras millefeuille, and spring pea. From the wine to the dessert, the French chef Daniel Boulud’s catering company, Feast & Fêtes, pulls out all the stops to satisfy an American clientele with a taste for excellent service.
“This is where it all began,” says Jean-Christophe Le Picart, sat at the Café Boulud between Central Park and Madison Avenue. In May 1994, Daniel Boulud was 39. “He was already well-known and well-liked by the Americans. He had the support of the local press. It was the perfect time to launch a catering company,” he says.
Feast & Fêtes took a decisive gamble on October 28, 1995. The wealthy U.S. businessman Robert Miller chose the French caterer to organize the wedding of his daughter, Alexandra, to Alexander von Fürstenberg, the son of fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg. In just 15 days, the duo developed a rehearsal dinner, a multitude of canapés for the reception, and an official wedding dinner for 1,450 people. The event was a storming success, and forged the catering company’s reputation.
Jean-Christophe Le Picart manages the company, while Daniel Boulud supervises the kitchens. The catering service is solicited for 40 wedding dinners per year, making up around half of its revenue. Americans comprise 80% of the clientele. “We organize banquets for baptisms, communions, bar mitzvahs, engagement parties, weddings, cocktail receptions and private dinners. Our clients appreciate the trademark flavors offered by Daniel Boulud’s cuisine, such as his Bordelaise sauce and lamb jus, and are also drawn to his discreet, meticulous sense of service.”
The company’s president personally takes it upon himself to serve the finest products. The lobster is imported from Brittany, the white asparagus from Provence, and the Tomme cheese from the Pyrenees. The American products are sourced from local producers, including tomatoes from Long Island, mushrooms from Oregon, and suckling lamb from Pennsylvania. Six menus are designed every year, according to the seasons. “Some 90% of wedding receptions include an hour of pre-dinner drinks and canapés, followed by dinner.”
The cocktail receptions held in the private mansions of Connecticut are often prolonged for an extra hour. This change in schedule has led Jean-Christophe Le Picart to ensure the chefs provide additional distractions for the guests, including oyster bars, delicacies grilled à la plancha, and roasted king prawns. A dinner for 100 people including food and table service comes to 30,000 dollars on average. And the cake alone can cost anything from 500 to 15,000 dollars. “American cakes require a heavy, often unappetizing base in order to hold up the weight of the spectacular decorations. By comparison, our cakes are lighter and feature more minimalistic decorations.”
The catering company also takes care of the wine, and 80% of the tipples are French. Soon-to-be-married couples should expect to pay between 2,000 and 4,000 dollars for wine for 100 people. It is customary in the United States for the waiter to always offer a red wine and a white wine. But Jean-Christophe Le Picart still can’t get his head around this tradition. “Wine is paired with a dish. You can’t serve a red wine to guests while they enjoy a filet of sea bass from Portugal!” But satisfying American clients often demands compromise, and the service has been slightly Americanized over time. “Guests in the United States don’t eat bread, and so we removed the smaller plate from the table,” he says. The appetizer is also served before the guests are seated, and the time saved means more dancing later.
U.S. weddings place the bride and groom at the center of everyone’s attention. The couple sit at sweetheart table, made for two. Americans also don’t think twice about cutting back on the wine budget to invest more in the photos. An unthinkable decision in France! “Some Americans will easily spend 15,000 dollars for a photographer for the evening,” says the company’s president. It seems in the United States, even more than elsewhere, money is no object when it comes to the big day.
=> French wedding professionals like planners, florists, caterers, dressmakers and jewelers have crossed the Atlantic to develop their businesses in the United States. Every week, discover in France-Amérque the profile of a French artisan who is involved in the U.S. wedding industry.