A Top Chef’s Tips for Wedding Catering Meet Tristan Whisenant, the woman behind Good Food Catering and The Historic Rice Mill
written by Daisy Bainum
Why should your Big Day dishes be any less spectacular than the usual exemplary dinner out in Charleston? That’s the question that Holy City Hospitality—the dining group behind 39 Rue de Jean, Coast, and Virginia’s on King —addressed with Good Food Catering (GFC) the exclusive caterer of the waterfront Historic Rice Mill. Long renowned for top-of-the-line eats and treats, GFC offers favorite dishes from its family of restaurants, and so much more. To get the scoop on what’s hot these days, we chatted with GFC chef and general manger Tristan Whisenant. Read on to see what she’s bringing to the table.
Charleston Weddings: What’s hot in wedding catering right now?
Tristan Whisenant: Many couples are getting away from having traditional wedding cakes and instead are requesting little dessert stations—be it petite desserts or a few different dessert “action stations.” Another big thing we’ve been doing lately at the Rice Mill and off-site is chef-attended tasting stations, as opposed to giant displays. With four or five stations throughout the space, these are always fun, and make for a nice, petite multi-course dinner.
CW: Dessert action stations? Tell us more!
TW: We don’t offer wedding cakes, but our pastry chef specializes in restaurant-style desserts, so we complement the traditional cakes with things like crepe stations and mini build-your-own chocolate mousse bars with different flavors of mousse and various toppings.
CW: How does Good Food distinguish itself?
TW: Our three restaurants—39 Rue de Jean, Coast, and Virginia’s on King—make us stand out. That’s how Good Food started; diners loved the food at our restaurants so much they asked to have it at their private events.
CW: What venues do you offer?
TW: We have a few event venues within Holy City Hospitality—upstairs at Virginia’s, upstairs at 39 Rue de Jean, and the Historic Rice Mill building on the Ashley River. If you do multiple events with us, you can get a multi-booking discount.
CW: Do you ever cater a full weekend of wedding events—from bridal luncheons to rehearsal dinners, receptions, and post-wedding brunches? If so, how do you create variety?
TW: We’ve had couples do a bridal brunch at Virginia’s, then the rehearsal dinner upstairs at Rue de Jean, and then the wedding reception at the Rice Mill. Sometimes they’ll even come back to us on Sunday and do a farewell brunch at Coast. Since our venues are in central locations downtown—with hotels close by—that’s a plus for guests. Another advantage of keeping it within our company is that we know what’s going on from location to location, and that ultimately makes it easier for the couple.
CW: So you can cater from your restaurants’ menus?
TW: About 50 to 70 percent of our catering menu is based around restaurant items.
CW: What dishes are most popular?
TW: From 39 Rue de Jean, with its French and contemporary fare, coq au vin and pork chop Brittany are popular, and the sushi is popular, too. From Coast, people love the fish and shrimp tacos, crab dip, and ceviche. And pretty much everything on the menu from Virginia’s is common for weddings here. Since a lot of people come to Charleston specifically for Lowcountry or Southern cuisine, we’re happy we have Virginia’s so we can provide those sought-after dishes to our guests.
CW: How do you work with local sources?
TW: Even our destination brides request as many local items as possible, so we certainly try to support that, and our restaurants do, too. We communicate the local aspect through signage at the stations, especially with the seafood dishes and vegetables. We try to show it off a bit because it is something to be proud of.
CW: What is more common these days: buffets, stations, or sit-down meals?
TW: We’ve seen a rise in seated dinners—we’re not really sure what the rhyme or reason for that is. Before it was more about heavy hors d’oeuvres, multiple food stations, or full dinner buffets. Some people think a buffet is cheaper than a sit-down dinner, but it really just depends on what you offer.
CW: What are your most requested late-night bites?
TW: We’ve done options like mini Rue burgers and fries or breakfast biscuits with fried chicken. Pizza and grilled cheese are always popular, too. And sometimes we do late-night desserts, as well—for example, chocolate mousse cups with a little drop of Bailey’s. It’s a little bite of yumminess.
CW: How do you enhance the visual presentation of your food?
TW: The chef-attended stations are a nice visual treat, as you get to see the chef in action. But we do have some clients that want more clean lines, platters with some kind of risers or elevation versus a station with bountiful displays. We work with people to personalize displays, and have tons of photos to help couples figure out what they want.
CW: Last but not least: Do you have any budget-savvy catering tips to share?
TW: At Good Food, we work in all different price ranges. Using nice disposable dishware and utensils is one way to save a ton of money. And you can opt for different cuts of meat—instead of doing beef tenderloin, try a beef short loin, which is a smaller, different kind of beef. As long as it’s cooked properly, it tastes delicious. It’s the little things like that that cut costs.
To find out more about Good Food Catering check out www.HistoricRiceMill.com. If you’re interested in booking the Historic Rice Mill as a venue, please note that it books events almost two years in advance. For catering alone, GFC typically recommends booking nine months to a year before your wedding.