A chef’s wedding
When I announced that I would be getting remarried on April Fool’s Day and cooking the food for my own wedding reception, many people thought I was joking. In truth, I was just carrying on a family tradition. We have a long family history of hosting elaborate gatherings with attendance sometimes exceeding 100. Events of this scale take days of preparation and we were often too worn out to even enjoy our own party.
Weddings are expensive, even self-catered ones. We took out home equity loans to finance our daughters’ weddings. This time around, retired from dentistry, working as a line cook and no longer having a house to refinance, I was faced with the challenge of creating a memorable wedding experience with economy and grace.
My first challenge was finding a venue to host the event. Since I had proposed marriage during a dinner at Chicago’s Elizabeth Restaurant where I was apprenticing at the time, hosting our wedding there seemed appropriate. Elizabeth Restaurant is an acclaimed upscale intimate establishment where dinner for two could run $600. So when I asked Chef Iliana Regan if I could host a wedding and reception at her restaurant on a Monday it was with the promise that I would cook all the food myself.
When I shared my game plan with my fiancée, knowing how I get carried away, she pointed out that our guests would be taking time out of their lives and traveling long distances to celebrate with us. She didn’t want me holed up in the kitchen cooking; I needed to be spending time visiting with our guests. I promised her that the menu would be simple and prepared mostly in advance. In truth I always get carried away, and because I would be cooking in the presence of my mentor, Iliana Regan, Chicago’s only female Michelin-starred chef, my reputation would be at stake, and keeping it simple would be difficult.
For the esthetic theme of our wedding we took inspiration from Provence, in the southeast of France. My daughter Anne designed the invitations and included sprigs of lavender in the envelopes. My son Robb, a master home brewer, made two wedding beers: blueberry lemon wheat and an Herbs de Provence saison. The bouquets and boutonnières would also be bundles of Herbs de Provence and lavender sprigs. My challenge was to capture the spirit of Provence in the dinner menu… and as I promised – “simple and mostly prepared in advance.” Several of our family members were vegetarian so I had to include a meat-free option. And for our flower girl granddaughters and ring bearer grandsons, I also needed to come up with a kid-friendly offering.
The wedding menu I settled on consisted of ratatouille, Provençal Lamb Daube, rustic sourdough loaves and, for the kiddos, mac and cheese.
Ratatouille is a vegetable stew made with eggplant, peppers, tomato, onion, zucchini and lots of basil. When my summer’s CSA offering exceeded what I could consume, I made ratatouille for the freezer. I had 10 quarts in the freezer so this course was simple and prepared ahead.
Provençal Lamb Daube is a stew made of small cubes of lamb shoulder and vegetables slow-cooked in meat stock and red wine. The dish is assembled the day before and refrigerated overnight. The next day it goes into the oven, covered, to cook several hours.
I learned to make really good mac and cheese when I apprenticed at Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s Roadhouse. It truly is their signature dish – they sell a ton of it. I especially like their pimento and bacon version. The problem is, the grandkids won’t eat it. They prefer the stuff that comes out of a blue box but I wasn’t about to serve a dumbed-down version at a nice wedding in a Michelin-starred restaurant. They will eat the mac and cheese from Panera, however, so I did a Google search and came up with a Panera copycat mac and cheese recipe.
As promised, I spent the day before the wedding socializing with our guests. Before going to bed, I soaked my beans and assembled my lamb daube in the kitchen of our Airbnb. The next morning I went to the restaurant and had a calm and relaxing day of cooking. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to be away from the stove long enough to change into wedding clothes back at the Airbnb, I had decided to get married in my chef’s uniform. Elizabeth Restaurant has an open kitchen so I was able to chat with early arrivals while I was finishing up preparing the food, just as if I were at home.
The wedding went off without a hitch and the food was very well received. I was hoping for a positive critique from Chef Regan so I asked her what she thought of my meal. Her comment: “Peter, the mac and cheese was amazing!”
Provençal Lamb Daube
Adapted from a recipe by Daniel Boulud
This stew can be made ahead, cooled and refrigerated for 2-3 days and gently reheated.
3 lb. lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 T salt
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ lb. slab bacon, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 medium onion, halved and cut into thick slices
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large head of fennel, quartered and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded
7 small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
2 small oranges, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1/2 bottle red wine
2 cups unsalted chicken or beef stock, preferably homemade
1 cinnamon stick and 2 tsp. each fennel seeds, black peppercorns, and coriander seeds wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with string
3 sprigs basil, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme, and 2 sprigs rosemary, tied with string
The day before serving, season lamb on all sides with salt and cayenne pepper.
Place a third of the lamb and a third of the bacon on the bottom of a 6-quart Dutch oven and top with a third of the vegetables, olives and orange slices. Repeat, creating three layers of meat and vegetables, finishing with vegetables.
Tuck in the spice bag and herb bundle.
Add the wine and stock, using more if needed, to completely cover vegetables.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place a rack in the center.
Cover the Dutch oven and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 280 degrees F and bake for another 2½ hours. Remove from the oven to rest at least 30 minutes before serving.
Bertha Bus, packed to the ceiling with all his worldly goods, safely transported Peter Glatz, his new bride, Ann, and his dog, Toulouse, along historic Route 66 to his new restaurant gig in Oklahoma City.