Marrying meals

Devising a wedding day menu that fits everybody’s dietary desires can be a tasting challenge

Wedding Cake Topper

It seemed like a simple enough task. You prepare a menu for friends and family to enjoy after the happy couple is wed. However, as a former caterer, I know that deciding what to dish on the big day can tie you in knots.

When my son, Hans, and his fiancée, Becca, announced they would be married in Colorado over the Memorial Day weekend, I was overjoyed. Naturally, my thoughts as a father turned to dessert. Would there be cake? Would there be pie? Maybe both?

Once the guest list challenge was settled, invitations were extended digitally and family and friends were asked a short question: “Do you have any dietary restrictions or requests?”

That’s how I found myself with the happy couple seated at a table at Wild Basin Lodge in Allenspark. We sampled plate after plate loaded with tasty bites of appetizers, entrees and side dishes, everything from bacon-wrapped dates and Rocky Mountain oysters to rainbow trout and braised beets. Joining us at the tasting were our personal food preferences and a spreadsheet detailing the dietary needs.  

We had a few folks coming who were vegetarian, and some who were gluten-free. A couple of them were both vegetarian and gluten-free. There was also one vegan and seed/nut allergy request. 

When it came to proteins, the couple were surprised to find that “no shellfish” was the most common request. The chicken dishes were quite nice but didn’t seem special enough. Pork was also nixed because of the spiritual beliefs of one attendee. The venison was simply too odd, and also not that tender. 

When it came to beef, the decision was that the pot roast was nice, but not for a wedding.   

As we tasted we were made aware that the menu at the rustic wedding venue is designed to be flexible and delete certain problematic ingredients. They have figured out how to please highly diverse taste buds.   

The plate-after-plate tasting process actually seemed normal to my son and me. I was a Denver dining critic for eight years and he went on a lot of review meals where he had to taste everything on every plate. 

As the items were tasted and debated, I finally interjected: “Just don’t forget that you are the ones who are getting married. Make sure there’s something on this menu that you want to eat.”

With two family-style entrees to be served to the assembled family and friends, the couple settled on prime rib with smashed potatoes and horseradish sauce and crispy butternut squash ravioli with brown butter over ratatouille, arugula and Parmesan—the menu item we really loved. However, it won’t be served topped with toasted pinon nuts due to that one guest with a seed and nut allergy. Pumpkin seeds will also be deleted from the salad. 

For side dishes, it will be mac-n-cheese, simply because the couple loves mac-n-cheese along with fried Brussels sprouts with bacon brown sugar glaze.  

Devising a wedding day menu that fits everybody’s dietary desires can be a tasting challenge
Tasting wedding cakes and pies at You Need Pie Bakery, Estes Park.

In the end, only a couple of friends will be served special meals. 

I don’t remember the wedding food being that complicated when Betsy, my former wife and Hans’ mom, and I got hitched at Chautauqua Park 30 years ago. I remember making sure there were meatless options for my younger brother and his family. 

“We had total freedom to choose a menu. If it was something we loved to eat, then we had it for everybody,” Betsy Lehndorff says.

We both remembered enjoying five great varieties of cake at our wedding. Curiously, there was no pie.

“I remember that the food was great,” Betsy says. “There was so much joy in feeding our friends.” 

My dear friend Andria catered most of the food served at our wedding. “It sure was simple back then. You made a whole lot of one or two dishes, and everyone was happy. If someone didn’t like something, they just didn’t eat it and never made a fuss,” she says. 

Now, Andria notes, if you serve a buffet you have to post signs listing 100% of the ingredients in each dish: “Potlucks and receptions are now landmines to be carefully navigated through.”

After our meal tasting at Wild Basin Lodge, we drove to Estes Park and sampled half a dozen pies and cakes with various fillings and icings. This tasting was a fun and sugary free-for-all. I’m happy to say they will be cutting a chocolate cake. And pie will be served in three flavors: a stellar raspberry cherry pie, a peanut butter cream pie and a gluten-free blueberry pie. 

At the event, I will tearily toast the couple and the ancestors that fed us and got us to the moment, enjoy the assembled multitude and, finally, belly up to the buffet for the dessert finale. 

My best to all the other families crafting a wedding day menu as memorable as the photos that will capture the moment.

Where are Boulder County’s farm stands? 

Boulder County’s backroads are dotted with roadside stands for farms and food makers you don’t see at the larger weekly farmers markets. They produce heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits plus eggs, honey and other prepared foods. 

We are assembling a comprehensive guide to local farm stands. Please e-mail information including hours, offerings and a detailed location to:

Words to Chew On

“Cooking dinner is not a chore or a hassle, not simply the fulfillment of a bodily need, or even an indulgence, but is in fact fundamental to our humanity.” —Michael Ruhlman 


John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU. Listen to podcasts at Email questions or comments to


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