• Elise Hofer Shaw

HOW TO PLAN A GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN WEDDING

Updated: Apr 16

Coveted event caterer Danielle Wheeler, founder and owner of Chicago’s Maison Cuisine, demystifies gluten-free and vegan wedding menus—and leaves our mouths watering.


By Elise Hofer Shaw


Danielle Wheeler was destined to be chef. Growing up in Chicago’s Western Suburbs, her fondest memories from her formative years are those spent in their family kitchen, baking buttery palets de dames with her mom and making a six-hour Bolognese with her dad before she could even reach the stove. “Starting at about age three, they would pick me up and plop me right on the kitchen counter and put a wooden spoon in my hand,” says Wheeler, 40. “My mom is Parisian and my father is Sicilian. My mom would make this amazing zucchini dish that I loved as a kid. It was super simple, almost ratatouille-style, with zucchini, roasted tomato and eggplant. We also ate a lot of pasta. My dad had a pasta maker, so we’d make a ton of homemade ravioli, which I loved to stuff with veggies. It was evident at a young age that I liked my vegetables.”

Fast forward to 2001 and, after attending Santa Clara University in the Bay Area, Calif., Wheeler moved to L.A. where she furthered her culinary curiosity, exploring ethnic cuisines she had never tried in the Midwest—Ethiopian, Persian, Moroccan, Israeli, and lots of unique fusions, too. “In California, gluten-free and vegan restaurants are so much more mainstream than they are here in the Midwest,” says Wheeler, a devout vegetarian since the early ’90s. “I remember when Green Zebra was the only vegetarian restaurant in Chicago—and that was 2004! Full-menu and solid, partial-menu vegan restaurants only started popping up here over the last two years, spots like Bad Hunter, Lula Cafe and Daisies. It’s awesome to see it finally take off—and for the nutritional value to be recognized as a lifestyle rather than a fad.”

And, according to Wheeler, even our more traditional restaurants are coming around. “A couple of weeks ago, before the COVID-19 shutterings, Mon Ami Gabi, a classic French bistro restaurant that’s as old-school traditional as it gets, rolled out an impressive gluten-free menu. The demand in Chicago is here—and the stalwarts are realizing that not everything needs to be made with a pound of butter.”


At Maison Cuisine, Wheeler’s eco-conscious, full-service catering and event planning company based in The Hatchery Chicago—a food and beverage incubator and production facility in East Garfield Park that’s dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs—Wheeler and her team of 27 chefs, bakers, bartenders, servers and event coordinators are best known for their creative spins on celebratory gatherings great and small—and an unprecedented ability to make gluten-free and vegan versions of anything you can imagine. “What we’re leaning toward now, everything is gluten-free or can be. Entrees, soups, breads… gluten-free flour tastes just as good as regular flour, so there’s no reason not to cook with it,” says Wheeler, who graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago before launching Maison (formerly HOME Catering) in 2002.

As for vegetarian and vegan dishes, the sky’s the limit there, too. “I promise, we can do anything. I’ve spent the last 20 years playing around in the kitchen, perfecting our vegan/vegetarian offerings,” says Wheeler. “And I love a challenge… Recently, a client asked if I could make vegan risotto primavera. You’d think it would require heavy cream and aged parmesan to pull it off and be satisfying. But then I found this amazing Violife vegan cheese at Whole Foods that tastes just like parmesan, and we did it. Trust me; it can happen—and it can taste good!” Her secret ingredient for the cream? “For vegan dishes, as long as none of your guests have nut allergies, I prefer working with almond milk. But oat milk is all the rage, and works well as a substitute. It has a great depth of flavor.”


Speaking of depth, Maison Cuisine is a force when it comes to meat-based and gluten-friendly (gluten-light, but not totally gluten-free) dishes, too. “We have a small kitchen that’s private and ours, but we can take on a larger kitchen for a day or two, or excess walk-in dry/cold/freezer storage, if we need it,” says Wheeler of Maison’s massive bandwidth courtesy of The Hatchery. “It’s a really cool space to be. We’ve also been able to connect with other creative, health-conscious culinary businesses—Gifted Breads for gluten-free bread, Latin Plate for authentic Mexican fare, Two Sisters for soul food—and can outsource within our micro-community should the need arise to meet our clients’ unique wants and needs for their event menus.”

For summer 2020 weddings, Wheeler is seeing the return of the minis trend, especially when it comes to desserts. “We do a lot of minis—parfaits, pies, donuts and cupcakes, and tons of layered dessert shooters in flavors like tiramisu and Panna cotta,” she shares. And she assures us that opting for a vegan, gluten-free festivity won’t break the bank. “Honestly, having a vegan, gluten-free wedding costs about the same as having a typical Western menu. People tend to think it should be cheaper, since there’s no high cost for meat or seafood, but the labor cost involved is significantly higher, and gluten-free items are typically more expensive than the alternative. You’ll break even. But the health benefits—more fiber, antioxidants and beneficial nutrients—is a priceless gift to give your guests. And they won’t crash before they hit the dance floor!”



SO FRESH AND SO CLEAN

Here, Maison Cuisine shares an inspired sample menu for a totally vegan, gluten-friendly wedding. Get ready to salivate…


Passed Hors D’oeuvres

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Cucumber Sofrito

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

With sesame-soy drizzle

Smoked tofu dumplings

With sweet chili dip

Crispy Cauliflower Arancini

With herbed aioli


Vegan Meatballs

With Asian glaze and scallions


PLATED:

1st Course

Roasted Beet Salad

Atop arugula, with toasted Marcona almonds, plant-based feta, mandarin orange and balsamic vinaigrette

Plated Entrée

Roasted Vegetable Wellington

Atop wilted garlic spinach and sweet potato puree


Dessert

Trio of mini desserts

Coconut Panna cotta with cherry compote

Kahlua brownie with whipped Grand Marnier buttercream




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