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Affordable Menu Options

August 1st, 2012 by Jeannine

Affordable Menu Options

Today I’d like to talk about how to lower your cost of food without sacrificing quality. I met up with Catering Manager Heather Wright of Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering to discuss all the aspects of what drives up the cost of meat, poultry, fish, and produce. Heather is no stranger to the blog… to refresh your memory, I’ve interviewed her before about the basics of wedding catering, a must-read, if I do say so myself! Heather says the factors that affect cost increases depend on the type of food, so let’s break things down.


Hands down the best cut of meat is tenderloin, which means it’s also the priciest, but its quality is not the only reason why it’s more expensive. Tenderloin is just a small fraction of an entire cow so its scarcity drives up the cost too. Despite all this, people will still pay to have it on their menu. Why? Two reasons: quality and appeal to the masses. Heather says there are plenty of other cuts of beef that, if cooked properly and presented creatively, can be a cheaper yet equally crowd-pleasing option. Currently, the Louis Gervais kitchen is playing with other alternatives that are half the cost of tenderloin, such as hanger steak, flank steak, top sirloin, and even chuck or rump roast. If you have a skilled chef, each of these can be made into amazing dishes that your guests (and wallet) will absolutely love.

See above feature photo: Garlic Soya Marinated Flank Steak ~ served with a fresh cilantro mango salsa & served on a salade verte of arugula, spinach & asparagus


For poultry, it’s the case of free range vs. non-free range or hormone-free vs. chemically enhanced. Prices go up depending on how much it costs for farmers to produce; for example, free range chickens need more space and due to the higher overhead, consumers get dinged. Be that as it may, you get what you pay for. Free range and hormone free are a healthier, higher quality product with flavours that stand out.


What affects the price of pork is where you source it. More affordable pork can be imported from the US but if you want a high quality product, consider buying local. Heather says you can find beautiful pork from the Pemberton Valley which is ethically farmed and not mass-produced. You’ll be paying for a better product as well as supporting a local business.


Fish prices depend on supply and demand. Heather says it is best to use fish that are currently running, but the season can be unpredictable. Halibut and salmon should be running now but because they aren’t as abundant as years past, it’s tougher to find product, thus increasing the cost (to give you an idea, halibut right now is about $20/lb compared to $14/lb in previous years). People will also pay more for higher quality like Alaskan Black Cod, which Heather describes as the “Prada brand” of fish. Other cheaper alternatives are sole, cod, and basa fillet. Heather suggests poached sole during the summertime. If cooked properly, it tastes delicious and holds its shape quite well on a plate or in a buffet. Talk to your caterer to find out what fish will be the best choice for your event and budget.

Below: Prosciutto Wrapped Ling Cod ~ roasted & served on a summer squash ravioli poached in a light saffron broth with Italian parsley


Finding the right produce for cheap depends on the season. Heather says…

“If you’re willing to work within the parameters of the season, you’re going to get the best quality product at the best possible price.”

Here are some foods that Heather says are in season in the summertime: berries, zucchini, lettuce, microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, arugula, hazelnuts, and of course Chilliwack corn. Since weddings happen all year round, this list will change so have a word with your caterer and choose the right produce for your menu.

Other things to keep in mind…

  • “Brand name” food – Certain foods will have a higher distinction than most like the Alaskan Black Cod I mentioned above, halibut, or black truffles. Producers can charge a higher price for these no matter how abundant they are because they know they will still be a popular choice among consumers
  • Buying local does not necessarily drive up the cost – Heather says it depends on the product. BC fruits that are in season like apples and peaches are more affordable to bring in but local pork isn’t.

Below: Seared Albacore Tuna Loin ~ garnished with a roasted piperade of sweet peppers & served with a butter garlic chive rice pilaf

The best thing to do when deciding on the menu is to talk to your caterer and find out what all of your options are. Ask them what’s readily available and if they will be able to prepare it well. Last but not least, reducing portion size is not the answer. In Heather’s own words…

“I would steer people away from reducing their portion size because there’s nothing worse than running out of food at an event. I think it’s encouraging them to see the value. People aren’t looking for cheap, they’re not looking for high end, they’re looking for value. They just want to know that they’re getting as much as they can for their dollar. And if you can explain to them the value of doing something different and unique, that’s still really delicious, I think you can win people over. So if I can describe to you a soya-marinated grilled flank steak with a mango salsa on a bed of asparagus and arugula and I can do that for two-thirds the price of tenderloin, tell me that I didn’t just win you over?”

You’ve won me over… I can taste it now! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Heather! To find out more about Louis Gervais Fine Foods & Catering, visit their website, be a fan on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

All photos were provided by Louis Gervais Fine Foods & Catering

*** Update, September 23, 2012 – Heather Wright is no longer with Louis Gervais Fine Foods & Catering and currently works for another company in Vancouver. ***

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