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updated 7/29/2010 8:54:01 PM ET 2010-07-30T00:54:01

Tongues are wagging — with some salivating and others going “yuck” — over news reports that Chelsea Clinton’s super-secret upstate New York wedding to Marc Mezvinsky this Saturday will feature a vegan menu and a gluten-free cake. The couple will throw at least one bone to meat eaters, though, by serving up some organic grass-fed beef.

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While all-alternative banquet menus are still relatively rare — caterers say they account for just a small sliver of the pie, or cake, as it were — such requests are on the rise, a trend that is likely to continue in the wake of the former first daughter’s wedding.

“This will empower people to make these requests,” says Grace Clerihew, a principal at Table Tales, a New York City catering firm. “Prior to this, they might have thought it was not mainstream enough to even talk about, but now that they see it being done by such a public persona it becomes acceptable.”

Chelsea likely chose her menu based on both personal preferences and health needs — she is said to have been vegan since her teen years and to have a gluten allergy — but her wedding menu should have a trickle-down effect nonetheless, says Clerihew.

It’s already become standard practice for most caterers and restaurants to offer vegetarian options. Clerihew predicts this event will inspire them to explore vegan and gluten-free options “in a more inspired way.”

What vegan, gluten-free involves
At hundreds of dollars a head, Chelsea’s menu had better be inspired. But even more common folk can expect to pay a premium for such specialty menus, which until now have largely been the province of higher-end caterers in more food-conscious markets.

Image: Bride getting food from buffet
Getty Images stock
Vegan dishes and a gluten-free cake reportedly will be on the menu at Chelsea Clinton's wedding reception on Saturday.

Vegan and gluten-free options can be one and the same, but not necessarily so. Vegan dishes are not simply vegetarian dishes; instead, they do not contain any ingredients derived from animals, including butter, cheese, milk and other dairy products.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oat products, can trigger allergic reactions in people who suffer from celiac disease and gluten intolerance. So gluten-free foods are devoid of wheat, rye, barley or oat gluten.

The double whammy of vegan and gluten-free restrictions can certainly make planning a menu — and crafting a cake — a challenge, but chefs and caterers in the know say it can be done successfully and can be well worth the effort. In fact, they say mainstream eaters may be surprised to discover that vegan and gluten-free food can be delicious.

“We’ve gotten very savvy about creating wonderful things with alternative ingredients,” says Paula LeDuc, owner of Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, an event firm in San Francisco. “It’s not just pasta or a big pile of veggies anymore.”

Dishes like LeDuc’s signature grilled tofu and portobello mushroom rounds shingled on fresh rosemary skewers served on a summer corn and Beaulieu Garden sungold tomato succotash can set a banquet table abuzz and have those who ordered the meat or fish asking to switch plates. The experience is so common that her firm routinely makes extra to satisfy all who ask.

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LeDuc says requests for vegan items are up 15 percent across all types of events since last year. Gluten-free requests have increased from roughly one a month last year to one a week this year. “Three or four years ago, gluten-free wasn’t even part of the conversation,” she says.

The ‘mother-in-law issue’
The trend is not just confined to foodie cities like San Francisco and New York. Jennie Scheinbach, owner of Pattycake Bakery, an exclusively vegan bakery in Columbus, Ohio, says her gluten-free business has exploded. “When we started (in 2003), it didn’t seem like anyone was gluten-free. Now about 5 to 10 percent of our cake business is gluten-free,” she says.

Vegan and organic can still be a hard sell in Columbus. “There aren’t a lot of vegans in Columbus, and your typical Ohioan doesn’t get why they should pay more for better ingredients,” says Scheinbach. Still, Pattycake has found a loyal following among people interested in food made with organic, sustainably farmed, fair-trade ingredients.

Pattycake uses such ingredients wherever possible, even though with some things costing two or three times as much as conventional ones, it’s not as profitable. “It’s dirt cheap to use crap,” she says. “It’s incredibly expensive to use not crap. We can’t charge the standard markup. It’s just part of the nature of this business.” A wedding cake from Pattycake only costs about 10 percent more than one from competing Columbus bakeries.

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And then there’s the “mother-in-law issue.” Brides typically seek out vegan or gluten-free because of personal preference or because someone in the wedding party has allergies, but others involved in planning the event sometimes need convincing that an alternative menu is really a good idea.

Doron Petersan, who offers free bridal cupcake tastings of confections made with tofu, potato and tapioca starches at her all-vegan Sticky Fingers Bakery in Washington, D.C., says the taste is what ultimately convinces people. “Once people come in for a tasting, about 95 percent of them sign up,” she says.

That may be because no one thinks wedding cakes will taste good, says Petersan, whose best-selling vanilla cake with toasted vanilla almond icing wins rave reviews. “Lots of places just focus on the decoration of the cake,” she says. “Our cakes are nice looking, but we really focus on the flavor. We constantly get people saying nobody knew this was vegan.”

‘Wasn’t even a crumb left’
It’s the same story at Pattycake. “There’s a bakery in town that makes cakes that are incredibly beautiful to look at,” says Scheinbach. “We had a couple who ordered one cake from us, and one from them to appease the mom. All the non-vegans ended up eating our cake. Now I tell people, if you’re going to do that, you need to hide our cake in the back or there won’t be any left for the vegans.”

That may sound surprising, but Amy Bradley, a longtime vegan and Pattycake devotee, knew that’s exactly what would happen at her wedding in Columbus last July. Despite the fact that “we get a ton of pushback at holidays from people that don’t ‘get’ vegan and think skipping meat for even one meal is a big deal,” she ordered a small vegan pistachio rosewater cake with whipped frosting topped with pistachio nuts, and 10 dozen assorted vegan cupcakes (including a dozen gluten-free) even though she and her husband Chris only invited 100 guests. “There wasn’t even a crumb left,” she says, “and our friends and relatives said it was the best wedding cake they’d ever had.”

As more people are exposed to tasty alternative foods, demand is likely to continue to climb. “We get people now who pick a vegetarian menu not because they’re vegetarian, but just because they liked it the best after the tasting,” says caterer LeDuc. Although she has no plans to abandon more traditional dishes, offering alternatives, she says, has opened the door to new conversations about food, a sentiment echoed by Table Tales’ Clerihew. Chelsea’s wedding menu, she says, “is just one more unfolding of the public consciousness around food.”

As more people are exposed to tasty alternative foods, demand is likely to continue to climb. “We get people now who pick a vegetarian menu not because they’re vegetarian, but just because they liked it the best after the tasting,” says caterer LeDuc. Although she has no plans to abandon more traditional dishes, offering alternatives, she says, has opened the door to new conversations about food, a sentiment echoed by Table Tales’ Clerihew. Chelsea’s wedding menu, she says, “is just one more unfolding of the public consciousness around food.”

Video: Web only: Jenna Bush: Chelsea a ‘graceful bride’

Photos: Chelsea Clinton’s ‘royal wedding’

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  1. The happy couple

    Marc Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton wed at an outdoor ceremony at the Astor Courts estate on Saturday, July 31 in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The wedding took place on a near-perfect summer day of warm temperatures, blue skies and cottony clouds.

    The Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding has been characterized by wedding planners and other observers as a "royal wedding for the U.S." (Handout / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Father and daughter

    Former President Bill Clinton walks his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, down the aisle. "Today, we watched with great pride and overwhelming emotion as Chelsea and Marc wed in a beautiful ceremony at Astor Courts, surrounded by family and their close friends," he and Hillary Clinton said in a statement after the ceremony. "We could not have asked for a more perfect day to celebrate the beginning of their life together, and we are so happy to welcome Marc into our family." (Genevieve De Manio / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. An interfaith ceremony

    Mark Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton made sure their wedding ceremony honored both Jewish and Christian traditions. Mezvinsky is Jewish and Clinton is Methodist. (Genevieve De Manio / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Family portrait

    Former President Bill Clinton, far right, and wife Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, second from left, are pictured with their daughter Chelsea Clinton and Chelsea's new husband, Marc Mezvinsky, far left. The bride wore a gown designed by Vera Wang, and the mother of the bride wore Oscar de la Renta. (Barbara Kinney / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Husband and wife

    In this handout image provided by Barbara Kinney, Marc Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton pose at their July 31 wedding at the Astor Courts estate in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Clinton and Mezvinsky were friends as teenagers in Washington, and both attended Stanford University. They now live in New York, where Mezvinsky works at a Manhattan hedge fund. (Handout / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. All dressed up

    Wedding guests wait for a shuttle ride to Chelsea Clinton's and Marc Mezvinsky's wedding in Rhinebeck, N.Y., on Saturday, July 31. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sneaking a peek

    Spectators try to see wedding guests as they load into a shuttle bus before the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky on Saturday, July 31 in Rhinebeck, N.Y. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Coming through

    A wedding guest makes her way through the press as she walks toward a shuttle bus on the day of Chelsea Clinton's nuptials in Rhinebeck, N.Y. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Height of fashion

    Fashion designer Vera Wang avoids questions from the media in downtown Rhinebeck, N.Y., on Saturday, July 31. Chelsea Clinton was spotted outside Wang’s New York City bridal shop on Tuesday afternoon -- leading to speculation that Wang was designing her wedding gown, not Oscar de la Renta as expected. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Excited onlookers

    People stand outside the Delamater Inn waiting for guests to emerge in Rhinebeck, N.Y., for the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky on Saturday, July 31. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Celebrities arrive

    Actor Ted Danson and wife Mary Steenburgen arrive at the Delamater Inn. "I knew [Chelsea] since she was a baby so this is a big moment," said Steenburgen, who wed Danson in 1995. "She's a lovely, lovely girl." (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Strolling through Rhinebeck

    Real estate developer and movie producer Steve Bing walks around Rhinebeck the morning of the wedding. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Proud parents

    Bill and Hillary Clinton leave a party in honor of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky on Friday night, July 30, in Rhinebeck. Instead of one of her signature pantsuits, Hillary Clinton wore a flowing, printed caftan. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Crowds converge

    People gather outside the Beekman Arms Inn to catch a glimpse of guests arriving for a party in honor of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky on Friday, July 30, in Rhinebeck. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Heads of State

    Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright waves as she leaves a party for Chelsea Clinton in Rhinebeck, N.Y., on Friday, July 30. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Guests' digs

    An American flag is unfurled at the Beekman Arms Inn on July 30, in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Many Chelsea Clinton wedding guests are rumored to be staying there. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Father of the bride

    Former President Bill Clinton walks down the streets of Rhinebeck, N.Y., on July 30, 2010, the day before his daughter Chelsea's wedding. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Well-wishers

    The day before Chelsea Clinton's July 31 wedding to Marc Mezvinsky, children in Rhinebeck, N.Y., wave from a bus decorated with a sign congratulating the bride- and groom-to-be. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A gala affair

    The town of Rhinebeck, N.Y., has been preparing for the biggest social event of the year. The wedding took place at Astor Courts, a Beaux Arts riverside estate that was sealed off from the general public on the big day. (Bruce Buck / for The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Picture perfect

    The Astor Courts estate is located on the Hudson River near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, about two hours north of New York City. (Bruce Buck / for The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Paparazzi-proof?

    To ensure privacy on the big day, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary no-fly zone for the area around Astor Courts. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gorgeous views

    The former estate of John Jacob Astor IV has breathtaking mountain and river views and is situated about 70 miles away from the Clintons' family home in Chappaqua, N.Y. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A town's excitement

    A man walks on East Market Street in Rhinebeck, where a sign hangs congratulating the couple. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. History and style

    The mansion on the Astor Courts property was designed by American architect Stanford White and completed in 1904. Its original owner, John Jacob Astor IV, died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Home sweet home

    Astor Courts is home to Clinton supporters Kathleen Hammer and Arthur Seelbinder, and was listed for $12 million until it was taken off the market in July. (Bruce Buck / for The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Breathing room

    The main living area of Astor Courts has five bedrooms and more than 15,000 square feet of space. (Bruce Buck / for The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Amenities galore

    The entire estate is 40,000 square feet and boasts herringbone floors, an indoor pool and an indoor clay tennis court. (Bruce Buck / for The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Furry fan

    A mascot from the Hudson Valley Renegades baseball team holds a sign on East Market Street. Locals have been abuzz about the wedding, which reportedly will cost between $2 million and $5 million -- although a longtime Clinton family friend denied that the wedding would cost more than $1 million. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Chelsea Clinton Marries Marc Mezvinsky In Rhinebeck, New York
    Handout / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (28) Chelsea Clinton’s ‘royal wedding’
  2. Image: Chelsea Clinton Marries Marc Mezvinsky In Rhinebeck, New York
    Handout / Getty Images
    Slideshow (28) Chelsea Clinton’s ‘royal wedding’

Recipe: Chocolate blackout cake

Ingredients
  • Pudding
  • 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of half-and-half
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 6 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • Cake
  • 3/4 cup of Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of strong brewed coffee, room temperature
  • 1 cup of buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 cup of packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Preparation

For the pudding:

Whisk the granulated sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a medium saucepan and slowly whisk in the half-and-half and milk.

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the chocolate and cook, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth, about 1 minute.

Off the heat, stir in the vanilla. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate the pudding until cold, about 4 hours.

For the cake:

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8-inch cake pans, then dust with cocoa powder and line the bottoms with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 3/4 cup of the cocoa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Off the heat, whisk in the coffee, buttermilk and sugars until dissolved. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla, then slowly whisk in the flour mixture until no streaks remain.

Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper, flip the cakes right side up, and let cool completely before filling and frosting, about 2 hours.

Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Slice each cake into two even layers using a long serrated knife. Crumble one of the cake layers into medium-sized crumbs.

Place one of the cake layers on the platter. Spread 1 cup of the pudding over the cake right to the edges. Top with a second cake layer and spread with another 1 cup of pudding. Place the remaining cake layer on top and press lightly to adhere. Frost the cake with the remaining pudding. Sprinkle the cake crumbs evenly over the top and press them onto the sides of the cake. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

Recipe: Gluten-free cupcakes

Ingredients
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour blend
  • 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/4 cups of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of red food coloring
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • Cream cheese frosting
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) of butter, softened
  • 3 3/4 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
Preparation

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt).

Mix together wet ingredients (milk, vinegar, food coloring, vanilla).

Add creamed butter and sugar, mix in eggs.

Alternately mix in dry, wet, then dry ingredients.

Fill 1 dozen cupcake cups and bake for 18-22 minutes or until tops are just dry on top.

For the frosting:

Mix cream cheese and butter.

Add salt and vanilla.

Slowly add in powdered sugar.

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