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Culinary stardom: an incredible journey through each delectable course and beyond.

“Gone are the days of a meat and two sides,” declares celebrated culinary innovator José Andrés. Even for Wolfgang Puck, who catered his first celebrity wedding in 1984, each nuptial feast is “an advertisement, so, we’re only as good as the last wedding we did.” Sought-after chefs transform weddings into gastronomic odysseys that showcase what’s fresh, what’s delicious and what’s visually irresistible. Couples “really care about seasonality, about using local produce and ingredients that have some meaning to them,” Andrés emphasizes. While Mother Nature may dictate the hottest ingredients on any given day, one thing never goes out of style: Serving her bounty on elaborately etched ice.

Wolfgang Puck: “Our wedding menus are always a reflection of our restaurants,” reveals luminary chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, who received the 2012 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for his impact on America’s cuisine. “Whether it’s for 12 people or 300,” guests have “the same experience they would have at an intimate dinner at Spago,” he says. After assessing a couple’s tastes, “I’ll tell them what’s great in season and what I think I will cook,” Puck explains. “I get inspired by what’s really fresh at the farmer’s market or at the fish market. If you ask me tomorrow, I could make you a completely different menu,” he says.

Alison Awerbuch: Every event spread needs “an element of surprise”—an inventive pairing, a fun twist, something guests “haven’t seen before,” says Alison Awerbuch, who ditched medical school to pursue her passion for cooking and hospitality at the Culinary Institute of America. More than a quarter-century later, she’s still at her first job, albeit as an owner and overseer of the clever cuisine that’s been a hallmark of Abigail Kirsch catering since its inception. Her goals? Enticing guests to conclude: “I have to taste that because it looks so delicious.” And devising meals that help loved ones to “know the bride and groom a little bit better because of what they’ve experienced.”

Gabriel Ask: A wedding meal should “create memories that will last a lifetime,” and Montage Beverly Hills Executive Chef Gabriel Ask achieves this with menus “guests have not experienced before.” Ask says: “I like to use extraordinary ingredients from local purveyors to create colorful and flavorful cuisine. I like to do simple foods in a creative way to really create a wow factor.” He loves when guests seek him out to say, “This was the best food they ever had at a wedding. Fortunately, we hear these compliments at every wedding, which inspires me to be even more creative with my food.”

José Andrés: At the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, “Our goal is to astonish guests” and to leave them “talking for months,” says the hotel’s culinary director and restaurateur José Andrés, whose cooking career began in his native Spain. Andrés believes “food has the amazing ability to tell a story,” and he loves weaving a couple’s heritage and romance into the menu. “We want guests to come away thinking: ‘Wow, she looked beautiful! Oh, what his father said was so touching. Man, that jamón and caviar was amazing!’” he shares. “We want to surprise people, get them talking, enjoying, having fun. Really, that is what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

Allan Janoff: With an on-site ice house and team of two carvers and two assistants, New Jersey’s Crystal Plaza is known for frozen masterpieces. Owner Allan Janoff says true delight is when dubious guests “keep going back and touching” a creation like this dragon sushi bar. When they realize it’s 3,000 pounds of ice, the moment is “like ‘Candid Camera,’” he says. Available for tri-state-area events, each creation is hand-chiseled, whether it’s a monogram or the Eiffel Tower, ice plates for 500 or a full-scale car guests could sit in. That “was really cool,” Janoff quips. “Give us a picture: We can do it,” he assures. With a few exceptions: “Don’t ask me for love birds,” and “No swans, please.”

> Written by Kim Knox Beckius

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