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Farm-to-Wedding-Table: The Ultimate Big-Day Meal from One of Our Favorite Caterers

We tapped the inimitable Paula LeDuc and her team to create the ultimate autumnal menu, from cocktail hour to dessert.

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There's wedding food, and then there's the magic that happens when Paula LeDuc Fine Catering creates a menu. The San Francisco area-based team takes a cutting-edge approach to its seasonal, farm-to-table fare that is evident in every luscious and gorgeous bite. Case in point: this California-inspired fall feast created just for us. But of course, we're willing to share. If you're searching for the ultimate wedding caterer, you can't do better than LeDuc, who's cooked for U.S. presidents and Oprah. And while you might be infatuated with the menu you see here, LeDuc rarely creates the same dish twice. Instead, she creates courses that creatively reflect the client.

 

We loved what LeDuc saw in us. From the caviar-topped quail egg hors d‘oeuvres to the rosé, Pinot, and Cabernet grape fruit jelly candies, there was beauty and remarkable complexity in every course. And let's not forget the drinks side to LeDuc's business. Beverage director Jay Crabb's autumnal cocktail concoction was one-in-a-million. Honestly, who wouldn't enjoy a smoking bourbon-based hibiscus cocktail, flavored with virtually every comforting spice under the sun? Do you see what we meant by magic?

 

One-Bite Hor D'Oeuvres

This one-bite cocktail-hour dish is a delight to look at and to eat. A crispy carrot "nest" holds shiso, soy-glazed red onions, orange tobiko caviar, and a warm, creamy quail egg finished with sea salt. The California valley quail is the state bird, making its egg a natural fit for this local fall menu, thought executive chef Daniel Capra. The delicate nests sit atop simple white-clay discs handmade by LeDuc art director Dyan Garza.

Refined Dining

True to the team's style, it isn't just the food that reflects the time of year. The table—which has the air of an intimate dinner party—is set with an autumnal tamarind-velvet linen from La Tavola, creamy handcrafted plates and platters, and smoky-glass stemware. As for the main event: The artful entrée features duck served with chicories, butternut squash, smoked honeycomb, and a dark-chocolate demi-glace. Pomegranate seeds, honey, and spices are part of the edible tablescape, allowing guests to adjust flavors (the seeds add acidity; the honey, sweetness).

The New Dessert

Pastry chef Marilyne Mitani finds inspiration in the natural world for desserts that showcase an exquisite, organic look. Take these wine-inspired pâtes de fruits (fruit jellies), seen left, for example. They're flavored with rosé, Pinot, and Cabernet, and displayed on real grape stems. Meta alert! On the right, you'll find something a little creamier. This plated dish is a whimsical explosion of flavors and texture: Goat's-milk-yogurt panna cotta, torn pistachio cake, candied lemon, beet-dusted meringue sticks, and olive-oil emulsion.

Sweets and Late-Night Sips

Round out dessert with these decadent acorn-shaped truffles, which combined white and milk chocolates with hazelnut-ganache filling. Looking for the perfect night cap? Crabb served up autumn in a glass with this bourbon-based cocktail, seen right, made of lemon juice and a hibiscus cordial, spiced with star anise, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, and water. To infuse the drink with more flavor, herbs and spices were torched with the coupe under a glass dome—which was whisked away moments before this photo was taken.

Meet the Experts

It's been 23 years since Paula LeDuc Fine Catering was featured in the inaugural issue of this magazine—and since then, the team has fed the likes of President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey—not to mention hundreds of wedding parties. What began with LeDuc herself in 1980 has grown into an 85-person powerhouse, complete with an organic farm in Napa Valley. The company's  specialty is serving inventive, seasonal menus; they pride themselves on making custom dishes and rarely, if ever, repeating one. "Everything results from conversations with our clients, from their favorite restaurants to colors they like," says LeDuc, far left, with executive chef Daniel Capra, pastry chef Marilyne Mitani, art director Dyan Garza, and beverage director Jay Crabb. "Creativity and innovation are at our core."

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