Chef Suzy Singh, who made it to the top four of FOX's MasterChef, season 2, created the ultimate gastronomical event: her wedding.
Known as the "Spicy Chef," who likes to combine the Punjabi flavors of her heritage with her classical French training in cooking, Singh went all out for her August wedding, making it a feast for the senses.
"I wanted it to be a foodie feast," said Singh, who grew up in Long Grove and attended Stevenson High School. "I know it's pretty nuts, but I have a passion for food and I wanted to share that with our guests."
Singh met her husband, Palatine native Amit Wadehra, a little more than one year before their wedding.
Ironically enough, they met through an online dating service -- bringing Singh, the former neural engineer turned chef, together with Wadehra, an expert in eBusiness and digital strategy -- and yet they returned to their East Asian roots for their wedding.
"We found out we lived a block apart in the city, and our parents came from the same part of India, Punjab," Singh says. "We were both 30 when we met, and we found we had so much in common."
On their first date, Wadehra met Singh at the Tasting Room in Chicago's West Loop. But Singh knew she had met someone special the first time Wadehra cooked for her. He made apple charcuterie with homemade fig jam -- from scratch, Singh stresses.
"It takes a lot of courage to cook for a chef, don't you think?" Singh says.
Despite Wadehra's cooking abilities in the kitchen, he deferred to Singh to plan their wedding.
It started two days before the actual ceremony, with a traditional sangeet in the backyard of her parents' Mundelein home.
For the party, Singh wore a black Lengha saree and choli, or blouse, embellished with gold embroidery and gold bangled jewelry. Guests also wore brightly colored sarees, with contrasting embroidery, making it a rainbow of colors cast across the crowd.
Singh explains that this is the Indian version of a rehearsal dinner, as it heightens excitement for the wedding and enables both families to get to know one another.
Guests dined on everything from grilled vegetable kabobs, chicken tikka and lamb masala, baked onsite in clay ovens, to a Raj-Kachori, a stuffed katchori or pastry puff with potato and sprout filling.
And those were just some of the appetizers.
"I'm really into action stations," Singh explains. "I wanted it all to be interactive -- and appeal to all the senses, with some sweetness, some spice, some bitterness and a hint of salt.
One of its features was a Mehndi artist who applied henna to women's hands and arms for the occasion. Later, Singh and her aunts relaxed on a couch with vibrant pillows, where they sang songs to celebrate her upcoming marriage.
The party took place under an expansive tent, where guests enjoyed a lavish hors d'oeuvres buffet, before the groom's side arrived, leading to all the guests rushing to watch their entrance.
Wadehra and his family approached the crowd, to the beat of a musician playing a dholak, or Indian drum. The closer they came, the louder and more vigorously he played, ramping up the excitement.
They carried trays of food and gifts for the bride and her family. Singh greeted her new in-laws with traditional Indian etiquette, bowing to touch their feet before rising to embrace them.
The wedding day itself started at 9 a.m. with breakfast for 300 guests at Ashyana Banquets in Downers Grove, where Singh formerly served as executive chef.
Once guests finished their morning repast, one of the day's biggest events took place: the groom arrived at the banquet hall on horseback with the rest of the family in a procession behind him.
"That's what so interesting about Indian weddings," Singh says. "In an American wedding, it's all about the bride walking down the aisle. In an Indian wedding, it's about the groom's arrival."
The first of their two wedding ceremonies, the solemn Sikh tradition took place first. According to custom, the ceremony must be completed by half past noon, Singh says, and it included food.
At the end of the rite, guests all were served suji halwa, or a sweet sugar wafer, that fulfills the Sikh tradition.
"In the Sikh religion, they believe that everyone is equal and everyone is always fed," Singh adds. "So you see, food has been part of my life forever."
After the ceremony, some 350 guests paused for lunch. Once again, Singh fell back on her love of interactive stations, having guests visit buffets where they chose their own vegetable dishes before enjoying deep fried sweet desserts, such as kulfi and jalebi.
After lunch, the bride and groom took part in a Hindu wedding ceremony, which is Wadehra's religion.
That evening, for the wedding feast, Singh planned a five-course meal, which included French-infused flavors in the traditional Indian dishes, reflecting her training in classic French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.
"It's everything you'd see at a traditional Indian wedding," Singh adds, "but with a French twist."
Their dinner menu opened with a French onion soup that featured Indian spices but with melted Gruyere cheese. Its salad was fairly conventional, however, giving way to Indian tradition with its curried cauliflower.
A lemon sorbet cleansed the palate for guests before they shared a family-style dinner that offered up a butter chicken, boneless lamb with curry and a vegetarian biryani, or richly spiced vegetables.
Singh took special delight in the dessert: a mini, individual wedding cake created by Oak Mill Bakery for each guest.