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Laura Hunt


Behind the Scenes

The Effort to Make it the Best Day of Your Life

Text: Johanna Kaestner
Laura Hunt

Click on the pictures to see the entire version!

Teri turns onto the driveway of Ralston Hall. She looks at her watch: 2:30 p.m.! Afternoon sun filters through the tall eucalyptus trees along the road. She navigates carefully over the speed bumps so the wine and liquor bottles she has picked up for her client will arrive safely. She loves Ralston Hall, the modified Italian villa, the summer home of the Ralston family with its elegant ballroom and spacious, comfortably furnished family quarters. She loves its lightness, the many different styles that flow so effortlessly together, the white painted wood work, and the etched designs on windows and mirrors.

A few minutes later Teri pulls her SUV into a parking lot behind the mansion. As soon as she turns off the ignition her catering staff surrounds the car. Doors and trunks are opened, and in an instant wine, crushed ice, gourmet coffee, and designer breads disappear into the mansion. Teri follows; her white sneakers contrast with her sage-colored dress. She doesn't have to be at her finest today, Lisa from Ralston Hall, will take care of the wedding party today giving Teri more time to pull the strings behind the scene. Her catering staff alone consists of 20 people; then there is the florist with his three designers, the baker, two photographers, and ten band members. Teri has to coordinate their work, time the sumptuous dinner, feed the vendors, and oversee the thousands of little details that personalize a wedding.

The white van that followed the SUV stops right next to the back entrance. Jeff, Teri's chef and Drew, his assistant, open the doors. A delicious smell of the garlic mashed potatoes emanates from the car and lingers in the air while the two men unload; then they unfold the prep table, assemble the long, professional grill, and start the fire for barbecuing the filet of beef and marinated halibut. Cooking outside is the only way to provide the guests with freshly prepared fare because Ralston Hall doesn't allow open flames in the mansion.

Food and gadgets are piling up on the kitchen counter. As in most mansions caterers have to bring their own cooking utensils. Here at Ralston only a refrigerator, a warming box, and plenty of counter space are provided. The crew knows the chores, and a few minutes later everything is stowed away, leaving the counter free for prep work. Teri tapes the menus on the refrigerator door and discusses the sequence, preparation, and timing of the five different appetizers before she makes her round through the mansion.

The bar area is still a jumble; half opened boxes are everywhere. Craig, Michele, Parker, and Patrick unpack liquor, wine, mineral water, and glassware; they professionally stock the shelves, and bring the old oak bar back to life. White wine bottles need to be chilled first; they go into the big tubs already filled with crushed ice.

Teri finds Stephen, the owner of Floramor, in the ballroom. He examines the placement of the aisle decoration, white pedestals wrapped in tulle, carrying cylinders with floating gardenias. Their tropical fragrance intermingles with the scents of the lilies and garden roses from the two gorgeous bouquets that mark the ceremony area. Stephen's three assistants assemble the centerpieces They are replicas of the glass cylinders on the pedestals with clusters of white calla lilies in the center. Blue hydrangea florets and battery-powered votives will complete the clean, sophisticated simplicity of the design. After the ceremony calla lilies will change the pew decoration to additional centerpieces, and the altar pieces will be moved to frame the bandstand.

The scent of the gardenias is incredible. It reaches from the Ballroom to the adjacent Cipriani Room; hidden by screens from view it is used as the staging area. Teri demonstrates how the tables have to look today while the wait staff folds napkins and polishes silverware and crystal before they are placed on the dinner tables. Tiffany sets the "sweet heart table," a small separate table for bride and groom. Favors, place cards, and table numbers are added last. "Just remember," Teri tells them, "the first name is at 12 o'clock on each table and make sure that the parents of bride and groom have the sweet heart table in view."


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