DRINKS AND COCKTAILS
I always create a "big-picture" beverage plan with any party or wedding. Before the ceremony, start off with a non-alcoholic beverage: cups of hot chocolate in the winter, a spritzer of passion fruit, mint, bitters, and club soda in the summertime. Don’t be shy with the garnish – it makes the drink taste twice as delicious.
The cocktail has made a big comeback. After the ceremony, feature a great mixed drink such as a lychee martini, jasmine martini, or something tropical, in addition to the regular champagne and bar service. My favorite cocktail book is The Craft of the Cocktail by master mixologist Dale DeGroff; I often have Dale preside over the bar service at my parties.
Here’s a great tip: Fax your menu to your wine purveyor and ask them to recommend two or three wines in your price range that will pair well with your meal. Definitely serve shots for the dance party afterwards; my favorite is a chocolate espresso shot that can be prepared with vodka or tequila and is a great way to jump-start any dance party.
Chocolate Espresso Shots
1 ounce premium vodka or tequila
1/2 ounce Kahlua Especial (70 proof)
1/2 ounce Tia Maria
1 ounce cold espresso
powdered red chili pepper
Prepare a shot glass or martini glass by rimming the top with an orange peel. Dip the rim of the glass into chocolate powder spiked with some powdered red chili pepper. Combine liquor and espresso in a shaker filled with ice; shake, strain, and pour into glasses.
Champagne is the beverage most associated with weddings. Currently, the most popular type for weddings are Rose Champagnes. There are also many high-quality sparkling wines available from California's Napa Valley, Australia, Italy, and South Africa (Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France).
The larger the bottle, the more impressive the moment. For added drama, you get big points by opening the champagne with a saber and pouring it into coup glasses fashioned in a classic champagne pyramid.
Brut champagne is dry and goes well with Hors d'oeuvres and savory and spicy foods. Champagne labeled extra dry is actually sweeter than brut, and works nicely as an aperitif and with some desserts. Champagne labeled demi-sec is slightly sweeter and is the best dessert companion.
Today, many champagne houses have created dessert champagnes specifically for cake service. My favorite is Veuve Clicquot's Demi Sec; like the bride, the bottle is dressed in white with a white label. Mumm also has a great demi-sec.
Each 750-milliliter bottle of champagne will yield five to seven servings. A mark of a well-made champagne or sparkling wine is a steady stream of air bubbles ascending from the bottom of the glass to the top; the smaller the bubbles, the better the champagne.
A vintage champagne (labeled Millésime on the bottle) is one made from the grapes of a single year’s harvest. A non-vintage champagne (NV on the label) is a blend of different years and is less expensive. A sparkling wine that is labeled Méthode Champenoise (or Méthode Traditionalle) is high quality and is made using the classic champagne method.
Food is like theater. When the curtain goes up, you usually make up your mind in the first five minutes whether you like the show or not.
Your first course makes a lasting impression. Consider texture, temperature, color, and dimension. A bowl of mushroom soup won’t cut it, for example, but a chilled gazpacho poured from a carafe into a plate garnished with a knot of shrimp or a pile of crabmeat adds drama to a simple soup service. Another one of my favorites is the flower of endive; what’s great about this recipe is that the salads are prepared in advance and are inside the endive. The drama comes when the waiters circulate and cut the leek ribbon, allowing the endive to open like a flower.
Read current food magazines and pull recipes and pictures so you can make a visual presentation to the caterer or banquet chef. Insist on having a tasting to make sure that you’re all on the same page, and that your expectations will be met.
INVITATIONS FOR DESTINATION WEDDINGS
A well-informed guest is a happy guest. When planning a destination wedding, keep your guests up to date from start to finish.
Forget about the prescribed six-week lead time for invitations; with a destination wedding, you can send the invitation much earlier, or at least send a 'save the date' note.
Once your guests have received their invites and have responded, you should send them a confirmation package that includes all of the travel information they'll need, including how to get to the destination, where to stay, what to expect, and what to pack.
Upon arrival, have a welcome note in the room thanking your guests for traveling such a long distance to celebrate with you. Then reiterate all the activities of the weekend, including event times, locations, and what to wear.
On the night of the wedding, you might want to arrange for a ‘good-night’ wish or poem to be placed on the pillows in your guests' rooms. Finally, don’t forget to hand-write a thank-you note expressing your gratitude and thanking your family and friends for celebrating with you.
What you don’t light falls into the abyss. Lighting is so important to the ambiance of an evening. It should never be static.
With today’s technology, you have the ability to change the lighting and the mood according to the different stages of the evening. Lights can be a little brighter when guests arrive to find their places and read their menus, then dimmed to allow the candles to come alive and bath the room in a soft glow. Bathe the couple – or anyone making a speech – in a pool of light; the same goes for the bride as she walks down the aisle.
Make sure the flowers are all pin-spotted or highlighted. There is no such thing as too many candles. They make everyone look younger and more glamorous. If your venue doesn't allow lit candles, battery-operated ones work well in frosted votive cups.
There is nothing more appealing that a clean bathroom. If you are using portable bathrooms or multiples, separate men’s and women’s. Arrange to have the bathrooms serviced at least once an hour. At every party I design, one or two people are assigned to tend to cleanliness and order of the bathrooms for the entire evening.
Many powder rooms are lit with very bright light, so I always gel the lights to match the color scheme, particularly when working with tube lighting. Add votive and fragrant candles, and the mirror will treat everyone more kindly.
For added elegance, place an amenity basket in each bathroom, filled with items tailored to the needs of men and women. For ladies, include sanitary pads, aspirin, needle and thread, deodorant, nail polish, hosiery, hairpins, hair spray, mints, and gum; for gentlemen, fill a basket with cologne, gum, mints, deodorant, and hand crème.
I have never been a big advocate of party favors, but I do think there is a place for them at destination weddings. There's nothing like a well-wrapped and festive gift to make you feel welcome when checking into a hotel, inn, or guest room.
For an oceanfront wedding, include a beach basket with a couple of pareos, a personalized baseball cap, suntan lotion, insect repellant, or anything that makes guests more comfortable during their stay. And don't forget a welcome note and itinerary for the weekend.
Another idea is to take a picture of every couple that can be digitally printed, placed in frames, and handed out at the farewell brunch, along with a note thanking guests for their attendance and wishing them a safe and pleasant journey home.
RITUAL IN YOUR CEREMONY
In a world where we are experiencing more interracial and multicultural weddings, our ceremonies can embrace multiple rituals.
I like to get people involved; I want them to both cry and laugh at the ceremony. I look at it from this point of view: an hour before the wedding, the guests' minds are all over the place, but with an emotional, engaging ceremony, the guests attitudes are pulled within 5 degrees of each another.
When I did the Million Dollar Wedding on Oprah, I started off with a hand-washing ceremony. The mothers of the bride and groom washed the couple's hands to purify them prior to their vows and the exchange of rings, and departed loved ones were acknowledged by mentioning their names and ringing a bell.
When I recently designed the wedding of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his wife, Marja Allen, we incorporated some incredible rituals. Marja’s background is part Korean and Native American, so the couple exchanged wooden geese, which is a sign of monogamy in Korean culture. Jean-Georges baked bread, which he brought to the ceremony and shared with all of his guests.