A look behind the scenes at the preparation, planning, and execution of a perfect wedding day by co-owner of Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go and fine artist, Mary Anne Erickson.
We are in the height of our season now at Blue Mountain Bistro Catering as June is quickly coming to a close. The days begin whizzing by as we approach very significant Hudson Valley weddings and parties that have been in the planning stages for sometimes a year or more. Last Saturday as I awoke, my mind already buzzing with the packing list for the wedding that day, I thought - this would make a good blog! Everyone knows what it's like to attend a wedding, but how many people know what happens behind the scenes to make it all happen? Planning events become a jor part of my life. As a Woodstock, New York based fine artist, I know how to approach planning a party and creating and presenting fabulous food a bit differently than your typical event planner.
The first thing we always pray for is a great weather day. This can make all the difference. Last week was one of the hottest so far this summer with temps close to 100 degrees and high humidity. It poured rain on Friday, but they promised us a beautiful day on Saturday and so it was. I was thrilled to think we wouldn't be drenched from just loading everything into our vans, to arrive at the site looking a little less than fresh.
This special wedding celebration took place at the groom's country home from his childhood. He was one of six kids - how special for their family to be reunited for his marriage at the place they've loved for decades.
As is usually the case for upstate New York summer weddings, they had a large tent erected in the front yard (lucky to have had a perfect flat space for this) with a sweet spot next to it where we put up our "cook tent". We always get a few solid sides which create a visual barrier with the main tent - and this is our staging area. This location was a stunning summer kitchen with a carpet of vinca going off in all directions and surrounded by a stately grove of trees. What could be more beautiful?
We generally have four tables for our work surfaces, a propane grill, our own propane stove, and a proofing cabinet to help keep the food warm. The usual protocol is that one of our kitchen staff comes to the site along with the wait staff three hours in advance of the start time to get the "kitchen" set up and begin prepping the appetizers. The chefs usually arrive an hour or so ahead with as much of the hot food ready to go in cambros (hot boxes) and the rest to finish on the grill and our camp stoves.
To backtrack just a bit, many hours before we leave my assistant and I have already packed our vehicles with everything that will be needed for the event: all the platters, baskets, bowls, chafers, serving utensils, tablecloths, extra lighting, cords - in short - whatever we haven't gotten from the rental company. Often, our vehicles are chock full of stuff ready to be quickly unloaded and sorted upon arrival at the event or wedding catering site. We are blessed to have developed an amazing staff of waiters, bartenders, and bus people over the years, who now know how to whip into action the minute we hit the ground at an event location. Before we leave, we have a meeting where I outline all the details of the party (the menu, timing, special needs and requests) so that there is no question what will happen in every precious second leading up to the beginning of the event.
Our first task is usually to set up the tables, chairs, and bar inside the tent. Most people are economizing these days so we often use the same chairs for the ceremony and the dinner - so part of the staff will set up the chairs in the designated location of the wedding itself. After the couple has tied the knot, we whisk the chairs into their proper places at each place setting. Next comes the place settings and decorating the tables. Many bridal couples and their families have fun with this aspect - creating favors, special flower arrangements and place cards. Last summer one couple had an artistic friend who created magical dioramas inside glass bowls depicting couples and people in all sorts of fantastic environments.
Once the setting for the celebration is fully set up, we turn our attention to the kitchen and do whatever is needed to finish the appetizer preparations. In this case, all of the appetizers were passed by the wait staff, but sometimes they also request an appetizer table. We have created all sorts of great spreads for these.
As the moments draw nearer to the ceremony, we look around for anything else that we may have overlooked - check all the place settings to make sure everything is perfect, and wait along with the seated guests for the bride to commence her walk down the aisle. It's so heartwarming, after months of conversations with the bride and groom - to finally be witnessing this precious moment of love and commitment. This is truly what all the fuss is about - LOVE.
We savor this moment and then the explosion of applause. And now it's showtime - out come the platters being passed by our marvelous staff - people having cocktails - enjoying the love in the room - the happiness of the families - our delicious food. This joyous schmoozfest usually lasts 1 - 1 1/2 hours and then we invite the guests to sit down and enjoy a plated salad, a champagne toast, and speeches by friends and family.
We clear the salad plates and the guests are then invited table by table up to the buffet, or they are served a plated meal - the choice of the hosts. This is when I seem to have lost the ability to continue taking photographs. Once dinner service begins, I'm too busy checking on details to continue my documenting. I often pull it back together to get some good shots of the cake - so important. People usually like to dance for an hour or so before they have dessert, so this gives us a chance to get things cleaned up and organized for dessert and coffee service.
Over the years, I've come to feel a dessert table and self serve coffee are the most practical. Often, folks are up dancing and may or may not want dessert - if they do - it's there and they can help themselves. This also could be more of a "country thing". Folks seek us out here in the Hudson Valley for less formal events - held outdoors, not in a fine hotel with white glove service. I'm always amazed at how many people request our services that live far away - sometimes even the West Coast! The Hudson Valley has become a real destination for exactly this type of "country" wedding - which mixes delicious food, glamor, natural beauty, and a more casual feeling than you would get in other places. We love being an integral part of the Hudson Valley wedding scene. Stay tuned for more posts on our 2012 catering season which is in full swing!