Plas Gwynfryn, Harlech
And so we progress to our fourth and final wedding. This was the biggest and most elaborate of all. A barbecue menu, table service, tapas, all in a big marquee. Not only was I preparing a three course dinner, but for some reason I thought it would be a great idea to say yes to making a cupcake wedding cake as well!
This time we were keeping our fingers crossed for sunny weather and for a while things did seem to improve. A few warm and bright days made us all hope for the best, until we saw the weather forecast. Rain and high winds. Great. Just what we needed catering in a marquee.
I’d also lost two helpers so spent the beginning of the week stressing over staff. I contacted a couple of people who had emailed me at the beginning of May and eventually met up with Ursula. She was my fab front of house organiser for the day, which was just what I needed, someone to take the strain off me and let me get on with cooking and be able to organise and manage my two waitresses Rosie and Amber. I also found Jacky, an experienced local chef (runs The Bistro in Caernarfon) who was an absolute god send. I could never have managed three barbeques on my own and plated and prepped salads and tapas dishes.
I knew the event would be a challenge. I’ve worked in the odd field kitchen but never had to cook and prep like this so I was very nervous. I wanted to do a good job (obviously) but it did feel like everything was against us.
I’d initially planned to finish prepping and packing the van by two on Thursday. It’s a long way to Plas Gwynfryn in Harlech, nearly an hour and a half drive and further than my usual range. It’s also a long way to come back if anything crucial is forgotten. We rammed everything into my little van adding more and more as we went on. Vintage china, tapas dishes, trays, tongs, knives, bowls, jugs….on and on I went but I still didn’t feel ready. I realised early on that I’d not fit everything plus an extra waitress in the back, but Rosie ever the optimist kept saying “don’t worry Mum it’ll be fine”. She kept saying this until we shoved the last box in and it dawned on her that actually it wasn’t fine. We’d run out of room.
The van now contained one hundred cupcakes, trays of part-roasted chicken, freezer boxes of salmon and minute steaks, a ton of salad and fruit, boxes of meringues (all hand-made), a tray of bread (half of which was hand-made) plus half the contents of my kitchen. But just as we were ready to go drama struck. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a little pressure in my life (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this job) but really I wish it would give me a break sometimes. We discovered that our hens who had sat on eggs for 21 days without result now had two little chicks.
one of our little chicks
They flapped about the garden in a panic while Steve the cat watched, licking his lips. This led to emergency action one of the day. Phone Len. “Help” we cried. Len arrived with a wheelbarrow full of wood, wire and tools and restored calm. He put together a chicken run, added a base to the house, chucked in straw and various other bits and bobs to secure our little babies. Safe in the knowledge that we’d protected our babies we left for Harlech, an hour late. We still had to take a detour via Bangor station to put a parking ticket on Sean’s car (he hadn’t had time that morning before he left for another mates wedding in London) and collect waitress number two, who squeezed into the front seat with Ro in a highly illegal manoeuvre (don’t tell the cops!!).
The journey was slow and I was nervous of every bump, hill and bend. When we arrived at Plas Gwynfryn preparation was well under way in the main marquee, but my gazebo looked a touch flimsy. I’d had a call that morning to say the earlier one had blown down in the night so this was a replacement, but now the wind was picking up and I wasn’t convinced it would withstand a gale. Having unpacked the contents of my kitchen, the girls and I moved in to our over night caravan at the neighbouring Plas Gwynfryn Farm cottages.
The girls were as excited as two nine-year olds on their first camping holiday until they realised that Rosie’s idea of packing food for our tea consisted of a tin of tomatoes, some tomato puree, a pot of chopped fruit and the end of a loaf of bread plus the three remaining cupcakes. In the worsening rain I headed back to the venue, minus a raincoat which I forgot to pack, to fetch provisions that would make us a dinner. An hour later we made what Rosie christened “French bread pizza slices”…this consisted of a quickly rustled up tomato and herb sauce, some basil leaves, a few slices of mozzarella and a small salad of cherry tomatoes and red peppers.We didn’t starve at least.
As the wind picked up and the rain increased in intensity I popped back again to check on the gazebo. It was just as well that I did because it flapped about, minus tent pegs and with one guy rope snapped. I guessed it wouldn’t be long before this one took off as well. Fearing the safety of my vintage china and all the food we made an executive decision to dismantle it. At ten O’Clock at night emergency action number two took place. A small team of helpers moved all the food, china and equipment into the neighbouring barn (including a full and heavy fridge) and I returned to the caravan wet and tired, poured a large glass of wine and shortly after headed to bed to shiver and listen to the pelting rain on the roof.
Five AM the next morning and I was wide awake listening to the quiet. The wind had mercifully died down during the night and it even looked quite bright. By about eight the gazebo and kitchen had been reinstated and by the time I arrived at 8.30 everything was back in place, albeit in need of a good clean.
From then on in it was full steam ahead. Jacky, Ursula and I got to work on the salads, ceviche, and halloumi kebabs. We stuffed the peppers (with the filling I’d made the earlier…in the caravan!) and assembled the dishes for the tapas starters. With the rain lashing it was hard to open the sides of the gazebo for ventilation so once all the barbecues were lit it became really hot and smoky. Our eyes watered and we had to keep going outside to cool down.
My main aim was to make sure everything was perfect inside the marquee, whatever was going on outside. Caroline and her team from Plas Gwynfryn, plus the bridesmaids and best man took responsibility for setting up and decorating the tables and marquee. We took charge of the food, with Ursula out front ensuring it all ran smoothly and that Rosie and Amber knew what they were doing and felt supported and confident. Caroline’s team cleared the tables, while my girls served. There was a gelling of both teams and at the end of the day I think we achieved this.
Tapas starters on the table
The buffet table for the main course
Cupcake wedding cake
If you are wondering about the bat theme…Sam, the groom is an ecologist specialising in bat services.
Pudding was a choice of Eton mess (home-made meringue naturally) or fresh fruit salad. The Eton mess was most popular, waitress served, which left no time for photographs sadly.
Overall the day went without major mishap, although we learned many lessons from the small cock-ups along the way…
- I couldn’t find kebab skewers for love or money and had to get the groom to phone a friend to bring them
- The tablecloths (that I commissioned) arrived late and were not right. The couple ended up having to hire eight extra round cloths from the venue. I was rather mortified as I hadn’t checked them when they were delivered to my house.
- Small items were forgotten…the blades for the hand whisk, a lemon squeezer…just little things
- We had no waste water bucket for the out-pipe of the sink (I’m afraid we left a rather waterlogged lawn for Caroline) but when I asked what other caterers did she told me that no one else had ever ordered a sink unit. I asked her what they did then for washing up, hand washing etc? She didn’t know but stated that the food was already prepared when it arrived on site. I felt rather proud of our little team and the fact that everything was freshly made.
- I think also I would need to check that I am in a professional catering marquee. Some of the stress came from not knowing whether I would have anywhere to cook in the morning.
- Caroline will hate me because I forgot to take our bin bags home with us
- And finally there was the coffee debacle. Our waitresses, plus Caroline’s must have toured the marquee pot in hand a dozen times. Still people came out saying they’d had no coffee. The problem was the sun came out briefly so people disappeared from the tables. We made tea and coffee until the boiler ran out of water and STILL people said they’d not had coffee! We could have stayed serving and making coffee all night but at 7pm the hog roast man arrived to set up for the evening so we had to call it a day and finish packing up.
Bev looked radiant and her day was (I hope) perfect…except the damn rain which we couldn’t have predicted. At the end she hugged me and said “oh Denise, thank you”….which meant the world to me.We arrived home at about 9pm. Too wired to sleep we ordered pizza (which we sat eating at 11pm with a couple of glasses of wine) before collapsing into bed after midnight slughtly drunk, very tired but happy we’d done a good job.
Its been a crazy month, but totally worth it. I love this job 🙂