I'm back with another vendor spotlight interview where we find out more about wedding industry professionals I have had the pleasure of working with...
Today we're at The Colonnade Hotel in Boston, MA. I photographed Alison & Matt's wedding here and was absolutely blown away by the look and feel of the hotel, the crazy-helpful hotel team, the most beautifully presented and delicious food I've ever seen at a wedding (and I've seen a lot...) and so I thought you might like to know more...
Although many of my couples already have their wedding venue booked when they contact me, I'd say maybe 10% get in touch with me first to check my availability (especially if they've been in a previous wedding I've photographed). If you're still on the hunt for Boston wedding venue in a luxury boutique hotel right in the Back Bay, you should make an appointment quick!
I had the pleasure of interviewing both Gabi Urso, the Social Catering Manager and Chef Nicholas Calias and we'll start with Gabi:
Leah: So Gabi! I can't tell you how happy I am to be back at the Colonnade, it's so welcoming, full of amazing photographic opportunities and the team are just fabulous! I'd love to know a little more about you:
Gabi: We're so happy to have you here! Well, I'm originally from Conneticut and I went to school in Newport, RI where I got my Masters in Business Hospitality. I've always had a love for the hospitality industry, anything food and wine related and I personally love cooking and baking. The only other thing I could imagine doing would be singing on Broadway!
Leah: Tell me more about your role at The Colonnade.
Gabi: I've been at the hotel for 3 years now and in my current position as Social Catering Manager for almost a year. The majority of my work is wedding related but I also take care of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, birthday and anniversary parties. I show the different facilities from our ballrooms to smaller salons and of course Boston's only rooftop pool to couples thinking of having an event here.
Leah: So if a couple is interested in the Colonnade for their wedding what should they do?
Gabi: Make an appointment and come on in! I personally meet with all couples, we tour guest rooms and suites so they can see where they would be getting ready. They can look at our ceremony space if they plan on having the whole event here. I'm very detail oriented and I help them to see how everything would look on the day. How their guests would see it. We'll then chat and I'll answer all of their questions. I schedule lots of time for each meeting so no-one feels rushed.
Leah: Once a couple have made their (wise) decision to have their wedding at The Colonnade, what kind of role do you play?
Gabi: As it's usually the first time they've ever done this, it really varies by couple. For some, I act as their personal wedding coordinator and hold their hands through the process. For others, they prefer more of a hands-off approach and I'm happy with that too. As their date gets closer I'll work with them on the tasting, answers any questions they have, reach out to their vendors, confirm their food and beverage requirements, handle room reservations and help them with items to bring such as personal champagne flutes for toasting etc. On the day of the wedding I'm 100% here for them. I have an operations background so I'm making sure the linens perfectly touch the floor, the candles are arranged just right!
Leah: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Gabi: So many things!!! Most of all, the connections I make. I get really attached to the couples. We'll be going back and forth for a while on all of their plans and I'll really get to know them and what the day means to them. It's an honor to build such relationships and to be a part of something that you know they'll remember for a lifetime. As an independent boutique hotel we really have a sense of family and once you get married here, you're part of the Colonnade family! We'll often help couples out with plans for anniversaries, dinners at Brasserie Jo.
Leah: What advice would you have for a couple who haven't yet decided on their venue?
Gabi: Choose a venue that fits your personality and style. Don't change your plans to fit your venue. An extreme example would be a relaxed sport-obsessed couple deciding to get married in a museum or library - it won't feel right! Some venues have restrictions that can limit your day.
And then I got to meet with Hotel Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage, Nicholas Calias - which was a blast. So many interesting stories and you can't help but be blown away by his absolute passion for food and love for weddings.
Leah: Chef Nick, thank you for meeting with me! Can you tell me a little bit about how you became a chef?
Chef Nick: My parents actually owned a restaurant so I could cook a perfectly medium-rare steak before I could throw a curve ball! I'm originally from NH and now live on the Seacoast and I honestly feel like I have the best job in the city of Boston. The Colonnade is an independent hotel so there's a lot of freedom in my role. I have a great Vice President and General Manager who allow us to really showcase the food and the hotel to it's very best.
Leah: I have to comment on the cheese display I saw at Alison and Matt's wedding. There are almost no words to describe it and I don't think it's what guests would ever expect to see at a wedding...
Chef Nick: I personally hate the expected/standard cheese plate you see at so many weddings. You dump some cheese on a plate with toothpicks and within moments it looks picked over and completely unappetizing. I have somewhat of a china fetish and so I came up with the idea of having tiny individual cheese plates with a garnish. The first wedding I did this for, the couple entered the room and literally started to cry. They couldn't believe how it was set up. And it grew from there. We added fondue, then the baked brie, the house-made ricotta with pickled vegetables.
I remember talking to a couple about their wedding and the bride told me her Dad was really against the cheese display but she asked him to trust her. A week after the wedding I got a 3 page letter raving about the wedding, the service etc and 2 pages were solely about the cheese! The best part is at the end of cocktail hour it still looks amazing and appealing.
Leah: It's so refreshing to hear how you want to give couples the very best experience at their wedding. I obviously spend every weekend at different venues and there are definitely those where you feel they're just churning out mass-produced food with no love.
Chef Nick: We're a little different here at the Colonnade. I personally like to meet with couples. Why wouldn't you want to get to know the person who will be cooking your food and feeding your guests? We're here to make you look good! This is your wedding day and if your guests are happy then you'll be happy! Much as I love innovating and coming up with creative menus, I'm also very conscious that it's YOUR wedding day. I've even incorporated family recipes into the menu when it's been important to the couple.
Leah: What happens at a tasting? What should the couple look for or expect?
Chef Nick: By the time they leave they should have full trust and absolutely no worries. We advise them they'll be here for 2-3 hours. They'll get to try all sorts of things, even see what the china will look like. We discuss the food, what they'd like to see served.
Leah: How would you describe the food at The Colonnade? Other than awesome ;)
Chef Nick: Our food, much like the venue, is sophisticated with a simple elegance. I don't ever want to serve banquet food. I cook and serve restaurant quality food in a banquet setting. I want your guests to have a beautiful dining experience vs. just eat dinner. We take huge pride in our food, everything is made from scratch with a lot of love. We don't do hot boxes, it's all plated on the line and delivered straight to the table. We've plated 270 meals in 13 minutes including roasted vegetables in Le Creuset individual dishes.
Speaking of Le Creuset individual dishes, here they are, note the steak - no dried out meat here!
Chef Nick: I love working with couples to make their wedding reception really memorable. We've done "fast food for dessert" with pound cake "burger buns" and a chocolate pâté "burger". Tiny sugar cookie "french fries" and raspberry puree "ketchup".
We don't ever take the easy option and we want to make everything the absolute best it can be. At The Colonnade you won't find a little plate of hard butter balls on the table. Each guest will have their own individual dish of salted butter and a fresh herb butter at just the right temperature to spread on their hot fresh roll.
Leah: What advice would you have a couple planning their wedding as it relates to the food that will be served?
Chef Nick: You don't need to compromise. If there's something that's important to you your venue should work with you on it. Don't feel like you need to defer to the venue. Be honest about what you want. Yes, there are the big chain hotels in Boston , I'm friends with most of the chefs, but make sure you're not hung up on a name. I truly believe we offer the best food in the city, We're have a great location, we're the only hotel with a roof top pool, we have the best team of people who'll work with you for an outstanding event! I'd also suggest spending your money wisely. If I feel a couple are thinking of having an excessive number of food or dessert stations I'll work with them to save their money!
Leah: You're so right! The Colonnade has a somewhat unassuming facade and the first time I walked inside I was just wowed. My expectations were completely exceeded. I can't think of any other venue in Boston where you can take beautiful elegant ballroom pictures and then go up to the roof! On the wedding day, what's your role?
Chef Nick: I personally greet the couple on their arrival and then we start cooking the hor d'oeuvres. I want everything to be fresh and piping hot for their friends and family. I always check in and say goodbye. I want each couple to be completely happy with their experience.
Leah: Thank you so much! I think this will be really useful information for many couples. One last "fun" question. What would you want for your last meal? [this was the first time I saw him a little stumped :) as he tried to narrow down all of the options!]
Chef Nick: Wow, where to start? Well, I know who I'd want my last meal with, it would be with my wife and our three chidren. I'm torn between a peanut butter and fluff sandwich with a glass of milk...or maybe a great roast rack of lamb with an olive tapenade?
And with that Chef Nick had to head back to work. Interestingly he is also the Director of Food & Beverage with a big team to manage but he chooses to stay in his chef whites. I hope this interview gave you an insight into the absolute passion he has for food. As Gabi and I finished chatting, he sent out this riff on "breakfast for dinner" with pork belly that was perfectly unctuous and crispy all at the same time, topped with a tiny quail egg, brioche toast soldiers and all sorts of other deliciousness on the plate. I would put this in the top 5 things I have ever eaten (and I've eaten a lot of awesome food in my time!).
So hopefully this blog post had some useful information about important things to consider when choosing your Boston wedding venue. You've heard from Gabi and Nick about the service and the food and now I'll share just a few more pictures of Alison & Matt's wedding to show you why I adore shooting at the Colonnade:
#1 Where else in Boston do you have an elegant black and white floor, beautiful ballrooms AND a rooftop pool? Photographic opportunities abound!
#2 The Colonnade has the BEST location. You're minutes from the Public Gardens, perfect for family pictures and cute little moments like this:
#3 The ballrooms are beautiful. The lighting is a photographer's dream. Interestingly there are no windows and I wouldn't have even noticed until someone else pointed it out. If you have your cocktail hour on the rooftop, your guests will still be in awe of the view when they sit down for dinner. Beautiful ambience for a first dance:
If you want to read back through all of the blog posts about this awesome fall wedding in Boston then you can catch up with these links:
Alison & Matt getting ready in their respective suites **here**
Alison stepped into her wedding gown and everyone cried **here**
Matt & Alison said "I do" at Our Lady of Victories Church in Boston, MA **here**
We had lots of time for relaxed wedding pictures in the Boston Public Gardens **here**
Guests enjoyed the delicious food art at cocktail hour back at the Colonnade Hotel **here**
And the final pictures of the "dance-the-night-away reception **here**
Coming up tomorrow I have an interview with one of my FAVORITE florists and then it's time for Stacy & John's beach engagement pictures! Do say hello in the comments and/or let me know if there are other vendor spotlights you'd like to see....