When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers. Though we’re living in a moment where group celebrations are either being called off or adapting to extreme social distance, in many ways these pre-quarantine parties are just the escape we need right now.
Here, we spoke with Eleanore Park, an SEO editor and food writer at The Wall Street Journal, and Greg Wright, a sous-chef most recently of Marlow & Sons. They met as line cooks in San Francisco and returned to the Bay Area for their wedding last August. Former restaurant colleagues pitched in as vendors, and locations included San Francisco’s majestic City Hall, a swanky cocktail lounge in Chinatown, the restaurant where they met, and a bar neither can remember the name of.
Eleanore: Being from the Bay Area, we’ve seen our share of vineyard weddings. There were a lot of things I didn’t want. When you Google anything having to do with weddings, a thousand Pinterest boards that do not speak to me at all come up. Everything from the photography to the lettering, I hate. Sorry, I just went on a rage rant.
Greg: But we did want the chef, Brandon Jew, who’s now a friend of ours, to cook for the wedding. Eleanore and I met working at his restaurant — this was 2011 in San Francisco, and the place was called Bar Agricole. She was working the grill station and I was working the garde-manger station.
Eleanore: The first time I remember him getting my attention — and I’m not saying he did this intentionally — he burned me with a sheet tray. We were all running around, getting ready for Friday night service, and he just got me.
Greg: We started dating around late 2011 or early 2012, and then moved to New York together in 2013. I proposed in 2018 in this hippie town in Mexico called Zipolite. We knew we wanted to have the wedding back in San Francisco because we both considered it our home city.
Eleanore: Brandon really did play a huge role in our coming together as people, and saw us grow. He’d already opened up Mister Jiu’s when we were planning the wedding, and was just opening his new place, Moongate Lounge.
Greg: We thought it wouldn’t be possible, though — we had grand dreams but not a ton of money. He gave us a friends-and-family deal to help us get Moongate Lounge, so we planned on having that be the location for the ceremony and reception after a welcome drink at Bar Agricole. But the first event was our wedding at City Hall. We met there with our families and got officially married. It was very personal, and we didn’t really tell anyone we were doing it.
Eleanore: I’m convinced it’s the most beautiful city hall in the whole country. The ceiling is very high, and it gets an abundant amount of natural light. There’s a very dramatic staircase that you walk up to get married — more than enough for a ceremony. We only had our immediate families, 12 of us in total, attend.
Greg: I don’t know if we really thought that through because we showed up at Bar Agricole with wedding rings on and the 100 guests waiting were like, “You got married?”
Eleanore: Our friends are really easygoing people. I think no one really cared that we were technically married. The ceremony on Saturday was what I was really excited to share — the Pyebaek. In Korea, it’s traditionally held after the initial ceremony; no one announces you as husband and wife. From my understanding, it’s sort of about celebrating the families coming together.
Greg: I’d never attended a Korean ceremony before. I just watched some YouTube videos that she found for me. We used a small Korean business called Mizzland that arranged everything for us — brought the outfits, had all the things that came along with the ceremony — and they very much guided us through the whole thing.
Eleanore: I just Googled “Pyebaek Bay Area,” and they popped up on Yelp. They rented out hanboks, the traditional Korean garments, and assisted with organizing and planning the Pyebaek. The day of, they had three staffers present who brought props, set up the ceremony, and made sure everything ran smoothly. Before that, though, I had an appointment with them in their shop at a strip mall, where I worked with them to choose the hanbok for myself and Greg. Like most New Yorkers, we were color introverts and strictly wore gray and black all the time; but the ceremony was so colorful. Very bright and colorful on all levels.
Greg: I got gussied up in my J. Crew suit, and really didn’t want to take everything off and put it back on again. I just removed my coat and tie and put everything on top, which was a horrible mistake because these outfits were very warm. During the ceremony, I just got hotter and hotter and hotter.
Eleanore: Traditionally, the Pyebaek is meant to honor the man’s family, but that didn’t make sense in our case since it was my family who was Korean — so both families participated. During the custom, soju is poured with dduk, which is a food that resembles a rice cake. A huge part of the ceremony relies on family members, usually the groom’s parents, to throw Korean dates and chestnuts at the newlyweds to predict how many children they’ll have.
Greg: They threw them into a drape that Eleanore and I were holding. Everybody enjoyed that part because it seemed that we were going to have maybe 36 kids. Toward the end of the ceremony, all of our family wanted photos, more and more people wanted photos, and, after a certain point, I had to say, “No more photos. I’m so hot I’m going to die.”
Eleanore: For our canapés, we had hamachi on a fermented cabbage chip and peanut, olive, and shrimp chips. Our signature cocktail was called a “space egg,” which was sort of an inside joke between me and Greg.
Greg: I think I had half of a cocktail because everyone had said, “Don’t drink too much!” For dinner, there was a chicory salad that we used to make at Agricole with a hazelnut Dijon vinaigrette and shaved Pecorino. Brandon made a variant with potatoes on top instead of fried Jerusalem artichokes. He also did a tomato salad with green Szechuan peppercorns on it, a sausage dish, and a whole fried fish — that was kind of a showstopper. Some of the stuff I didn’t even get to eat because we were making the rounds, greeting each table, speaking with people, and trying to spend time with every single guest. My chef brain was making sure that everyone enjoyed the food — we had so many guests with different culinary backgrounds — but Brandon was a serious perfectionist. I really didn’t have to worry.
Eleanore: My grandfather flew in from Seoul and made a really moving toast. My brother and sister gave a joint speech that had everybody in tears, and Greg’s parents and sister spoke. We ended with a toast from my freshman year roomie, Tiffany.
Greg: We had our first dance to K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life.” The DJ was another cook friend, Kelvin Castellanos, who Eleanore worked with at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. We had a lot of help from our restaurant friends, which made everything more personal and also saved us some money.
Eleanore: He gave us a homey discount, which was really sweet and generous. The thing about this wedding was that it was the direct result of these lifelong relationships — with people like Kelvin and Brandon — we’d cultivated in kitchens. Some of these people we hadn’t spoken to in years, yet they showed up when we needed help for our wedding and demonstrated the utmost generosity. I didn’t have to think for a second. It’s something I will never truly recover from.
Greg: The dress code for the wedding was “Rihanna at a disco,” which translated to the music selection. We wanted to hear songs that we would have played at our prom.
Eleanore: His edits seamlessly incorporated Motown and Whitney, and transitioned into Carly Rae Jepsen. He segued into the K-Ci & JoJo from Tupac’s “Changes.” Like, [chef’s kiss].
Greg: We were in the middle of dancing when we realized, Oh, now we’re doing the cake-cutting.
Eleanore: I told Brandon and his team that my favorite cake in the world was the tres leches cake from Tartine. He had an extremely talented pastry chef, Melissa Chou, make it — she absolutely nailed it. It had the DNA of a tres leches cake, a cousin of the Tartine cake, with coconut and lychee. It was beautiful, beautiful.
Greg: The after-party was at … I can’t remember the name of the bar. That’s when things started to get blurry. As far as not drinking, it was a gradual acceleration. We honestly didn’t drink all that much until the very end.
Eleanore: I could have stayed at Moongate Lounge forever.
Greg: Brandon poured us shots and that vibe carried into the after-party. We desperately looked for a place that would be available for free because we were at the end of our budget by that point. So it was held at a bar where other people were having a normal Saturday night — we just rolled up.