Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Berry Good Night in La Jolla

This is the second year that I have directed the table decor for a grand annual event in La Jolla.  I have styled a few other small events here, but this one is the largest of the year.  The host and hostess have a jaw-dropping estate, on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a view of prime beaches and downtown La Jolla.  They also happen to be among the nicest, most gracious and generous people one could ever meet, and routinely open their home to support non-profits and many worthy causes.  How would you like to see this view each day?~


This area of La Jolla is also well known for the paragliders that circle the bluffs.   Single or tandem, they glide by, far above the beach but just above the palm trees of the estate.  I’ve no desire to try this, but it looks like fun; there was a small bar area setup outside yesterday, next to this cliff, and as one glider passed close above, he shouted, “Make mine a Margarita!”


There is a beautiful courtyard on the inland side of the house, protected from the sun and ocean breezes, lushly planted with all sorts of shade plants and flowers.  The marble friezes and other art on the walls of the courtyard give just a hint of what lies inside the beautiful home: the owners’ collection of museum-quality tribal and Oceanic art. 


The  star of this party, however, is the garden.  It wraps around the bluff in a series of paths; this time of year, the agapanthus are in their glory.


The berries grown on the property are featured in the menu; hundreds and hundreds of vines are planted: many varieties of blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and strawberry to start the list.  Each segment of the walk begs you to walk just a little farther and discover what is just out of sight; a feature of a wonderful garden.   I love this walk~


There are berries everywhere, including in hanging planters~


The edible section of the garden is noted as organic, and is densely planted with vegetables: in summer, kale, gourds, tomatoes, basil, corn and dozens of other plantings.  This perfect white gourd is the one in my French cookbook, hollowed out and filled with hummus, so I took a photo; the plants here are very happy and well-tended.


Looking back up the walk from the bottom of the vegetable garden, you can see how dense it is; full of lots of great stuff.  It is a small farm.


Looking up the coast, framed by flowering arugula~


You can find everything here, including plenty of citrus and stone fruits~


As well as chickens and a very large aviary full of dozens of tropical birds; yes, it’s a beautiful Toucan, in Southern California.  These birds are all lovingly attended~


OK but back to business.  It’s Berry night, and I had to get to work…


I had eight amazing helpers, and I first put them to work finishing the napkins while I sorted out the crates and the electric.  The last thing you want to do is cross anyone on the electrical setup, as no one wants to blow the power and by the day-of it’s all been tested.  Each of the eight dinner courses was paired with a wine, and this year as with last year, I wanted to display all the wines.  There was debate as to whether the power would be maxed out, but in the end, the men worked it out and the chief electrician gave it his blessing.  This shot was during setup~


Berries from the garden and lots of corks were used to accent the crates.


Each of the accessory tables were draped in my burlap sheets, and I taught the girls how to make a simple garland.  It’s so fun to teach those who are interested in how to use greens for decor.  I let the girls have some liberty in the choices; always best to encourage them and make it collaborative, as long as it meets my basic criteria.  Passion fruit works well, and we added blueberries.


There were 20 dining tables, which held bottles of balsamic, water, bread baskets, extra glasses, cutlery, napkins and various plates and a crachoir (spittoon in American vocabulary).   There was not a lot of room on the tables after all that.  Rather than the vases of flowers used in previous dinners,  I used cuttings from the extensive gardens as well as votives; a great match for this event and the estate; when you have a garden this vast, there is no need to buy flowers. Most of the tables were florally accessorized differently, with various flowers and herbs; I took so few photos, I was busy getting the tables done, even with a lot of help it just takes time.




I decided on a sprig of mint and a spike of flowering Thai basil to finish each of the napkins; these smelled wonderful and were tied with waxed linen twine from Beaune; the cutlery is inside; the bundle was set out on the menu card like this~


I ran around for several hours with my big straw hat and two baskets, cutting carefully from the garden and giving direction to my helpers and slowly getting through all the work to be done.  The wine presentation looked like this as the day ended~


The tables were set; vintage mismatched chairs were used, as well as benches; these looked great.


Bare-legged tables were covered in burlap, wrapped and pinned behind, and one of the girls helping me brought the top of the fabric over the top to show the fringe like this.  Love it!  I threw a grain sack from Burgundy on top, then a large vase of white agapanthus, iceberg roses, white oleander and more Thai basil flowers to tie in with the napkins.  A spray of rosemary, oleander, lavender were added last, with an apple from the garden as the “bow.”   It sounds simple, but it still takes time to put together.  This is the DJ/announcer’s table, where each chef explained their course.  I made a few adjustments after this pic, here it is coming together~


And at last, after 5pm, the guests started to arrive; they went on guided garden tours and picked berries in these baskets while I continued to run around to finish just one more little detail that I noticed.

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Along the tour guests were refreshed by lemon verbena water~


As well as lavender-lemonade~


Food stations included a fresh goat cheese with Myers lemon  and blueberry gelee~


as well as a signature and pretty cocktail~


The wait staff were all impeccable; can’t say enough about how helpful and nice with all were, to me as a stylist and a dinner guest!  You are going on my Pinterest page today!

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And as the sun set, the evening played out~



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Everyone took a seat, but was asked to move to a new table and meet new friends or greet old ones after every other course; there were eight.


The full moon was rising as the dinner continued~


Eight courses, all small but phenomenal, were served.  The food deserves another post, I can’t cover all of it here~


The wind had blown out the initial votive candles, and so I asked the staff to light them as it was now dark.


all I can tell you now is that the food was beautiful and creative and delicious…


What I didn’t say upfront is that while this dinner features berries, it is also a showcase for San Diego’s best farms and farmers.  All local, prepared by San Diego’s best chefs


The dessert included a strawberry shortcake with creme and berries, as well as a macaroon filled with a subtle habanero flavor.  Delicious!!


At the end of the meal, we had coffee, and everyone was in a relaxed mood, including the baby goat in attendance, here with my new friend Cara from Specialty Produce; I’m going to tour their facility soon!


I arrived home to Laguna after 1am, up at 6am and finishing up a long day in Laguna and feeling a little flat after such a busy weekend. Lot of photos here, I know, but there is so much to say about this wonderful event.


  1. What a perfect night and the fact that it was in La Jolla makes it picture perfect. Gorgeous!!

  2. Really amazing Andrea!
    So much fun to see all the details come together and then the incredible food. Definitely a memorable evening for all!
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. Andrea you have outdone yourself as usual! I am sure the guests felt so comfortable in this gorgeous setting made even more so by YOU!

    Yes another post on the food courses would be excellent...

    Giveaway from Enchanted Home!

  4. The tour you gave us was fantastic! It all looked very magical glowing in the night. You did very very good,you have a very good eye for staging and styling and seeing where it will all progress, something I would never have thought of. Can't wait to hear more about the food!

  5. Thank you for letting us tag along on this beautiful event. It's so nice to see the transition from day to evening. I loved how the guests switched tables. I wonder if you get nervous when you are preparing for your events and trying new ideas? They always seem to work beautifully!

  6. You always add such beautiful touches to everything you do. Bravo! A wonderful journey through your weekend, thank you for sharing.

  7. LIsa Barnhouse-GalJune 28, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    Great to meet you, love this post!!!