Asian-Inspired Oceanfront Wedding in Big Sur, California

Alison and Jess

Photographed by: Christofer Jae PhotographyLocation: Monterey, California, United States

“It’s over. That girl is the girl for me,” proclaimed Jess Leroy as he pointed out Alison Raby, a bartender at a popular Chicago nightspot, to his friend. Determined to win her heart, Jess proceeded to visit Alison at the bar every night for three months until she finally agreed to go out with him. It worked.

Not long after, Jess moved to San Francisco and Alison to nearby Big Sur, and for nine months Jess would drive down from the city to spend weekends with Alison exploring Big Sur’s breathtaking coastline. When the time came for Jess to plan his proposal, he tended to every detail, even ensuring that the bed and breakfast he planned to take her to would allow them to bring their dog, Lucy. Under the guise of a belated birthday celebration for Alison, Jess arranged for a night of romantic serenity. After dinner, he laid out twelve gifts by a roaring fire, and when Alison finally unwrapped her surprising last gift, Jess took the ring from her hand and asked her to marry him. Without a moment’s hesitation, Alison said “yes.”

Because Big Sur had played such a major role in the development of their relationship, the couple knew it was the place to celebrate their next steps. They chose their venue because of its spectacular surroundings but pulled together most of the wedding details themselves. They had a very personal and eclectic vision for their ceremony and reception that fused their commitment to spirituality, nature and an affinity for Asian style. Thanks to road trips in their car packed with supplies and the help of friends and family in playing various roles, Alison and Jess created a beautiful affair that was truly a labor of, and about, love.

Alison and Jess made and printed their own invitations and menus, as well as personalized labels for the bottles of wine they gave as favors. To carry out their theme, they brought in hanging lanterns and Asian style chairs and an artist friend transformed bamboo steamers into lovely flower girl baskets. They took a deep level of joy in developing their ceremony which borrowed marriage rituals from their shared Jewish foundation, Alison’s African-American heritage and the Buddhist, and spiritual texts she was studying at the time. Alison’s spiritual teacher led the diverse and moving service which included Jess’ mother singing the traditional seven blessings in Hebrew. An altar was also raised to house a collection of items that symbolized the loved ones who were no longer with them, such as Alison’s father, Al Raby. Just before the couple honored him by “jumping the broom,” an African-American custom, their ring bearer, Lucy, came bounding down the aisle to join her little family in their union. Two female rabbi/cantors closed the ceremony by leading a beautiful candlelit shabbat after sunset.

Jess chose all of the music for their reception, and, in between dances, the guests were seated at elegant tables adorned with sophisticated orchid centerpieces in square vessels. A menu of duck confit on a bed of endive and shaved fennel, organic baby greens with fresh pears and seared Ahi tuna with wasabi butter sauce was served alongside vegetarian and vegan alternatives. In addition to their favorite bottle of wine and chocolate truffles, Alison and Jess gifted their guests with a copy of a special book, The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron, which Alison held close to her heart.

During the ceremony, Alison and Jess called upon their guests to remember a time in their lives when they felt truly loved and to send them the energy of that memory along with their blessings. This gesture not only added to the intensity that Alison and Jess experienced, but it allowed their guests to feel included in the proceedings in a rare and thoughtful way. “Everyone said that it was the most beautiful and intimate wedding ceremony they had ever been to,” recalls the couple, adding “It was a magical day for us and for all the people we chose to share our union with.”