A passion for food, travel and family are as important to the relationship of Jennifer Balucan and Russell Reyes as their love itself, shaping the long distance relationship they auspiciously endured for four difficult years. It began when Jennifer left southern California for Philadelphia to attend medical school in 1998. Hundreds of phone bills and countless frequent flier miles later, the couple finally reunited in Los Angeles only to jet off again a few months later to Hawaii. There, a romantic proposal on Waikiki Beach transformed just another one of their exotic vacations into the most momentous journey upon which Jennifer and Russell could ever hope to embark.
As graduates of UCLA with strong ties to its community, Jennifer and Russell chose to get married in the same church they attended in Westwood while dating. They also wished to keep their reception “in the neighborhood” and decided that the St. Regis Hotel was a perfect backdrop for an affair that paid tribute to those favored elements that forged their relationship from the beginning: food, travel and strong family bonds.
As spiritual people, Jennifer and Russell were married in a traditional Catholic mass. Entering the church and seeing Russell surrounded by family and friends was so emotional for Jennifer that when she focused on Russell’s eyes, both couldn’t help tearing up. To honor their Filipino heritage, Jennifer and Russell also incorporated the candle, cord and veil rituals into their ceremony that each symbolized their joining together as husband and wife.
Known as devotees of dining out, the couple’s meticulous menu was inspired by their seasoned palates. After a cocktail hour that boasted five-spiced Muscovy duck confit and assorted sushi prepared to order, guests were seated in the ballroom at tables named for the international cities Jennifer and Russell had visited together. Each guest’s place card also represented the couple’s wanderlust by being fixed to a wine cork, reminiscent of their frequent trips to northern California’s renowned wine country.
The first of several creative performances at Jennifer and Russell’s celebration was a video they specifically commissioned for their reception. Beginning with photographs of the couple with friends and family, the video transformed into a short film written by Russell with segments actually shot on location in Miami. The plot, loosely based on a Charlie’s Angels action film, had Russell kidnapped by his groomsmen “thugs” and rescued by Jennifer and her “angel” bridesmaids. The film ended with actual scenes from their wedding day, right up until the couple’s entrance into the ballroom, and was met by an overwhelming response from their guests as they watched themselves as players in Jennifer and Russell’s exceptional production.
Later in the evening, the couple participated in another Filipino tradition called the “money dance.” The bride and groom took turns dancing with each guest who pinned money to their clothing, creating the fund traditionally used to begin their new life together. More than anything, it was an opportunity for Jennifer and Russell to spend some extra time with their loved ones and personally thank each of them for sharing in their day.
The dinner, offering more of the couple’s favorite dishes, was followed by a wedding cake created by Jennifer and Russell’s beloved King’s Hawaiian bakery. It was a four-tiered combination of Hawaiian Paradise cake (three layers of guava, passion fruit and lime chiffon cake with whipped cream and nectar glaze) and Dobash cake (chocolate chiffon cake with chocolate pudding filling) frosted in white cream and topped with a cascade of white orchids and burgundy roses. Once the cake was cut, Russell took command of the microphone and he and the band surprised the crowd with a version of Nick Lachey’s “This I Swear,” which he had been practicing in his car for months. Everyone, including Jennifer, was floored!
As friends and family said their good-byes, they were again treated to more favorites from the bride and groom. Each guest left with Godiva chocolates and a CD containing the soundtrack to Jennifer and Russell’s relationship. The couple used a picture from a recent journey to Peru for the CD cover. A fitting final touch to a wedding made so memorable because of the extra mile Jennifer and Russell traveled to add something personal to every detail of their wedding. From their heartfelt ceremony to their final farewells, this was an opportunity for Jennifer and Russell to share their life in love with friends and family. Like their peerless relationship and its many adventures, it was a celebration made richer by the finer details and like their history together, a memory that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.