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When Two Raleigh Food Stars Get Married, the Charcuterie (and the Party) Is Next-Level

Vogue Logo By Alexandra Macon of Vogue | Slide 1 of 33: Ashley Christensen and Kaitlyn Goalen met in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 2010 at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium. Kait was living in New York City at the time, working as an editor for the food publication Tasting Table, and Ashley was just a few years into opening her first restaurant, Poole’s Diner, in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We met at the event and had a few good conversations over the course of the weekend,” Ashley says. “Then we just stayed in touch here and there.”
Fast-forward seven years, and they now run a Raleigh restaurant group—Ashley is its James Beard Award–winning chef, and Kait is the executive director. They were having dinner at the Players’ Retreat, a college bar and restaurant that’s been around since the early 1950s, when they came to the joint decision that they wanted to get married. “At some point, Kait looked up from her laptop, because it was a working dinner, and said, ‘I think I want to get married!’” Ashley remembers. “From there, we talked more and decided we were both ready. We started to tell people a few months later, and got married about 18 months after that.”
Both Ashley and Kait were adamant about having a wedding that felt like them. They wanted it to be fun, and free of any stuffiness—they went back and forth about whether they even wanted a ceremony. When they ultimately decided that they did, in fact, want to have a service, they also came to the realization that they wanted the whole event to feel like a big party with incredible food, music, and a free-flowing agenda. “The first thing we picked was the location,” Ashley says. “We got married at our friend Eliza Kraft Olander’s home because it’s one of our very favorite places on earth.” The 55-acre property features several giant outdoor sculptures, including a life-size T. rex and Thomas Sayre’s towering “earthcastings.”
The couple planned the entire wedding weekend themselves, then passed the torch over to their friend Carol Pyszkowski so they could really enjoy the weekend. “She’s an event planner, and we knew she’d be able to navigate the amount of unusual logistics involved in our plan,” Ashley notes.
While choosing the location came easy, Kait wasn’t sure the dress-finding process would be. (She knew she wanted to wear a dress, but not something white.) But she was in luck: The first look she tried on, a gold Kate McDonald dress, ended up being the one. Meanwhile, Ashley worked with friend Mala Pielat, formerly the ready-to-wear tailor for Billy Reid, to create a custom light blue suit with a pink dress shirt. The AC-KG logo that appeared on the invitations was embroidered onto the collar of the jacket.
Attendants and guests were told to wear their most comfortable summer garden party outfits, and they gathered in a circular driveway on the property to watch Ashley and Kait marry under a gazebo. “The ceremony was short but so amazing,” Ashley says. “We were married by John T. Edge, our good friend and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. We drank Champagne while we walked in, our dogs wore flower collars, and we wrote our own vows. It was laid-back and celebratory, but also sentimental.”
Afterward, everyone gathered for a reception that was meant to feel like a “really intimate, extravagant hang,” Ashley says. “We didn’t have a dance floor, assigned seating, or anything like that. We tried to organize the food and bars and band in a way so people could flow through the space and not feel like they had to be anywhere at any specific time.”
As restaurant folks, food was inevitably front and center. The events team from their company, AC Events, did the majority of the menu. “It was a combination of our favorite dishes and things that Ashley is known for, like macaroni au gratin, tomato pie, and fried soft-shell crabs,” Kait explains. “We also asked some of our good friends from restaurants in the area to do a dish—our friend Mike Lee of M Sushi in Durham, North Carolina, made the most ridiculous uni and toro hand rolls; our friend Lin Peterson of Locals Seafood shucked oysters for our raw bar. And Josh DeCarolis of Mothers and Sons did late-night spaghetti carbonara.” In addition to a full bar, they had a giant 30-liter bottle of Champagne and an Aperol Spritz cart to greet people as they arrived, plus frozen margaritas by the pool.
The music was the second focus of the night: The couple asked their friend Brad Cook to organize the live music, and he in turn asked some of their very talented musician friends to be their “wedding band.” It included Justin Vernon and Matthew McCaughan of Bon Iver; Brad and his brother Phil Cook; and Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso. “They sat in a circle right in the middle of everything so it felt really intimate and open,” Kait says. “Throughout the night, we had a few friends do little guest stints and sing songs—Caitlin Cary, formerly of Whiskeytown, and Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ.” Brad also surprised Ashley by having Bruce Hornsby show up to play a few songs. “They have always bonded over their love for him,” Kait explains. “And nobody knew except the band and me that he was going to be there! He was so kind and generous with his time.”
“We weren’t planning on doing a first dance, but when Bruce Hornsby and Justin Vernon sang ‘Black Muddy River’ we danced and cried really hard.… I think everyone did,” Ashley says.
At around 9:30 p.m., someone jumped in the pool. And before long, everyone was in. “It was otherworldly and exactly how we wanted the night to go,” Ashley says. “We left at around 2:00 a.m., spent the night at the nearby Umstead Hotel, woke up, and signed our marriage license.” Then they went back to Eliza’s house for a second pool party to wind down, where their friend’s pita truck, Soomsoom, helped nurse everyone’s hangovers.

Ashley Christensen and Kaitlyn Goalen met in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 2010 at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium. Kait was living in New York City at the time, working as an editor for the food publication Tasting Table, and Ashley was just a few years into opening her first restaurant, Poole’s Diner, in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We met at the event and had a few good conversations over the course of the weekend,” Ashley says. “Then we just stayed in touch here and there.”

Fast-forward seven years, and they now run a Raleigh restaurant group—Ashley is its James Beard Award–winning chef, and Kait is the executive director. They were having dinner at the Players’ Retreat, a college bar and restaurant that’s been around since the early 1950s, when they came to the joint decision that they wanted to get married. “At some point, Kait looked up from her laptop, because it was a working dinner, and said, ‘I think I want to get married!’” Ashley remembers. “From there, we talked more and decided we were both ready. We started to tell people a few months later, and got married about 18 months after that.”

Both Ashley and Kait were adamant about having a wedding that felt like them. They wanted it to be fun, and free of any stuffiness—they went back and forth about whether they even wanted a ceremony. When they ultimately decided that they did, in fact, want to have a service, they also came to the realization that they wanted the whole event to feel like a big party with incredible food, music, and a free-flowing agenda. “The first thing we picked was the location,” Ashley says. “We got married at our friend Eliza Kraft Olander’s home because it’s one of our very favorite places on earth.” The 55-acre property features several giant outdoor sculptures, including a life-size T. rex and Thomas Sayre’s towering “earthcastings.”

The couple planned the entire wedding weekend themselves, then passed the torch over to their friend Carol Pyszkowski so they could really enjoy the weekend. “She’s an event planner, and we knew she’d be able to navigate the amount of unusual logistics involved in our plan,” Ashley notes.

While choosing the location came easy, Kait wasn’t sure the dress-finding process would be. (She knew she wanted to wear a dress, but not something white.) But she was in luck: The first look she tried on, a gold Kate McDonald dress, ended up being the one. Meanwhile, Ashley worked with friend Mala Pielat, formerly the ready-to-wear tailor for Billy Reid, to create a custom light blue suit with a pink dress shirt. The AC-KG logo that appeared on the invitations was embroidered onto the collar of the jacket.

Attendants and guests were told to wear their most comfortable summer garden party outfits, and they gathered in a circular driveway on the property to watch Ashley and Kait marry under a gazebo. “The ceremony was short but so amazing,” Ashley says. “We were married by John T. Edge, our good friend and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. We drank Champagne while we walked in, our dogs wore flower collars, and we wrote our own vows. It was laid-back and celebratory, but also sentimental.”

Afterward, everyone gathered for a reception that was meant to feel like a “really intimate, extravagant hang,” Ashley says. “We didn’t have a dance floor, assigned seating, or anything like that. We tried to organize the food and bars and band in a way so people could flow through the space and not feel like they had to be anywhere at any specific time.”

As restaurant folks, food was inevitably front and center. The events team from their company, AC Events, did the majority of the menu. “It was a combination of our favorite dishes and things that Ashley is known for, like macaroni au gratin, tomato pie, and fried soft-shell crabs,” Kait explains. “We also asked some of our good friends from restaurants in the area to do a dish—our friend Mike Lee of M Sushi in Durham, North Carolina, made the most ridiculous uni and toro hand rolls; our friend Lin Peterson of Locals Seafood shucked oysters for our raw bar. And Josh DeCarolis of Mothers and Sons did late-night spaghetti carbonara.” In addition to a full bar, they had a giant 30-liter bottle of Champagne and an Aperol Spritz cart to greet people as they arrived, plus frozen margaritas by the pool.

The music was the second focus of the night: The couple asked their friend Brad Cook to organize the live music, and he in turn asked some of their very talented musician friends to be their “wedding band.” It included Justin Vernon and Matthew McCaughan of Bon Iver; Brad and his brother Phil Cook; and Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso. “They sat in a circle right in the middle of everything so it felt really intimate and open,” Kait says. “Throughout the night, we had a few friends do little guest stints and sing songs—Caitlin Cary, formerly of Whiskeytown, and Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ.” Brad also surprised Ashley by having Bruce Hornsby show up to play a few songs. “They have always bonded over their love for him,” Kait explains. “And nobody knew except the band and me that he was going to be there! He was so kind and generous with his time.”

“We weren’t planning on doing a first dance, but when Bruce Hornsby and Justin Vernon sang ‘Black Muddy River’ we danced and cried really hard.… I think everyone did,” Ashley says.

At around 9:30 p.m., someone jumped in the pool. And before long, everyone was in. “It was otherworldly and exactly how we wanted the night to go,” Ashley says. “We left at around 2:00 a.m., spent the night at the nearby Umstead Hotel, woke up, and signed our marriage license.” Then they went back to Eliza’s house for a second pool party to wind down, where their friend’s pita truck, Soomsoom, helped nurse everyone’s hangovers.

© Photo: Johnny Autry

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