Will Gilson’s passion for food began at a very early age. At 15, he became a chef’s apprentice in Boston. By 17, he had opened a restaurant at The Herb Lyceum, his family’s 4-acre farm in Groton. His epicurean fixation was no passing phase, and the farm-to-table dishes he began cooking then have since become his hallmark.
Today, Will is the chef-owner of Puritan & Company in Cambridge, which received two James Beard nominations and was listed on Bon Appetit’s “50 Best Restaurants” shortly after it opened in late 2012.
Clearly, he’s poured his heart and soul into the restaurant. It’s fitting, then, that he would meet the love of his life there, too.
When Molly Kravitz came in for a drink one evening, Will made himself busy nearby to check her out. “Bluntly,” he says jokingly, “I stalked her at my very own restaurant.” Molly, who was then a candidate for a master’s degree in gastronomy at Boston University, disappeared before they had a chance to speak. But savvy friends ushered her back in later that same evening — then quietly departed, leaving Molly and Will to mingle.
The pair quickly bonded over shared passions (Molly also worked as a waitress and food writer) and they were engaged at the Chatham Lighthouse in March 2015, two years after they met. Under the guise of picking up restaurant equipment nearby, Will had lured Molly into a day trip. “He was up and ready to go that morning. It was odd, because he’s not a morning person at all,” Molly recalls with a laugh. “We had the dog with us, and it started to drizzle. He handed me the dog’s leash, then the umbrella, and suddenly he was down on one knee. It was a total surprise.”
The couple didn’t think twice about where they’d hold their celebration. The Herb Lyceum, with its romantic gardens and 19th-century restored barn, was the obvious choice. Planning the menu, though, took a little more thought. With a large portion of the guest list coming from Molly’s home state of Indiana, the couple knew they wanted guests to have “a real taste of New England—and, of course, oysters,” says Molly, who has lived in Boston for seven years and works in public relations.
Will quickly declared he would do all of the cooking. “I’ve catered so many weddings at that farm,” says the chef. “I knew the logistics.” Molly, however, was concerned that preparing the food would take Will away from the festivities.
Luckily, the couple’s circle of friends includes several award-winning area chefs, who offered to intervene. A handful — including groomsmen Louis DiBiccari (chef/co-owner of Tavern Road) and Jamie Bissonnette (chef/co-owner of Toro and Coppa) — would help with passed hors d’oeuvres. Steve “Nookie” Postal, chef and proprietor of Commonwealth, offered to tow out his smoker and oversee the kitchen and serving staff. Will would prep the main course ahead of time, but hand the reins over on the big day.
Various food and beverage vendors helped out with provisioning, too, and in the days leading up to the wedding, Will and Molly coordinated drop-offs, dealt with decor, and transported foodstuffs between Puritan and the farm. Will also began brining chicken thighs, seasoning salmon with salt, sugar, and citrus zest, and marinating flank steak in a spice and herb rub.
Setting up for the party was a real family affair: Will’s dad, David Gilson, and stepmother, Cathy, groomed gardens and created herbal centerpieces for dining tables. The bridesmaids’ bouquets, men’s boutonnieres, and multiple floral arrangements were made by the mother of the groom, Jodie. Molly’s parents strung up lights. “We feel spoiled,” says Will of the help. “It means more to us than if we had spent $100,000.”
The August afternoon of the wedding was warm, with a beautiful breeze. Guests began to flow in through a nasturtium-lined arbor — many had arrived on a chartered bus from Cambridge — and into the farm’s inviting gardens. Inspired by the casual formality of Provence and Tuscany, Will’s father had been massaging the landscape for more than four decades to host events just like this one — small in scale, familial, relaxed. Even the bride and groom seemed almost uncannily at ease, which, Molly admits, was uncharacteristic. “My friends can’t believe I [was] so calm,” she says, “because I’m usually not like that.”
Meanwhile, Chef Nookie stood behind the barn, tending to his smoker. The chicken thighs were “stalling” — chef-speak for not coming up to temperature as quickly as he’d like. And he still had to get the salmon and flank steak on the grill. Inside, a team of servers, a sous-chef, and cooks continued prepping. But even among the pressures of the kitchen, there was a sense of excitement rather than stress.
In a sunken garden, servers finished setting up a bountiful table piled with cheeses, fresh bread, charcuterie, beet tzatziki, and other nibbles. Down a pathway, others put final touches on a raw bar loaded with poached shrimp, smoked-paprika scallop ceviche, Paine’s Creek oysters from Brewster, and Will’s cocktail sauce.
Guests took their seats on the lawn, where the couple were married under a custom-made dogwood huppah laden with dahlias. The structure was a nod to Kravitz’s Jewish heritage, though the ceremony was purposely not religious. (Will was raised Unitarian, “which is like a weekly meet-and-greet that ends with cheese and town gossip,” he jokes.)
The bridesmaids — Molly’s four closest childhood friends — presented Wilferd Peterson’s poem “The Art of Marriage.” DiBaccari followed with a hilarious reading of the lyrics from the Huey Lewis & the News song “The Power of Love.” And after sealing their heartfelt vows with a kiss, the couple’s adorable Australian shepherd, Indy, arrived, as if on cue, at their heels for a pet.
Cheering guests began celebrating with cocktails, including an Aperol and gin specialty popular at Puritan. Servers delivered appetizers put together by an impressive who’s who of the Boston food scene: smoked bluefish pate and ’nduja, a spreadable pork salumi, by Matt Jennings (Townsman); figs with blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto by Colin Lynch (Bar Mezzana); mortadella calzones by Dante de Magistris (Restaurante Dante); arancini by Tony Susi (Capo); shrimp and chorizo sausage by DiBaccari; mini grinders by Bissonnette; and Will’s own stuffies, a favorite of Molly’s.
After the 90-minute cocktail “hour,” guests filed into a casually elegant and utterly charming greenhouse strung with cafe lights. Two long tables were set with white plates, rustic-chic table linens, and herb centerpieces for the 125 guests.
Dinner, which featured produce from the Gilson farm (it includes another 10 acres nearby), began with greens, tomatoes with burrata, and cucumber-beet farro salad dressed with yogurt, all served family-style. Next, guests were treated to what seemed like never-ending platters of the chicken, salmon, and beef, along with copious sides of roasted potatoes and grilled corn salad.
As stars began to appear above, dessert rolled in, literally, in the form of a Cool Cow ice cream truck offering soft-serve and retro frozen treats. Giddy guests took to the dance floor, where a DJ spun tunes until the bus was boarded for its return trip to Cambridge. But the celebration wasn’t over yet. The throng headed to an after-party at Puritan, where, of course, the food kept coming — this time Tasty Burgers, BLTs, pizza, and pasta.
None of which, it should be noted, was made by Will. Because although the stomach may be the way to the heart, sometimes the cook needs to step out of the kitchen. “For the record,” admits the groom with a laugh, “I don’t think anyone should ever do all the cooking for their own wedding.” Luckily, he didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way. “In this brotherhood of the food industry,” says Will of his friends’ gracious gifts, “everyone is willing to help out. It’s very humbling.”
MORE PHOTOS:Meaghan O’Neill is a freelance writer based in Newport, Rhode Island. Send comments to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @BostonGlobeMag.