Pelican Hill Backstories
he Resort at Pelican Hill® is known for many things: its golf courses, its Tuscan architecture, its unstinting attention to guest service. To the staff, however, weddings at Pelican Hill stand alone. Not only do these events present the quintessential opportunity to make dreams come true, but they also serve as a powerful reminder of the positive difference one person can make in another’s life. Just as no two weddings tell the same story, the individuals behind the scenes have followed their own path. In this installment of Backstories, meet a few of the remarkable team members whose varied experiences led them to realize their own dream: becoming an invaluable part of The Resort at Pelican Hill.
I remember the moment when I understood what a cocktail could be,” said British-born James D’Arcy, who at the time was a young dance student in London. “I was at a private members club in Chelsea … and I ordered a Manhattan because I had never ordered a proper cocktail and it sounded like a terribly grown-up sort of drink.”
That evening’s Perfect Manhattan led James to a bartending job that paid his way through dance school. It was only then that he realized how much a fine cocktail and art, particularly dance, have in common.
“I have a romantic association with cocktails. I believe it’s about creating something that goes beyond its separate parts,” he said. “It’s much like dance and choreography in that it can transport you somewhere else. A cocktail is another vessel for delivering that experience.”
The unexpected parallels between these two passions brought James to a crossroads in his life. His choice to pursue bartending as a career was followed by years of hands-on training by the top barmen in the United Kingdom, and he brought that know-how with him when he crossed the pond to join The Resort at Pelican Hill.
As beverage manager, James creates specialty cocktail menus, updates wine and beer offerings and crafts and cultivates spirits for special events, including weddings. A popular request from bridal couples is a custom drink to mark their special day. With James’ vast knowledge of classic cocktails and modern variations, he conjures up a personal recipe for each couple.
“It’s not always about the cocktail, though,” he said. In London, he learned to hand-carve ice cubes and, for one wedding celebration at the Resort, added that unique flourish to the couple’s customized “Old Fashioned” bar.
“I love working to create one-of-akind experiences,” said James. “Wedding drinks are a bit sacred. This is your bespoke cocktail, and there’s something quite special about that.”
A Passion for Pastry
At 15, Jeff Lehuede left school in his native France in pursuit of a lifelong dream: to become a pâtissier, or pastry chef. The decision to follow his heart was inspired by his mother, who instilled in him a passion for pastry and a determination to embrace every challenge as a new opportunity.
“She has golden fingers,” he said of his mother. “It seemed she had no limits when it came to making things with her hands. I learned from her that if you can try it, you can do it.”
Chef Lehuede has made good on this philosophy throughout a 34-year-long career that has taken him around the world. After passing his pastry chef master exams and beginning his career in France, he moved to Southeast Asia, where for seven years he created delectable desserts at some of the best restaurants and hotels in Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Chef Lehuede’s global experience, combined with his love for the art of the pastry, were the perfect ingredients for his position at The Resort at Pelican Hill. Conceptualizing and creating all things sweet is a monumental task, but the chef is quick to credit the teamwork of those who share his kitchen. In particular, his collaboration with sous chef Jaquiline Martinez has proven invaluable in one of his favorite undertakings.
“When it comes to the wedding cake, couples deserve something really special and I want to constantly improve upon my work,” he said. “Instead of developing ideas only in my head, it’s better to share and brainstorm with Jacky. Two heads are better than one, and we try to complement one another.”
Each cake that Chef Lehuede and Jaquiline create is an opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s adorning the fondant — the thick layer of icing that frequently covers wedding cakes — with 24-karat gold leaves, or coordinating the logistics for a cake that will magically descend from a chandelier.
“We are never doing the same cake twice,” he said. “All those requests make it interesting. And when you have the passion, it doesn’t feel like work at all.”
The Science of Service
“Growing up, I wanted to be an architect,” said Maneesh Rawat. “I used to tell people that one day I would be designing buildings.”
But, after graduating from the 12th grade in India, Maneesh made a decision that would alter the trajectory of his life. Faced with a narrow choice between pursuing computer or architectural engineering at the university level, he instead seized on a childhood experience that resonates with him even today.
“My dad was in foreign services, so my family would frequently stay in five-star properties for a month at a time,” he said. “Living in a hotel was so fascinating.”
Leaving the engineering sciences behind, Maneesh completed his bachelor’s degree in hotel management, moved to the United States for his master’s degree, and joined Tamarind of London in 2011. When Tamarind in Crystal Cove Promenade became the catering partner for Indian weddings at Pelican Hill, Maneesh developed a close relationship with the catering team, and was drawn to the Resort’s commitment to delivering a highly personalized guest experience.
“In India’s hospitality industry, you have two or three people taking care of each guest. In the United States, that is rare,” he said. “But when I came to Pelican Hill, it felt like I was home.” Just a few weddings later, he joined the Resort on a full-time basis.
As the director of banquets, Maneesh brings his passion for hospitality to the most personal of Resort events: weddings. He assures guests that if they can dream it, he can make it. He connects brides with whatever resources are required to execute their visions, like draping a ballroom in swaths of vibrant fabric or configuring a stage for a 20-piece band. What he loves most, however, is the relationship he builds with each guest throughout the planning process.
“We had a guest who got married here, then came back years later to celebrate her child’s first birthday,” he recalled. “I have seen this child grow up. Our job is to create memories,” Maneesh continued. “If you have fond memories of a place, you’ll keep coming back.”