Serene Garden Soirée with Keith and Nicole Williams

Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz

Newlyweds Keith and Nicole Williams have food to thank for finding love. In September 2015, the two met while ordering salmon at the Publix on Palm Beach. A week later, they shared an intimate dinner on a rainy evening. This meal led to many more meetings, and soon Keith, a Michigan native turned socially engaged Palm Beacher, and Nicole, a sharp-witted first-generation Italian girl from New Jersey, were inseparable.

Less than a year later, Keith popped the question during a trip to Italy. While dining high in the hills of Positano, Nicole started to hear a marching band playing music down the road below them. The typically mild-mannered Keith was overcome with nerves as Nicole talked nonstop about this exciting impromptu soundtrack. Thankfully, she paused long enough for Keith to propose. They returned to Tuscany in September 2017 to wed in front of family and friends.

Shortly thereafter, Keith and Nicole continued the celebration by hosting a seven-course Italian dinner party set in the garden of their newly renovated West Palm Beach home near the Intracoastal Waterway.

While the entire property received a facelift, Keith devoted much of his attention to the outdoors. Keith’s mother was a master gardener, a passion she passed along to her son, who is now a partner at the landscape architecture firm Nievera Williams Design in Palm Beach. His first professional project more than 20 years ago was the island estate of the Lauder cosmetics family. He’s been a much sought-after presence in the field ever since, lending his expertise to commercial and residential properties throughout the United States and beyond.

When it came time to care for his own abode, Keith transformed the once mundane garden into a relaxing scene with lots of visual interest. “I designed our garden with hedges to reflect rooms within rooms,” he explains. “I wanted to give the feel of a green room with barn lights and spotlights.”

He incorporated greenery of all shapes to create quiet enclaves, where seating areas hide amid the hedges. Neat Zoysia grass surrounds a stone dance floor and a plunge pool, two elements that hint at the garden’s party potential.

While the evening’s surrounds exemplified Keith’s talents, the food was pure Nicole. Having grown up in an Italian home with a strong emphasis on eating, she was eager to share this love of food and family with her friends. For this dinner party, Nicole—who works as an account executive and visual merchandiser for Gucci Jewelry and Timepieces—wanted the freedom to mingle with her guests, so she asked her brother, chef Filippo Dina, to travel down from New York to make the meal.

“I love to prepare Italian dishes myself, but my brother is a professional private chef who grew up watching food shows on TV,” says Nicole. “I chat while I cook and basically multitask, so I thought it would be better to have Filippo prepare the food for our dinner party.”

As the couple’s friends began to arrive, Nicole discussed the origins of her fondness for Italian cooking and Sicilian traditions, and how she’s incorporated those values into her new marriage. For example, she has perfected the classic “Sunday Sauce,” complete with homemade meatballs, sausage, and braciola. Her cooking and enthusiasm have changed Keith’s quotidian meals of plain salmon and two steamed vegetables to a more diverse plate of pasta, Italian sauces, and gelato.

“I got Keith [to love] Italian cooking, and now he is much more inventive in his choice of cuisine,” she says. “He even helps me in the kitchen.”

Quips Keith, “She normally throws me out of the kitchen, but even so, I now love to eat [the] Italian food she introduced me to when we met.”

Playful teasing aside, Keith praises his wife’s ability to bring people together through food. On this particular night, the couple’s reimagined Eden provided the ideal setting for an Italian feast. Under clear skies and a full moon, guests mingled in the garden, which became a delightful play of light and shade with clusia hedges, Philodendron Congo, Ficus nitida, and other plantings designed by Keith. Some guests lounged on the Restoration Hardware furniture flanked by illuminated hedges and shaded by palm trees. They sampled a white Negroni and pink grapefruit cocktail while sharing commonalities, including stories about their children and their work. They also discussed one of Keith’s most recent projects: the revitalization of The Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach. “It was a big client and very rewarding,” says Keith, who worked on the plaza’s roads, fountains, walkways, plantings, trees, and the addition of improved biking areas.

For dinner, everyone gathered around a wood table framed by large potted plants from Pennoyer Newman and candles in hurricane holders. Palm Beach floral designer Tom Mathieu made the towering centerpiece tree, which featured Italian ruscus and a curly willow base with large succulents, air plants, and monstera leaves highlighted by hanging, glass-covered candles.

The tablescape also echoed the garden theme. Mathieu made the placemats out of monstera leaves, layering them with gold chargers under white and green Limoges plates—each displaying a different plant—and modern, white Rosenthal dinnerware. Brushed matte gold flatware, black linen napkins, and garden-green William Yeoward crystal goblets completed the scene.

Then came the much-anticipated meal, which married the spirit of Italian home cooking with fresh products and masterful technique. “I love to cook for people and make them happy,” says chef Filippo. “I stay true to who I am by using only the best ingredients. I love going to markets, [and] I cook honestly.”

Filippo started with a first course of black mission figs in an agrodolce sauce with gorgonzola, toasted walnuts, and prosciutto. Afterward, he presented an innovative take on parchment paper, with mussels arriving wrapped like a present having been prepared en papillote using transparent cooking foil. A pasta course of cacio e pepe topped with a farm egg followed. Everyone raved about this simple yet flavorful dish, while joking about the fitness regimens they employ to combat carbs.

The culinary journey continued with pan-roasted grouper with orange cauliflower, pignoli, and currants in a brown butter foam. Diners then savored bistecca alla fiorentina, an Italian steak preparation served with charred broccoli rabe, a tomato relish, and cannellini beans. Chef Filippo steered toward the sweet for the sixth course, serving Sicilian lemon meringue and fior di latte gelato. A grand finale of warm ricotta cheesecake with dark chocolate and a black-cherry syrup blew everyone away with its rich perfection.

As guests toasted the newlyweds under the stars, they also celebrated the marriage of old and new traditions: the classic Italian concept of connecting through food, laughter, and conversation, paired with a thoroughly modern creative expression to inspire a new generation of gatherings.

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