Chef Adrienne Cheatham just can’t stay out of the kitchen—even on her wedding day.
The Top Chef star, who was the runner-up on season 15 of the Bravo series, tied the knot with business executive Stephen Bailey in an intimate ceremony in New Orleans on March 17—and created the cake for her big day on the big day.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Cheatham, 36, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I’ve never really gone to events where I’m not working in some capacity, so I was like, ‘I can’t just be there and do nothing.'” So two hours before the ceremony began, the bride—wearing a grey T-shirt with her hair curled up in pins—grabbed her tools to assemble and ice the three-tier, buttermilk cake with roasted white chocolate frosting.
“In retrospect I would have liked to go to brunch and hang out with friends and family and marathon drink all day, but yeah, I was making a cake,” she says with a laugh.
Cheatham, who is known for her elevated Southern cuisine, wisely left the rest of the menu preparation to the chef at Degas House, the site of the wedding (although “I kept feeling like I should be working,” she says.). Inspired by the flavors of New Orleans, one her favorite food cities, the couple and their 60 guests feasted on a variety of traditional Southern creole dishes, including an oyster station, a shrimp cocktail station, and Cheatham’s favorite dish: a subtly spicy vegetable creole stew.
The couple first met in 2015 at a wine bar in Harlem, New York after one of Cheatham’s 16-hour shifts in the kitchen. At first, she says she wasn’t interested in talking to Bailey, CEO and founder of ExecOnline, because she was “in a bad mood”—but once she finished her first glass of wine and the bartender nudged her to shake off the work day and talk to him, the pair hit it off. However, a few weeks after they met, Cheatham moved to Bermuda to help Marcus Samuelsson open a restaurant on the island. The pair fell out of touch, but, when the chef moved back to New York three months later, Bailey texted her to reconnect and asked her to dinner—and they’ve been together ever since.
While visiting the Willamette Valley in Oregon last summer—just a few weeks after Cheatham finished filming Top Chef—Bailey, 38, surprised the chef and popped the question. Overlooking the vineyard at the Domaine Serene winery, Bailey got down on one knee, holding a square cut diamond ring with a platinum band, and proposed. “Even though it was a complete surprise and I had zero input on it, he got the perfect ring,” she says. “It’s a little on the larger side than what I would have expected. I was like, ‘damn, this is big!’ but it’s beautiful.”
As for their wedding day, Cheatham said that despite being “super stressed” leading up to ceremony everything came together as planned—and that kissing her soon-to-be husband was all she could think about.
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“It’s weird because you’re standing there looking at this person that you’ve known for so long, and the priest is saying all these beautiful things about love and relationships, and it’s all kind of serious, but this is somebody that I know,” Cheatham says. “We sit on the couch and watch HGTV and we joke and laugh all the time. It was a really beautiful ceremony, but I was just like, “can I just kiss him now?'”
Cheatham says that wedding planning helped keep her busy after filming Top Chef because no one knew she had gone on the show aside from family and a few close friends. “We were living this weird kind of life where you know you filmed this TV show, and you know it’s going to air eventually but nobody else knows.”
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Now that Top Chef has aired, Cheatham has launched a pop-up dinner series in Harlem, which she plans to expand to other cities, including executing a possible collaboration with her season’s winner, Joe Flamm, in Chicago. She’s also slowly getting used to being recognized in public. “I definitely don’t feel like any kind of a celebrity, but it’s really cool [when] people come up and say, ‘oh my gosh, we loved you on Top Chef!'” she says “I was so happy to be behind the scenes of all the chefs I was working for, but now people are starting to see the food that I’ve done and that’s actually really rewarding.”
Because of the couple’s busy schedule, they haven’t found time to take a honeymoon yet but Cheatham says they’re planning a vacation to the Maldives and possibly either Thailand or Vietnam this summer.
Cheatham says she’s becoming more comfortable with her newfound celebrity status and balancing her bustling schedule, and that her husband has been fantastic during the transition—”he has the memory of an elephant,” so he’s been urging her to keep in touch with people and follow up on potential professional opportunities.
“He’s pretty awesome,” Cheatham says. “At first, I wasn’t sure how it would go, but he put it into perspective and said, ‘you know, baby, you worked for 14 years in restaurants for other people. Now you’ve achieved some level of success for yourself, so why not enjoy it and take advantage of it? If you’re happy, I’m happy.'”