It’s just a simple, intimate backyard get-together on a beautiful summer day. Jill Scott’s spirit-lifting “Golden” sets the festive mood. Guests filter in, taking places at one of six tables draped in sheer gold cloths. Once everyone’s seated, their glasses filled just right, there’s a toast: “This is the bridal shower brunch for Malinda Williams and all of her girlfriends are in the building!”

Well, make that a tent. And, okay, maybe it’s not such a “simple” event. Malinda, after all, is one of Black Hollywood’s hottest actresses, her girlfriends are all fabulous, and even the guy making the opening toast is a superchef, TVOne’s G. Garvin, who’ll whip up the five-course meal for the affair. Malinda will exchange vows on August 23, 2008, with her beau of three years, Derrick Jones (aka former rapper D-Nice), and this is the celebratory kickoff.

Celebrity fashion stylist Tiffany Hasbourne (the maid of honor) and Malinda’s sisters Leslie Dunn and Lisa Sorensen (who hosted the festivities at her Studio City, California, home) coordinated the shower. The 18 guests include Malinda’s mom Beverly Williams, and four of her five bridesmaids-Terri J. Vaughn, Vanessa Williams, Leslie Dunn and Lisa Sorenson (bridesmaid number five, Nicole Ari Parker, couldn’t make it). Mingling among them are actresses Tasha Smith, Salli Richardson and Dawnn Lewis (A Different World) as well as fitness expert A.J. Johnson, who made a mad dash from the airport to join in the fun.

Vanessa Williams, who played the bride’s big sis on TV’s Soul Food, agrees: “I’m honored to be here as part of this [group] of gorgeous women who are surrounding Malinda with all of the love and light that she reflects.”

Judging by the tears brimming Malinda’s eyes, it’s evident that her heart is full from the loving, encouraging messages from family and friends. “These are some of the women who have held me up over the years,” says Malinda. “I feel like we’re all celebrating together-not just me or a place that I’ve reached, but a place we’ve all collectively worked at helping me get to.”

As entertainment, Garvin schools his captive audience with a few kitchen tricks, like using tongs instead of a spatula to flip fish in a hot pan. “I’ve been doing it all wrong,” the bride-to-be says with a laugh. Then, dapper black-clad waiters serve up plates of lump crab, yellow pepper bisque, Japanese snapper and roasted short ribs. Topping off the courses is a berry-rich ice cream sundae, a perfect finale for the scorching day. “His food and his [cooking] are amazing,” says Johnson. “I’m into it for the taste and the healthiness.”

Once every belly is satisfied, Malinda moves from table to table, hugging and chatting up guests. There are no visible signs of pre-wedding jitters. “Malinda is the calmest bride I’ve ever met,” shares Hasbourne. “Every once in a while, I’ll shoot her a quick e-mail saying, ‘Look at these shoes,’ and she’ll [respond], ‘Okay.’ I’ve seen no signs of a bridezilla.”

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Her secret to remaining calm during a storm? “I’ve learned to take one day at a time. When I worry about what happened yesterday or about what’s going to happen tomorrow, that’s when I get myself into trouble, ” says Malinda.

As the party winds down, guests depart with a gift bag containing a copy of Garvin’s cookbook, Make It Super Simple with G. Garvin (Meredith), a heavenly slice of cake from Beverly Hills, California, bakery Kiss My Bundt, and a satchel of crystals as a special thank-you from the bridal party. Couldn’t make it? No worries-the event is scheduled to be featured on an upcoming episode of Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin. Next stop? The bride-to-be’s home state of New Jersey for a second bridal shower and, of course, the Big Day. Stay tuned!

Additional reporting by Kenya N. Byrd



Photo Credit: Eric Grigorian/Polaris

Dawnn Lewis, left, A.J, Johnson and Malinda Williams