Designing the Ultimate Wedding Cake

Designing the Ultimate Wedding Cake

The Artistic Whisk | Photo by Kenzie Shores Photography

The Artistic Whisk | Photo by Kenzie Shores Photography

That moment where the silver lining on the wedding planning cloud has finally arrived – the “design wedding cake” item on your wedding-to-do list! The venue has been selected, and contracts have been signed. You have met with every wedding vendor possible from photographers to wedding planners and décor professionals to hair and makeup artists. You have never been more ready to move on to more delicious tasks – choosing and designing your dream wedding cake!

Everyone in the wedding planning entourage is likely to get on board with this task. Couples may already have favorite flavors in mind and are looking to match the design with the overall theme for the wedding reception. Pinterest is a bride’s best friend during the wedding planning process, and even more so when it comes to designing the wedding cake. The challenge lies in finding the perfect design, while still ensuring the cake tastes delicious. A seemingly simple task is suddenly made more difficult, but at least tastings are involved!



Factors to Consider
You will likely have a design in mind as you begin the process of selecting the baker who will make your dream wedding cake come to life. You may have sampled scrumptious cake at a previous wedding or event or have seen incredible designs on Pinterest. As you begin the task of narrowing down choices for your design and baker, some of the same factors that play a role in selecting the venue, décor, and other wedding components are also important in this selection. Mercedes Blackwell, Owner of and Cake Designer at The Cake Studio agrees and says “[your cake designer] will be able to suggest the best options in order to achieve your vision for your wedding.  Today’s dessert and cake options are so unique and varied, that you will surely find several alternatives that will make your wedding a memorable experience.”

Photo Provided By Zehra's Cupcakery

Photo Provided By Zehra’s Cupcakery

Budget: Your budget will impact how intricate the design of your cake as well as the number of tiers. Using fresh flowers vs. sugar flowers, Styrofoam layers, a sheet cake for serving, all of these are options for optimizing budget. Speak with your cake designer to determine the best way to achieve your dream vision without breaking your budget.

Venue: Is the wedding reception outdoors or indoors? The temperature and serving time will influence the choice. Some frostings can withstand heat, whereas others need refrigeration. With the right details, your baker recommend flavor and frosting pairings accordingly.

Guests: The guest count is crucial as many bakeries charge per serving. The number of guests will also help determine the number of tiers needed for your cake. Will other desserts be served leaving the cake to present the “wow” factor? In either case, your baker can suggest ways in which to maximize serving size and still amaze your guests.

Flavors: With so many flavor profiles from which to choose, couples can feel inundated. Trust your baker, s/he is the expert and can recommend complimenting flavors. For couples who want to offer a variety, Zehra Laljiani and Saba Hasnain, founders of Zehra’s Cupcakery, suggest they “opt for dessert tables featuring a variety of miniature desserts or cupcakes along with a smaller wedding cake, or feature a groom’s cake along with the wedding cake.”

Theme: Consider the overall theme of your décor, invitations, and event in general when selecting your design. Jovana Boksen, Owner of and Chief Pastry Artist at The Artistic Whisk suggests that “the bride and groom should research what styles of cake they think suits their theme. We recommend coming to the tasting with some sort of inspiration, i.e. color swatches, invitations, Pinterest boards, dress photos, etc.”

Prepare for Tastings and the First Meeting
The list of possible bakers has been narrowed, and now comes the fun part – the tastings! The experts all agree that keeping an open mind during the process is key. Tastings give couples an opportunity to not only sample the baker’s specialties, but to also understand flavor pairings and profiles. Boksen shares “We prepare 21 unique flavor combinations at our tastings, which is a lot of cake! Remember to choose which flavor you think is best. Don’t try to please everyone, it’s impossible.”

Photo Provided by The Cake Studio

Photo Provided by The Cake Studio

Coming to the tasting with the right people is just as important as bringing your appetite. Laljiani and Hasnain advise couples to “bring only the people who will have a final say in the decision regarding the cake design and flavors. While it may seem fun to have your bridal party, parents, and in-laws at your tasting, it can result in too many varying opinions and make the experience more daunting for the couple.” Staying true to what you as a couple enjoy will be important as you make the final decision. Though your guests should enjoy the cake, ultimately, the cake is one of many memories you will remember from that day.

The first meeting also gives bakers and cake designers to get to know the couple. An understanding of the bride and groom’s personalities as well as their likes/dislikes will shape the final design. Blackwell shares that “getting to know the couple a little bit is also very important to me. I enjoy getting a glimpse of their individual personalities and finding out how they met. This conversation usually reveals something interesting and unique that can be incorporated into their wedding cake.” 

As you venture out to tastings, some additional questions to keep in mind include:

  • Can the baker accommodate dietary restrictions?
  • Will the baker be preparing other wedding cakes the same day?
  • How far in advance should orders be placed?
  • Will the baker offer recommendations on the best to way serve?

The Perfect Wedding Cake
The experts share their thoughts on the perfect wedding cake.

Jovana: My idea of the perfect cake is probably what I made for my own wedding!  I particular like classic cakes, but with a twist. Something original that hasn’t been seen before, those are my favorites. As far as flavor goes, I enjoy cakes that are made from scratch while using all-natural ingredients. I can always tell the difference!

Mercedes: My cake preference is a simple, clean design with some height and a very marked focal point, such as a large bloom. I like muted shades with a touch of “bling” such as gold or silver. My flavor preferences are complete opposites because I always like to offer two flavors. The first would be a light Raspberry Lemonade combination, which is Lemon Chiffon cake with Raspberry and Cream Cheese fillings, and second would be Dark Chocolate cake with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Ganache fillings. Offering completely different flavors makes it more exciting!

Zehra and Saba: We always enjoy a cake that is unique, exotic, and daring. The one we enjoyed creating most was our dragon cake, which was a coconut cake with a mango buttercream and mango, passion fruit, and basic reduction as a topping. This cake was the perfect blend of sweetness, tanginess, and spice and would be a wonderful choice for a bride who is looking for an exotic dessert.

Featured Experts
Special thanks to the experts who contributed their advice and tips for designing a wedding cake.

The Artistic Whisk
Jovana Unietis Boksen, Owner & Chief Pastry Artist
Tel: (727) 560-5662

The Cake Studio
Mercedes Blackwell, Owner & Cake Designer
Tel: (407) 614-2860

Zehra’s Cupcakery
Zehra Laljiani and Saba Hasnain, Co-Founders
Tel: (678) 640-6415

About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. Based in the Bay area, The Arpan Group works with clients across the US. For more information, visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appears in the September 2016 issue of Desh-Videsh.

Get to Know: Shilpi Chhotray, Founder of Samudra Skin & Sea

Get to Know: Shilpi Chhotray, Founder of Samudra Skin & Sea

While studying the human impact of coral reef ecosystems in Cairns, Australia, during her undergraduate years at Virginia Tech University, entrepreneur and environmentalist Shilpi Chhotray discovered a newfound respect for the integral role played by the oceans in the overall well-being of our environment.

An East Coast native, Shilpi earned a Master of Earth and Environmental Resources Management, with a concentration in Marine Affairs, from the University of South Carolina, and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning from Virginia Tech University. Now located in San Francisco, Shilpi thrives on the innovative and creative spirit of the Bay Area, where she has had the opportunity to work on a range of projects dedicated to addressing marine environment issues.

Shilpi ChhotrayShilpi was further inspired by a trip to India in 2014. While there, Shilpi met with local seaweed farmers, many of whom are women, and learned more about the sustainable harvesting process and the health benefits of the plant. Channeling this knowledge and her passion for preserving and sustaining the oceans, Shilpi founded Samudra Skin & Sea, a skin care line that is 100% organic and natural and uses seaweed harvested off the coast of California. Through Samudra Skin & Sea, Shilpi hopes to bring awareness to ocean conservation and the sustainable seaweed processes.

In addition to Samudra Skin & Sea, Shilpi also works for Future 500, an NGO that specializes in stakeholder engagement, where she direct the oceans program with a focus on coalition building, and serves on the Advisory Board of the Whale Sanctuary Project.

Learn more about her what motivates Shilpi as well as her newest endeavor, Samudra Skin & Sea.

What was the inspiration behind Samudra Skin & Sea?
My work with seaweed was game-changing and something I’ve continued to pursue learning more about. When I was researching the environmental, economic, political and conservation aspects of seaweed, I also learned of its incredible health benefits , especially for skin, the biggest organ in the body. Seaweed is rich in essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals that feed and nourish the skin. I was amazed by its inherent sustainability characteristics , as it needs only water and sunlight to thrive and can be grown without pesticides or harmful contaminants. And the more sustainable, the healthier it is for our bodies and planet.

I was also inspired by it’s ability to help provide farmers, specifically women, with green jobs that can help combat the pressures from climate change and over fishing. After a trip to India in 2014 where I observed the harvesting process used by women seaweed farmers, I was determined to incorporate this sustainable harvesting process to produce high quality, organic skincare. Samudra, which means ocean in Sanskrit, was born from my dream of blending global economies, cultures, and environments as well as the mind, body, and spirit.

Why focus on ocean conservation? What is the importance of oceans in the overall schematic of our environment?
Our oceans need more attention. The oceans cover more than 70% of our planet yet only 2.8% is protected. I’ve always been fascinated by and deeply respectful of the diversity of marine life, from charismatic whales and dolphins to colorful corals and seaweed, which provide food and shelter for countless marine species. Our monumental, dynamic, blue planet requires greater protection by governments, citizens, and especially the private sector, which is responsible for the extraction of marine resources and pollution through chemicals and plastic contaminants. Samudra’s role in providing clean, organic, and pure skincare is just as much about healthy skin as it is about healthy oceans. We want to educate consumers and encourage other companies to do the same. I believe the interconnections of people and planet connecting the dots between environmental and social issues, which are more in sync than we know. Through seaweed we can empower people and communities, and safeguard our marine resources for generations to come.


How do you harvest seaweed? How do you transform the seaweed into the end product?
Our seaweed is local, edible grade, hand harvested, and dried in the sun. We calculate our harvest volume based on growth rates and densities that do not interfere with the marine environment. By working with a commercial harvester who has innate knowledge of the marine ecosystems (he has been harvesting on the coast of Northern California for over 20 years), we know exactly what goes into the process first-hand. There is only so much you can learn from books and experts that spend more time in academia than actually in the water. I am a firm believer in integrating local and traditional ecological knowledge wherever possible. Furthermore, by harvesting myself, I have learned more about the ecological integrity of the process- providing assurance that our seaweed is handcrafted with conservation at the forefront, which goes hand-in-hand with producing the highest quality attainable.

Tell us more about the products offered by Samudra.
We have four introductory products which are 100% organic and natural, vegan, cruelty free and handmade without synthetics, fragrances or dyes, GMO’s, glutens and parabens. Products and packaging are plastic free to reduce environmental impact, especially stressors facing our oceans like single use plastics and microbeads. Our products include:

  • Healing moisture-rich body butter. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, shea butter, and avocado oil.
  • Rejuvenating facial cream. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, hibiscus extract, jojoba seed oil, and rosemary hip extract.
  • Detoxifying facial mask. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, betonite clay, activated charcoal, and colloidal oatmeal.
  • Lather-rich soap bar for hair and body. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, avocado butter, shea butter, maracuja and argan oils. Biodegradable.

Facial MaskWhat is your favorite product offered by Samudra?
I love all of the products, but I’d have to go with the body butter. It’s been an incredible solace for my dry skin and eczema. I have a number of food sensitivities and allergies that cause skin rashes so the Samudra line has been a turning point in my skincare routine since it’s plant based, consisting of high quality essential oils and pure ingredients. I’m not one to wear makeup, so having healthy and glowing skin via my soaps and creams is important to me.

What can we expect from Samudra in the next year?
We debuted our introductory products in April this year and are now in four San Francisco-based locations. We’re planning to launch our online shop this August and continue to expand our retail locations. We look forward to continuing our NGO partnerships – to date we are working with The Marine Mammal Center to raise awareness about the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of seals and sea lions on the California coastline. Secondly, we are partnering with 5 Gyres on a consumer action campaign to call attention to the state of microbeads and plastics ending up in our oceans.

Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?
My parents, like most Indian immigrants are extremely hard working and have a strong work ethic that has been engrained in my sister and me. They have also supported me as I followed a not so traditional career path – I think they recognized from the time I was a young professional that I was not going to be fulfilled in a traditional 9-5 or following someone else’s direction forever. In the early days, it was more challenging, but they’ve really opened up to my ideas and approach to social entrepreneurship.I have an incredible network of strong women in my life- friends, family, and other female entrepreneurs who constantly provide me with inspiration and confidence in a heavily male-dominated society. Finally, my fiance who is a creative soul- an artist and engineer, is Samudra’s biggest fan and constantly encouraging me to follow my dreams and reach my goals, however unattainable they seem at the moment. I respect his views and opinions immensely so it means the world to me when we share ideas and collaborate.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing nontraditional careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?
Listen to your inner voice, more often than not, society and the status-quo will tell you otherwise. Do what makes you You. With hard work and a supportive community, you can make your dream a tangible reality. Especially for women of color, the time is now to demand gender-equality in the workplace and this goes towards entrepreneurship too, we are still fighting an uphill battle to earn the same opportunity, pay and arguably respect, for the SAME work to our male counterparts. A united voice alongside female-led entrepreneurship networks are necessary, if not essential, to paving the way forward.

About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Images provided by Samudra Skin & Sea and Shilpi Chhotray. Article appears in August 2016 Desh-Videsh magazine.

Get to Know: Scott Haas, Psychologist and Author

Get to Know: Scott Haas, Psychologist and Author

Scott-Haas1 Five years ago, clinical psychologist Scott Haas began interviewing Indian Americans and Indians living in the United States. Raised in both an immigrant family and a heavily immigrant community in Plainfield, New Jersey, Haas has a clear understanding of the challenges faced by individuals seeking both opportunity and the desire to assimilate in their newly adopted homelands. Haas became interested in understanding exactly why Indians in particular have made great accomplishments in the US compared to other immigrant communities.

In Those Immigrants!, Haas shares interviews with 30 prominent Indians, all of whom have excelled in their fields. Though his publisher initially pushed for interviews with well-known, celebrity Indian Americans, Haas chose to focus on individuals with whom the average person could connect. In looking to identify the traits beyond the typical stereotypes, Haas uncovers some commonalities related not only to culture and tradition, but also to shared value of education and sense of entrepreneurship.

From Vijai Nathan, comedian, to Gita Gopinath, economist, and Maya Ajmera, education advocate to Saatvik Ahluwalia, public servant, among others, each of these personal stories explores the catalysts behind the many achievements of the Indian American community. The passion, drive, and self awareness exhibited by those featured in Those Immigrants! engages readers and inspires them in their own pursuits.

Haas is also the author of Back of the House, Hearing Voices, and Are We There Yet?. He is co-author of The Da Silvano Cookbook. His work appears in several publications, including Saveur, The Boston Globe, Wine Enthusiast, Travel + Leisure (North America and Southeast Asia), among others. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and maintains an active consultative practice emphasizing diagnostic work in psychiatric hospitals and urban communities of color. Follow his work via his blog,

What inspired you to write Those Immigrants? What was the impetus behind the writing of this book?

Each year more and more colleagues are from India or with Indian backgrounds. I wanted to know more about my community, and dispel myths of success. To understand the pragmatic reasons for extraordinary achievement in one community and to discover lessons applicable to all communities, whether immigrant or “native born.”

Those Immigrants!
The book profiles an impressive group of 30 individuals from varying backgrounds, and each with a unique story to tell. How did you compile the list?

Through friends and friends of friends. Through research on the internet. I wanted a range of people — some wildly successful and others at the start of their careers. Well known careers in tech, and surprising careers in stand-up comedy and jazz singing.

What commonalities do these individuals share that have made them successful and thrive in the United States?

Access to mentoring, understanding of hierarchy, skilled culturally with diversity, strong and supportive families, deep value for education, an ability to focus on long-term goals, entrepreneurship.

If you had to pick three to five profiles as the most inspiring or unique, which would you choose?

Oh, that’s so hard to say! I wouldn’t want to exclude others. Honestly, I learned an enormous amount from each person.

Immigration is clearly a hot button topic right now. What are your thoughts on challenges faced by immigrant communities now versus those that arrived in the United States 30-40 years earlier?

The infrastructure is better now, there is more exposure to many types of people in U.S. cities, presumably there is greater tolerance, more “mixed” marriages, and lawmakers whose backgrounds are immigrant. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is enormous fear mongering occurring that I think will get worse before it gets better — we are at an historical crossroad as we shift from old school manufacturing to high tech, and as women and people of color take more of the reins of power. The resentment of those who’ve run things up until now needs to be addressed through strict enforcement of laws and protection of all of us. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable members.

Article appears in the July 2016 issue of Desh-Videsh magazine.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Choosing a Wedding Caterer

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Choosing a Wedding Caterer

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Choosing a Wedding Caterer
For South Asians, weddings are just as much about celebrating a couple’s nuptials as about the festive food! Chances are guests may not remember intricate details from a wedding, but they will certainly recall memorable dishes and delectable desserts. One to five or more events comprise a typical South Asian Wedding, and food plays an integral role in ensuring each is enjoyable and hospitable for all guests.

Given the importance of food and that catering accounts for up to 40% of your wedding budget, it stands to reason that your choice of caterer(s) is an important one. Like with any of your wedding vendors, it is important for the caterer to understand your “food personality.”
Are you foodies and adventurous eaters? Are you nostalgic about your food experiences?
Is there an overall theme for your wedding that can be enhanced by the food selection?

To help couples narrow their choices and select the best caterer for their needs, Chef Neeraj Mahani from Loews Don CeSar Hotel and Neil Shah, VP/Executive Sales Director with Chowpatty Catering offer advice on choosing a caterer for their special day.

Chowpatty CateringWhat are the most important factors couples should consider when choosing a caterer for their wedding?

Mahani: The ability to provide the type of cuisine you want your guests to experience when sharing your special moment. Also it’s important that the caterer is able to accommodate special dietary requests and needs. The reputation of the caterer is also a key factor.

Shah: The most important factor is quality. Quality of food, quality of service, and quality of presentation are all key components. Choosing a caterer with a trusted reputation is pivotal – nobody stays in business for over 25 years if they are not impeccable with their word. Two external factors are the venue and budget, both of which determine the level of catering services that can be offered.

Chowpatty Catering

What are your top three tips when couples/families attend a food tasting?

Mahani: First, be open minded and consider the culinary desires of your guests. Consider a diverse menu. Second, consider the flow of the event and what will work best with the size of your wedding as well as what works within your venue. Third, come hungry, only “taste” the many food items presented. Be sure to block out the appropriate amount of time for the tasting and only bring people that will be decision makers in the process.

Shah: Many people chuckle when we tell them this, but you would be surprised as to how many clients do the contrary – come on an empty stomach! Prepare a list of the items you would like to taste beforehand and elect of core group of people responsible for doing the tasting. Too many items and too many people similarly complicate the equation when finalizing a menu.

What questions should a couple ask to get the best sense of how a caterer will contribute to the culinary experience at their wedding or event?

Mahani: Some questions to ask include:
How do you handle last minute dietary requests/needs?Will the presentation at the Tasting be the same as the actual dinner?
How do you handle last minute guest additions?Will you be there the night of the wedding event?
Are there any extra costs over and above the food & beverage items (i.e. chefs for action stations, bartenders, set-up and break down fees)

Shah: What you as the client should be trying to ascertain is how experienced is this caterer and are they capable of delivering what they promise. Asking questions about the logistics, whether that be the preparation process or the transportation to the event – allows you to gain insight about how the caterer organizes their events. Asking questions related to the quality of the food including how in advanced the food is prepared will disclose if the company has their work down to a science. Asking about which items can be served as action stations based on the venue or probing for suggestions in general allows you to see how well-informed your caterer is.

To help couples narrow their choices and select the best caterer for their needs, Chef Neeraj Mahani from Loews Don CeSar Hotel and Neil Shah, VP/Executive Sales Director with Chowpatty Catering offer advice on choosing a caterer for their special day.

How should a couple prepare for the first meeting with you?

Mahani: They should know the guest count, and whether they prefer a buffet or plated sit-down. Also, understand your budget. And trust the expertise of the chef and the catering team.

Shah: Meeting with a caterer is not a trivial task and so preparation is very important. Establishing a good relation from the start by showing the courtesy to make an appointment goes a long way – this way the caterer can allocate a sufficient amount of time to accommodate you. Before coming in for the meeting, having a concept for the menu and new ideas that you may want to have incorporated allows us, the caterer, to envision and develop a remarkable culinary experience for your special day.

How do you work with clients to ensure their vision for the culinary experience at their wedding comes to life?

Mahani: We show pictures of past wedding receptions, and participate in the tasting. We also review the overall timeline for the evening including the champagne toast, first dance, announcements, etc., to ensure the proper flow of the dinner so that the food quality is not compromised.

Shah: We take our work seriously here at Chowpatty Catering. Bringing the client’s vision to life requires more than just a cookie cutter package deal. We make an effort to get to know our clients, asking them about how they met, their favorite foods, and how they imagine that the food will be served on the day of the event. We also give them concepts and ideas to build off of. With over 25 years of experience, we’ve mastered constructing exactly what our clients are looking for.

What would be your favorite three items on your dream menu?

Mahani: My must-haves would be Chicken Lababdar; Tandoori Sea Bass with Spicy Garbanzo, Bermuda Onion Ring and Fresh Pomegranate; and Palak Khumb Paneer.

Shah: Our favorite three items are not only crowd favorites, but recreations of classical dishes changing the way you eat Indian dishes. Number one is the Paneer Makhani Ravioli – a fusion of Italian and Punjabi dish – each bite savors the spices of the gravy contrasted with the tenderness of the ravioli. Number two is the Papdi Lot Pops. It’s your classical Papdi Lot served in a bite sized portion on stick with a side of dipping oil. Number three is The Pani Poori Bar – various flavors of Pani from Guava to Mango to Classic with India’s favorite snack.

The Experts Special thanks to the experts who contributed their thoughts and advice.
Neeraj Mahani, Executive Chef

Loews Don CeSar Hotel
3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, FL 33706

Loews Don CeSar Hotel

Neil Shah, Vice President/Executive Sales Director

Chowpatty Catering
1351 Oak Tree Road, Iselin, NJ 08830

Chowpatty Catering

Chowpatty CateringAbout the Author

Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets.From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs.

For more information, visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appeared in June 2016 Desh-Videsh.


Mandaps, Marriage, and Mexico: Planning a Cultural Destination Wedding

Mandaps, Marriage, and Mexico: Planning a Cultural Destination Wedding


Crystal blue waters crashing down on a pristine white beach, while a gentle breeze ruffles through the palm trees. An elegantly draped mandap glistens in the sunshine, while an intimate crowd eagerly watches two people embark on the journey of a lifetime. Sounds like a wedding in paradise, doesn’t it?

Destination weddings and cruise weddings hold a certain appeal, and while not feasible for some couples, might be the perfect option for others. Whether a couple wants to share a favorite vacation spot with family and friends, or host a unique and memorable event, destination weddings also offer couples the chance to bring families together for a (relatively) stress-free occasion. Many resorts offer all inclusive service packages, which can ease the burden of wedding planning and infuse the event with the chance to truly celebrate and enjoy the company of family and friends. Planning hikes, kayaking, or canopy tours in addition to wedding events gives the couple and guests a chance to truly embrace the spirit of the local area. Couples are also increasingly choosing to host cruise weddings as the ultimate way to combine vacation with celebrations.

Hosting a traditional Indian wedding at an exotic, beachside location or on a cruise ship is no longer a far-fetched ideal, but rather a manageable reality for some couples. Cultural destination weddings are on the rise as hotels and resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, among other locations, increasingly recognize and understand the requirements of Indian weddings. Though couples may choose to get married somewhere other than their hometown, they still do not want to forgo important religious and family traditions. Marilyn Cairo, Corporate Romance Manager at Paradisus Resorts, ensures couples that her team keeps their needs and desires front and center. She shares, “Our entire team gets to know the couple, understands the specific needs of the client and the overall event and are open to allowing the couples to customize their entire experience.

Factors to Consider
With South Asian weddings specialists now on staff at several resorts, South Asian couples looking to fuse elements of a traditional wedding with the fun and excitement of a destination wedding, now have an easier time with the task of planning. So while many hotels and resorts specialize in destination weddings and are well-versed in the décor needed for mandaps and specific ceremonies, couples should still make note of all their requirements.

With décor, catering, photographers, among other vendors, all available through in-house services or a resort’s preferred vendor list, destination weddings can be significantly less stressful than planning a traditional wedding. Keeping this in mind, couples should be prepared to ask lots of questions and be mindful of several factors.

Budget: Regardless of the type of wedding planned, budget always plays a role. Be sure to consider your budget when looking into possible locations and venues. Destination weddings can be more cost-effective due to a smaller guest count and fewer vendors; however, don’t forget to consider non-traditional items, such as travel expenses, shipping or extra luggage costs, resort fees, travel taxes, etc.

Venue: Narrowing the list of potential venues can be difficult, especially when choosing from places such as a Punta Cana, Cancun, or Vallarta! As you research the possibilities, think of all the services the venue offers. Is a wedding planner available? Do they have a backup indoor ceremony location? Can they provide all inclusive vendor services, such as a photographer, decorator, mandap, hair and makeup? Can they meet dietary restrictions and/or is Indian food available? Is a shuttle available for guest transportation?

Experience: As with any wedding vendor, experience matters. When a hotel wedding planner anticipates all your needs, you can be sure all the details have been considered. Knowing that your chosen venue comes staffed with experienced planners and coordinators will be comforting especially as you plan from a far. Karen Bussen, Palladium Hotels & Resorts, assures clients that “ [Palladium Hotels & Resorts will help with additional ceremonies, special menu requests, and other needs. We will stop at nothing to delight our brides and grooms and their guests, and we strive to provide authenticity, great value, and excellent service throughout the whole experience.”

Timing: Be sure to consider the time of year, as the weather might be a factor. Planning a wedding in Mexico during hurricane season is probably not a good idea, so be sure to consult weather forecasts prior to setting a date.

Guests: As you narrow your list of choices, be considerate of your guests. From where will they be traveling? Will it require three stopovers and a bus ride to get to your chosen location? Guests choose to be a part of the celebrations and often are paying their own way so be sure to consider the impact of your choices.

Local marriage requirements Be sure to check the local laws about marriage requirements, as some countries require residency or a wait period as well as paperwork. One option is to have a legal, court ceremony at home before embarking on the fun destination wedding!

Prepare for Your First Meeting
Unlike meeting with all your vendors on a regular basis as you would if you held a wedding in your hometown, a destination wedding requires constant communication via email and phone. Alejandra Carrillo, Assistant Weddings Manager at Barcelo Maya Beach, encourages clients to “speak your mind during the planning process … It is important that you let us know everything that is on your mind and keep the communication going.” As with traditional wedding planning, be clear about what you want, and don’t be afraid to share every detail as this helps your planner ensure your wedding unfolds just as you like. Consider setting up a regular check-in schedule and keep track of your questions so no details are left untouched.

Many resorts also encourage a site visit prior to the wedding date. In addition to a site visit, wedding planners at All Inclusive Collection – Hard Rock Hotels send couples a detailed email with information about service options, such as décor and menus. Monica Larcada, Marketing Manager at All Inclusive Collection, asks couples to “take the time to thoroughly review all of the information and catalog options,” so that the wedding planner is able to address all questions during the initial meeting via phone.

Destination weddings are a wonderful way to bring family and friends together in a beautiful locale to celebrate one of life’s most special moments – your wedding! With some advance planning, your dream destination wedding could become a reality.

Favorite Wedding Moments
The experts share their favorite wedding moments.

Karen Bussen: I’ve been lucky to be a part of many incredible South Asian celebrations—including my own sister’s wedding to my brother-in-law, who is of Gujarati heritage. Inspired by the dazzling colors and textures of South Asia, I created the Shaadi Royal Bliss package to embody the unique cultural and ceremonial traditions in a tropical paradise setting.”

Marilyn Cairo: “The receptions are definitely the best…the ambiance, the music, the food, the spirit of the people celebrating is very infectious and showcases the true meaning of love.”

Alejandra Carrillo: “I personally enjoy how the families are so involved with every single detail of the celebrations, and how not only the union of a couple is what they celebrate, but also the welcoming of each other’s families, which I think is beautiful.”

Monica Larcada: “We are seeing an increase in interfaith weddings. Recently we had a wedding where the bride was Catholic and the groom was Hindu. The couple had both types of ceremonies, and it was incredible to see how each family embraced the culture and religion of the other family.  We thought it was a great way to start a life together.”

Featured Venues
Special thanks to the properties, all of which are well-versed in hosting successful Indian weddings, for participating in this article.

All Inclusive Collection – Hard Rock Hotels
Located in: Cancun, Mexico; Riviera Maya, Mexico; Vallarta, Mexico; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Barcelo Hotels & Resorts
Located in: Mexico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba

Palladium Hotels & Resorts
Located in: Riviera Maya, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Montego Bay, Jamaica

Paradisus Resorts
Located in: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Cancun, Mexico; and Playa del Carmen, Mexico

About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appeared in March 2016 Desh-Videsh magazine.

Get to Know: Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator

Get to Know: Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator


Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator
Freelance artist Nidhi Chanani has drawn over 700 illustrations, earning admiration and accolades for her whimsical and endearing portrayals of everyday life. Born in Calcutta and raised in Southern California, Chanani’s experiences both as an Indian American and a woman inspire the moments captured in her illustrations as well as her upcoming graphic novel, Pashmina.

Currently based in the San Francisco Bay area, Chanani studied literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she gained a greater understanding about storytelling. Her love for art never faltered, and even as she worked in the nonprofit sector, she felt something was missing. Encouraged by a former editor of India Currents magazine, she began to write a comic and realized the potential of pursing art as a profession. In 2008, Chanani was laid off giving her the opportunity to learn more about and pursue her dream of becoming an artist. Chanani then attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco for one and half years before dropping out to focus full-time on her art.

Chanani began creating daily illustrations first to friends and family, and later to a growing list of admirers. She now owns her own online store, Everyday Love Art, where admirers can view her work and purchase prints.

Learn more about what motivates and inspires Nidhi Chanani. View her portfolio at www.

Whimsical and vibrant, your illustrations offer a glimpse into moments individuals/couples/families experience on a day-to-day basis. What inspires you to portray these poignant moments?
Country Girls I feel like we are surrounded by inspiration. Every day. It’s hard to see because there are a multitude of distractions, but I truly believe that beauty is everywhere. I draw a lot from my life, my life with my husband and daughter, and from the simple desire to draw. If I want to draw a monster or a dinosaur, I take that desire and tell a story with it.
What do you hope readers will learn from Priyanka Das, the main character in your upcoming graphic novel Pashmina?
I am hoping they will learn about the experience of a first-generation teen. I also believe that Priyanka will take readers along with her on a journey to understanding yourself, your family, and culture.
How has your experience as a first generation Indian American shaped both your artwork and novel?

Most of the work I create is personal; therefore who I am and where I’ve come from will show in my work. My inspiration for Pashmina came from a variety of sources: my mom, growing up in the US, my first trip to India, and women’s choice – all of these things are woven into the story. From the beginning, I wanted to create a book that showcased India as a beautiful country. Growing up the United States during the 1980s, my idea of India was one of poverty, hokey gurus, and the kama sutra. Yet there is a side of India that immigrants know to be filled with strong family ties, deep spirituality, and beautiful landscapes.

When I was younger my parents would travel to India often. When they returned, their suitcases had a pungent, almost magical smell – from a place that seemed very far away. I was probably ten years old the first time this happened. Opening their suitcase made me feel close to this other world. In a way I believe this story has been with me since then.

Both Pashmina and my artwork have my identity woven throughout. I create illustrations with brown characters. My wood burning art is created by intricately burning lines on raw wood is influenced by henna art. Pashmina is a story that has lived with me for a long time, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share it.

There is a growing movement for more diversity in books and art, especially for characters to be more reflective of the true makeup of our communities. Do you see Priyanka as an “agent of change?”
Yes, definitely. Priyanka not only reflects the struggles of an Indian-American teen, but also her mother. The central characters are all women who have struggled to understand and accept their choices. The concept that women have choice is one that I wanted to focus on. Threading this theme into the core of the story was challenging. Women’s issues are changing – women are recognizing their voice. I wanted to capture and craft a story that encourages women to harness the power of choice within their lives.
Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?

My mom and my husband. My mom is a strong, Indian woman who left her home in India with nothing to come here with my dad. When their marriage didn’t work she made the bold choice to separate and was ostracized from the community. She didn’t let that stop her. Her example of working hard and keeping your head up has made me who I am.

My husband, Nick, has taught me so much about love and laughter. He’s the calm to my storm. I’m fairly practical, organized and ambitious. However, like most artists, I bury myself under doubt, and I’m a harsh critic of everything I do. He encourages me see the silver linings (even when they’re tiny), helps me laugh at myself, and tells me when I need to stop working. I feel more sane and balanced because of his presence in my life.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and don’t be afraid to walk away from those who cannot understand your aspirations. Work hard and don’t expect over night success. Most success is a slow build. Celebrate your victories. Share your work.

All images provided by Nidhi Chanani. Profile image courtesy of Angela Grammatas.

About the Author
Rina Shah Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information,

visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appeared in February 2016 issue of Desh-Videsh.