New Trend As North Meets South; East Meets West
Often referred to as the northernmost capital of South America and the gateway to Latin America, Miami is a hotspot for destination weddings, with endless beaches, palm trees, tropical breezes, live music, myriad cuisine and architecture making an intoxicating blend for pre and post-nuptials. In this sizzling melting pot, it is not unusual to see a blend of two cultures come together to form a marital bond, prompting The Ritz-Carlton Hotels of Miami to create “Culturally Authentic Weddings” to incorporate the bride and groom’s cultural heritage into wedding ceremonies with music, cuisine, décor and traditions.
Elda Brouwer, director of social catering at The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, has planned and overseen more than 1,000 weddings, with the most lavish, an Indian celebration, taking one year to finalize specific cultural details including an elephant to carry the groom up the front drive to the porte cochere. Executive Chef George Fistrovich oversaw the exacting culinary standards of the Indian feast and bought 7,000 pieces of china to complement the cuisine he and his team prepared for several ceremonies including a pre-wedding gathering of the two families on the oceanfront Grand Lawn before vows were exchanged. All the food and ingredients for the wedding dinner (including 100 pounds each of Indian cottage cheese and tomatoes, 50 pounds each of chicken lentils, cauliflower and green beans) were flown in from California, as was Chef Rupam Bhagat from The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, who is an expert in Indian cuisine and prepared traditional Indian dishes.
“Accuracy and exactness is at the foundation of Culturally Authentic Weddings, to understand and accommodate the most time-honored family traditions,” said Brouwer. “We do our research to ensure every detail is truly authentic and have chefs who understand the flavors involved in creating complex specialty menus.”
For Cathi Claflin’s (nee Frigo) Italian wedding at The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami, her traditional Italian father and the chef headed to a farm the morning of the ceremony to hand-pick 500 zucchini blossoms, which the hotel’s chefs incorporated into á la minute Italian dishes at the reception. To further incorporate the bride’s heritage, the chefs imported Asiago cheese from Italy to honor her grandfather, an Italian cheese maker who immigrated to Wisconsin to start the Frigo Cheese Factory.
It is in incorporating this romance and lore the Ritz-Carlton wedding planners have become so adept, creating fantasy weddings that are rooted in familial culture. Kevin Tobe, senior catering manager and wedding specialist at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach orchestrated a Persian wedding, which is celebrated with glory and distinction.
Décor included an elaborate floor display that the families’ female elders decorated with rich, gold embroidered fabrics, a mirror and two candelabras (symbolizing light and fire) and an array of food and spices placed in specific order, reminiscent of the Zoroastrian religious beliefs. Tobe assisted the family to incorporate many symbolic elements, including specially baked flat bread (to bring prosperous feasts), gold (prosperity), incense (purify) and grain seeds (abundance and fertility) into the ceremony. Both the bride and groom ate from a loaf of bread halved by a sword, following a dance of knives around the wedding cake. Continuing with tradition, noghl (small sugary sweets) and nabat (concentrated sugar extract) were wrapped in small satin kerchiefs for the guests to take home.
The wedding experts at The Ritz-Carlton Hotels of Miami have abundant examples of traditions they incorporate into ceremonies to create Culturally Authentic Weddings, including:
- Austrian: Guests release balloons into the air with the bride and groom’s picture
- Swiss: The wedding party and flower girls have baskets of candies, which they toss to guests as they leave the ceremony. In Austrian villages, local children often stake out the local weddings to catch the flying sweets.
- Jewish: Flying a rabbi to Miami from Israel for a kosher wedding; stomping on a glass wrapped in cloth after vows are exchanged to symbolize the mixture of sorrow and joy in life.
- Latin American: The exchange of coins called “arras,” which are poured from the grooms hands into the brides to symbolize “what’s mine is yours.”
- Cuban: Serving Chinese soup at 3 a.m. After a late-night party in 1950s Havana, it was a tradition to have Chinese soup and fried rice at “La Plaza de Vapor,” the only restaurant in the market open for hungry revelers.
- Spanish: Serving Churros (twisted ropes of fried dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar) dipped in chocolate after hours; a late night tradition during Spain’s many celebrations.
- Jamaican: Black wedding cake (the inside is black because of the dark rum and dried fruits). Often the recipe is passed down from mother to daughter.
- Persian: Décor includes large flat bread to bring prosperous feasts, gold to represent prosperity, honey and crystallized sugar to sweeten life and scattered grain seeds to symbolize abundance and fertility. The bride and groom are seated in front of this presentation, which includes large mirror and two candelabra (to represent light and fire); the groom’s first look at his bride is in this mirror as she removes her veil.
- Indian: The groom enters the resort on the back of an elephant, a time-honored tradition that dates to the 12th century. He and his bride exchange garlands of fragrant flowers, heralded by assembled friends and family blowing conch shells. Before exchanging vows, the couple stands together and lights a small fire in a ceremonial pot to invoke sacred light to witness and bless the union.
Lavish or simple, culturally authentic weddings are about tradition, accuracy and attention to detail.
“Our understanding of and capability to accommodate myriad international traditions and the team’s readiness to go above and beyond to ensure it is culturally accurate is a hallmark of our Ritz-Carlton weddings,” said Brouwer.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotels of Miami include the 115-room Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami, the 402-room Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne and the 375-room Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, each with its own wedding specialists, culinary teams and unique features for oceanfront, fountain-side or enclosed destination weddings, large or small.
Tatiana C. Lora