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Blessed, excited, privileged

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by Zanita Careem

Lakmini Raymond is a versatile hotelier, driven by passion and commitment. She has an in-depth understanding of the hospitality industry.

With over 30 years of experience in the field of hospitality, Lakmini Raymond is a force to reckon with. With expertise in sales and marketing, revenue and business development, she has served at some of the leading international hospitality brands, and recently took on the reins as Vice President – Public Relations and Branding of Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (Pvt) Ltd.

What motivated you to join the hospitality industry?

In one simple word: it is ‘fate’.

Growing up, tourism and hospitality was never in my radar as a career choice. After completing my higher studies, I followed in the footsteps of my family and joined my family-owned printing company. Whilst it was interesting, soon I wanted to venture out on my own and see the world from a ladder made by my own merit. It was by chance that I came across a job opportunity for print and graphics manager at one of the leading international hotels, Hilton Colombo. When I started, my office was in the car park of the building, and not at all a glamorous affair. However, the General Manager at that time, saw my potential and gave me an opportunity to join the hotel’s mainstream operations. I was enrolled in a short Management Trainee programme, after which I joined the sales team.

Since then, there was no turning back. I am in love with this industry; and 32 years later, I am so grateful for that initial opportunity and I have been truly blessed to have been able to work in international hospitality brands as well as a reputed homegrown brand, prior to my appointment at Aitken Spence Hotels.

Congratulation on your new role. How do you feel about handling all this?

Blessed, excited, privileged.

I am excited as I will be able to combine my experiences and work for a Sri Lanka blue-chip conglomerate such as Aitken Spence, that has spearheaded the growth and innovation in the hospitality sector of Sri Lanka. I am certain that I can share my expertise in realizing the company’s next phase of development within the leisure sector.

What do you think are the secrets of your careers longevity and success?

I believe it is the passion I have for this industry. For me, hospitality has become part and parcel of my life. I love the industry and all it entails – the people, the service, the energy. I think if one truly loves what they do and believe in it wholeheartedly, then success would follow.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is when I can use my accomplishments and share my experiences and expertise to help others achieve company and personal goals.

How do you deal with the pressure of balancing work and home?

The pressure has subsided considerably now, since my sons are now adults. However, I believe even back in the day I set daily goals, I prioritized my tasks and was prepared for unexpected surprises. By keeping my eyes on the results more than the situation, I was able to attain the balance that I set out to achieve.

How has the definition of luxury changed over the year?

The concept of luxury is changing exponentially today due to the fast pace in which societal and cultural norms and expectations are changing. Consumer values and preferences are in flux, thanks to the competing dynamisms of globalization, key changes in consumer mindset, and the disruptive impact of technology. With rapid globalization, a new breed of consumers are created in the market. These consumers have a much broader, multidimensional perception on what quality and luxury can be. The growth in disposable income in the global markets also means material wealth is no longer the only signal of power. The psyche of affluent consumers has shifted and what the look for now is self-actualization.

No longer is luxury just about brands or chic destinations. Those things still matter, but there’s a now new layer to the luxury experience, one in which the accomplishment is experiential and self-actualization.

What will be your sustainability initiatives you will introduce after the end of the pandemic at Aitken Spence Hotels? In doing so, what unique challenges would you meet?

Sustainability in the post pandemic era will be about conservation and commitment – conservation of the environment and commitment towards the social responsibility and the communities.

At Aitken Spence Hotels, these are ethos that are deeply ingrained in the system. Therefore, our work will be to enhance the present setting into creating a holistic approach that are lifestyle-driven and experentail for our guests.

The biggest challenge will be less volume of guests, which we anticipate would continue for at least another 121-18 months and the ever-changing trends in the segment of sustainability.

With the pandemic are you optimistic about travel and hotel sectors in the future? What will be main focus?

Yes, we are optimistic.

The main focus will of course be, safety. Based on this, the trends of travel will change. Personalization will be paramount. The emphasis will be on holistic experience and in creating memories. Travelers will be more appreciative of their holidays due to the uncertainties of tomorrow. There has also been somewhat of a cultural shift in health with more people shifting towards organic food, environmental issues, ethical business, etc which will affect the industry as well.

As the Covid-19 challenge continues, the hotels and the industry continue to slow its resilient. How do your account for this?

Of course, we are resilient. Globally, we have all gone through the wars, acts of terrorisms, natural and man-made disasters. No matter what, the hospitality industry has been resilient, because we, as humans are resilient. Travel has become a part of our lifestyles and is an escape that most long for – whether it is for work or pleasure; therefore, we will always remain.



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Pop crackle, gulp and gasp

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Pani Puri: India’s favourite street food now available in Sri Lanka

Pani puri occupies a special place in Indian hearts and stomachs, so it’s no wonder that the treat has been one of the country’s most poplar street snacks

On any normal evening in India, in the bustling markets and noisy main streets of big cities and small towns alike, there is a familiar sight: the corner pani puri wala (seller), surrounded by a gaggle of eager customers.

His hands seem to fly as they dip the puris (fried discs of dough) into various bowls of fillings and chutneys and passes them out to people waiting impatiently. The vendor’s customer base stretches across age groups and social strata, with people stepping out of plush cars or families walking over from their homes. For the love of pani puri, and indeed of all chaat (fried snacks), unites Indians in a way few other things do.

Chaat is a catchall word – from chaatna, meaning “to lick” – that covers a wide range of street snacks, where different ingredients are usually tossed together to create a sucker punch of tastes and textures. India loves these small, satisfying snacks because they fill the perfect hunger moment, that is to say early evening, when lunch is a distant memory and dinner has yet to be cooked. And of all chaat, pani puri occupies a special place in Indian hearts and stomachs.

At first glance, pani puri seems like nothing special. The word itself is a combination of pani (water, which in this case, refers to the diluted chutneys) and puri (the fried discs of dough). The crisp, thin puri, which is about the size of a circle made by your forefinger touching your thumb, puffs up upon frying to create a hollow core.

However, eating a pani puri requires much attention and no small amount of skill: poke a hole on the surface of the puri with your forefinger, load it up with your chosen filling – such as mashed potato, healthy sprouts, finely chopped onions or mushy peas – and then dunk the whole thing into sweet-and-sour tamarind and spicy green chutney waters (both often kept iced) in quick succession. Finally, pop the whole package into your mouth and wait for the explosion of flavours, as the puri – ever so slightly soggy by then – crumbles inside your mouth with the sauces flowing out, all while filling the soul and clearing the sinuses at the same time.

Indeed, to eat pani puri is to be prepared for liquid dribbling down the sides of your mouth and tears streaming out of your eyes – an experience that is far more pleasurable than it might sound.

For those few moments, everything feels alright

It is no wonder that the pani puri is one of the street snacks that many indians love. Many home cooks have taken to recreating some of the magic at home, partly to satisfy chaat pangs and partly to feel the freedom of being able to walk the streets again

As education advisor Meeta Sengupta from Delhi exclaimed over email, “Pani puri is pure fun! Pop, crackle, gulp and gasp.”

Mumbai journalist Karishma Upadhya explained, “I think my craving came from a place of wanting something that made us feel happy and ‘normal’. When everything around is in such flux, it’s reassuring when you taste something that your mouth and mind instinctively know. When you put that pani puri in your mouth, you know you’ll get the perfect mix of cold, spicy, tart, sweet and crunchy. And, for those few moments, everything feels alright.”

While some brave cooks such as food blogger Amrita Kaur are making puri from scratch by kneading the dough to a perfect tight consistency, rolling out dozens of small discs, frying them in batches and preparing the fillings – most have used store-bought puris, purchasing them during careful grocery runs or utilising their pantry stocks.

There are many stories about the origins of pani puri. Culinary anthropologist Dr Kurush Dalal says that chaat (likely a predecessor of the modern pani puri) was first created in what is now the northern Indian region of Uttar Pradesh around the time of Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule in the late 17th Century. According to Dalal, royal doctors advised the general population to consume more fried and spicy snacks (and yoghurt) to balance the alkaline quality of the water from the Yamuna River, on the banks of which his new capital, Old Delhi, was built. The puri, which was to serve as “bite-sized containers of the chaat masala” (with fillings such as potato mash), spread to the rest of the country through migrant workers who moved to large cities like Mumbai and Delhi in the last century.

Like the most sublime chaats, pani puri is best enjoyed on the streets. And while upscale restaurants have started serving it in the last few years – with modern twists such as replacing the chutneys with spiced vodka shots and, shudder, guacamole fillings – their offerings rarely hit the spot. This is partly because street vendors know the palate of their customers and tailor each pani puri order accordingly – “Only the sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney”, “No sprouts please”, “Pile on the spice” – and each claims to have their own secret mixes of fillings and flavourings.

Food writer Anubhuti Krishna, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, loves pani puri but has not attempted to make it at home because, as she says, “I know I cannot replicate my favourite flavours at home, and they are sacrosanct for us UPwalas [people from Uttar Pradesh].”

Another reason could be that pani puri is best (or perhaps only) eaten by hand; there is no room for forks or finesse here. Kalyan Karmakar, culinary consultant and author of The Travelling Belly, a book on Indian street foods, describes eating pani puri as a “foodie adventure sport”, adding that “restaurants cannot recreate the thrill of standing on the pavement, unperturbed by people jostling past. Your eyes are focused on the pani puri wala. You have to be ready to pop it in [your mouth] when your turn comes.”

And even though pani puri is a perennial favourite across the country, it is by no means standardised or even similar everywhere. In fact, the name itself differs by place: pani puri is a Mumbai term, whereas in Delhi it is known as golgappa. In Kolkata, it goes by the name of puchka, and in Uttar Pradesh, it’s pani ke patashe (or batashe). The difference comes from the puri base ingredient – semolina, whole wheat or refined flour – as well as the fillings. And like with politics and cricket leagues, Indians like to argue about which kind is the best, and in each town, which pani puri wala makes it the most chatpata (lip-smacking).

Sengupta, who uses a ready-to-fry puri (a recent innovation found in stores), told me about her own Bengali-Punjabi household where the pani is “gingery sweet, with loads of hing (asafoetida) and pudina (mint)” and with “layered textures”. And Krishna, while noting that such food fights are silly, also adds that the Lucknow variety is her preferred version “because of how the softness and blandness of the matar (mashed peas) contrasts with the spicy water and the crisp and khasta (flaky) batasha.”

“It is [an] explosion in the mouth, yet it is soul food,” Sengupta said wistfully, perhaps summing up what millions of us Indians think of pani puri. – BBC

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Sri Lanka”s most sophisticated wellness facieity for medical and holistic healig

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Rejuvenation of mind, body, and soul

Christell Luxury Wellness -Sri Lanka’s most-trusted aesthetics centre- celebrated over the weekend the grand opening of its pioneering new venture: the Christell Wellness Villa.

Last Saturday the 28th of January, the luxury health and wellness hub for preventative health solutions was unveiled at a private event at the centre’ state of the art central location at Lauries Lane, Colombo, introducing invitees to the wealth of cutting-edge medically approved treatments in store.

Christell Wellness Villa’s portfolio of non-invasive immersive treatments features skin rejuvenation, anti-aging, nutrition, fitness and ayurvedic programmes therapies which seamlessly fuse ancient holistic disciplines and integrative medical therapies with the keystones of modern and traditional Western medicine.

Guided by the belief that good health is the ultimate luxury, Christell Wellness Villa is also the first in Sri Lanka to offer a Sensory Deprivation Pod (floatation therapy) experience, reputed to provide four hours of deep restful sleep with just one hour of floatation. Providing an unmatchable deep state of relaxation, in addition to helping improve sleep patterns, this effortless therapy also contributes towards pain relief, improving daily performance and concentration, alleviating symptoms of depression, while also strengthening the immune system.

Diagnostic assessments and consultations at the Christell Wellness Villa allows the centre’s specialists to curate a bespoke portfolio of medical treatments and holistic therapies designed exclusively for each client’s unique health profile; providing customised result-driven pathways for optimum wellness, backed by both state-of the-art technology and also the very best of what nature has to offer.

At the launch event, Dr. Shanika Arsecularatne Medical Director of Christell Luxury Wellness, spoke of the vision behind the Christell Wellness Villa, stressing also on the importance of not taking one’s health and wellness for granted. “I assure you, Christell Wellness Villa is not ‘just another spa.’ We have on board doctors, scientists, specialists, and trained therapists who are able to curate time-tested, medical treatments and holistic therapies specific to each individual need -man or woman – that promote greater well-being, health, fitness, and longevity.”

A safe haven in the middle of the city to heal, recharge, detoxify and recalibrate your bodies in a healthy sustainable way; enabling you to live a longer life, better lived. is our focus said Dr Shanika

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Blossoms of Hope 2023

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Over the last fifteen years, the Ikebana International Srilanka Chapter, has brought about greater awareness and appreciation of Ikebana art of flower arrangement to a wider audience, through their numerous exhibitions.

The exhibition “Blossoms of Hope 2023” will be held at Cinnamon Grand hotel, Ivy room on the 19th and 20th of February. The chief guest will be the patron of Ikebana International Sri Lanka Chapter, the Ambassador for Japan to Sri Lanka Mizukoshi Hideaki.

There will be more than fifty exhibits by the members who have tirelessly pursued their interests and love for ikebana. The arrangements are categorized into different themes this time – straight lines and curves, repetitive forms, intertwining plant material, colours in contrast, using unconventional materials, complimenting an artwork, miniature arrangements and free style.

Visitors could also witness demonstrations by teachers of Sogetsu School on both days at 4 p.m. free of charge.

Each year, the society supported children with cancer through the medium of flowers. This year too, part proceeds from the show will be channelled to the paediatric ward of Apeksha Cancer hospital.

Date: – 19th Feb; 11 a.m. to 7pm

20th Feb; 10 a.m. to 6 pm

Venue: – Cinnamon Grand – Ivy Room

Demonstrations: – 4 pm (both days)

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