The fourth Cayman Cookout was a superb showcase of all that is spectacular in Cayman’s culinary scene. A host of celebrity chefs, sommeliers, wine makers and old friends descended on the Cayman Islands for a weekend of fine dining and delicious fun.
The second week of January in Cayman is no time for diets and it’s certainly no time, if you like good wine and drink, to go on the wagon. That’s because the second week of January is Cayman Cookout time.
Now in its fourth year, the Cookout began Thursday, 12 January with a reception for the talent and event sponsors around the North Sound Pool at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Here, the best chefs in Cayman got to mingle and chat with some of the biggest names in the food and wine world, including Chefs Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, Anthony Bourdain and Richard Blais.
The action moved inside afterwards, to the Royal Ballroom where the Tour de France Charity Wine Auction and Dinner presented by Jacques Scott featured fabulous food and wines, and two good causes as well. Guests were treated to an odyssey of French culinary traditions prepared by six noted chefs who have earned the prestigious designation of Maîtres Cuisinier de France - Master Chefs of France - paired with fine wines.
Each of the six chefs created a course for the dinner, including an hors d’oeuvres selection created by The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Chef Frederic Morineau. Although all of the courses were delicious, Chef Bernard Guillas’ tangerine kalbi-glazed black cod kabocha with vanilla leek, cashew dukkah and hibiscus lobster jus was a slice of culinary paradise.
The auction ultimately raised some $53,000 for the benefit of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund and the National Gallery Building Fund.
Champagne and paella
Friday, 13th, was rather the opposite of unlucky for the 40 or so who sat down for What’s Your Champagne Profile with Ray Isle of Food & Wine Magazine. The wine expert talked of the history of Champagne, the difference in house styles, the process of champagne-making and led the crowd through a tasting that culminated in a spectacular Krug Grand Cuvee. Quoting Aldous Huxley, he said that a good champagne tasted like ‘an apple cut with a steel knife.’
While the sophisticates were tasting Champagne inside, Jose Andres was leading a raucous beach demonstration outside. The live-wire Andres, who loves a grand entrance, arrived at his demo from the ocean - in SCUBA gear. He then ordered attendees out of their seats under the tent and on to the beach, were he showed everyone how to make Sangria and paella.
Andres said it was important to cook the pasta for the paella just right, but he offered an excuse if it wasn’t.
“If the dish is too al dente, blame the Italians. If the dish is over cooked, blame the Italians. If the dish is just right, that’s Spanish,” he said.
Andres said he cooked paella by sight.
“I don’t believe in cookbooks; especially by Mario Batali,” he said jokingly of the celebrity chef already scheduled to participate in the 2013 Cayman Cookout.
Spotted pigs, Sonoma Valley and barefoot celebrities
That afternoon, it was Chef April Bloomfield’s time to shine on the beach. The New York sensation for her gastro-pub Spotted Pig, Bloomfield lovingly created a beef and stilton pie, which was moist, meaty and salty - a rich, hearty Christmas-type pie it was too. Who says Brits can’t cook?
A sojourn to Sonoma Valley was the order of the afternoon with master sommelier Andrea Robinson and Peter Michael wine maker Nicholas Morlet - two experts who provided exclusive wines including the spectacular Pinot Noir, Ma Danseuse, which was refined and pure with a strong minerality. Bearing in mind the three-year waiting list for Peter Michael wines, this was a real treat - you just can’t buy bottles in the shops.
Shoes came off that evening at the Barefoot BBQ at Tiki Beach. This event highlighted some of Cayman’s best features - the beach at night with fires burning, the wonderful aroma of barbecue smoke and tropical tunes filling the night air - and, of course, great food and drink. There was also the likes of Chefs Ripert, Andres and Bourdain manning the grills, with a host of other local and overseas talent cooking away as well.
Periwinkle, Luca and misbehaving wines
At lunchtime Saturday, the Michelin starred chef Laurent Gras’ absolute mastery of seafood blew guests at Periwinkle away. Eric Ripert himself joined guests for an awesome lunch, which included an extraordinary Caribbean lobster with dark rum and lettuce and an exquisite seared wahoo served with tomato, ginger and cilantro. The Rieslings chosen to pair the dishes were out of this world. No wonder chef Gras is so in-demand.
Meanwhile, at Luca, wine maker Piero Incisa Delle Rocchetta was the guest of honour at a Tuscan Lunch with Sassicaia and the wines of Tenuta San Guido.
A third generation wine maker, the affable Piero - as everyone called him - talked about how Sassicaia was the first so-called Super Tuscan wine and that now, since there’s no government control on the use of the term “Super Tuscan”, it really doesn’t mean anything. What it did mean when Sassicaia was first made in the 1940s was that it wasn’t a Sangiovese-based wine like most other wines made in Tuscany, but a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc, which made it more like Bordeaux.
Sassicaia was made just for family consumption for more than 20 years before it was first sold to the public in 1967.
Piero, who said he was privileged to have been born into the Tenuta San Guido Winery Estate family, believes wine is made to be enjoyed, not invested in.
“If you use it as an investment, it loses it’s soul,” he said.
Guests at Luca were treated to a four-course meal by Chef Federico Destro that had its roots in Tuscany. For an appetizer, he served a wonderful Waguy beef tartare with a raw quail egg that was mixed with the beef before being eaten. It was served with Le Difese, an entry level Tenuta San Guido wine.
For the second course, taleggio and beetroot risotto was served with 2007 Sassicaia. Piero was impressed by the authenticity of the risotto, and wondered whether people accustomed to a different style of Italian cuisine in North America could relate to it. He also noted that Cayman’s climate changes the way wines taste.
“You’re in an area where the wine behaves drastically different, to the point where I tasted it and thought, ‘this is not our wine’,” he said.
For the main course, Chef Destro served delicious braised veal cheeks with 2006 Sassicaia.
“This is not a big wine,” he said. “It doesn’t have horse power. It has elegance and finesse.”
Mixing it up, lusting over asparagus and molecular gastronomy
That afternoon, Ambuyah Ebanks returned to Cayman for a mixology masterclass in the company of the riotous Jose Andres, who had certainly been enjoying testing the ingredients. Former Miss Cayman Ambuyah now works in New York and is extremely skilled in the mixing arts, creating four fabulous drinks including the Offshore Loan - a margarita variation - and the brilliant East End Sunrise, a surprisingly savoury experience. Andres, meanwhile, was busy creating chaos in a fun and often hilarious demonstration with which the crowd connected.
Simultaneously on the beach, The Brasserie’s two fishing boats came ashore to give people a glimpse of what can be harvested from the sea in Cayman - with the fisherman holding up live lobsters, live conch and a fish just caught that day.
Brasserie consultant chef Dean Max then spoke about some of the unique ingredients that grow in Cayman.
“I think the seasoning pepper is one of the coolest ingredients because you don’t get it anywhere else,” he said. “It has all the flavour without the heat of the scotch bonnet, one of the hottest peppers in the world.”
Max was joined by Farmer Lee Jones, dressed in his trademark white shirt, blue jean overalls and red bow tie.
Jones runs the Chef’s Garden in Ohio, an organic farm that produces gourmet vegetables and micro greens. He spoke about how organic farmers today aren’t really inventing anything new.
“My father has a saying that in many ways we’re just trying to do now what the farmers were doing 100 years ago.”
Jones said that if people really want to eat sustainably, they also need to eat seasonally.
“I love asparagus, and for two months of the year, I think we should eat it three times a day,” he said. “But for the other 10 months, I think we should just lust for it.”
Jones said that eating something like asparagus out of season had similar impacts on the environment as eating fish out of season.
The popular Richard Blais followed with a fun and tasty demo, making Kusshi oysters with horseradish cream pearls.
“A lot of people think I’m a molecular gastronomist, but I don’t know what that means,” he said, noting that it just doesn’t sound right for people to say they have a taste for a little molecular gastronomy that evening.
Since it was late in the afternoon and some people had been drinking for much of the day, Blais had a heckler for this demo.
“You always need a least one,” he jokes. “Usually, I plant the heckler, but I’m glad here it’s live and organic.”
Blais gave a quick recipe tip: you mix Sriracha sauce with ranch dressing and you get Srirancha, he said, adding that it was really good on many things. “It came to me late one night.”
He said that he likes to use a lot of fresh herbs in his cooking,
“I feel like dill is retro, like Jackie O,” he said.
A Blais demo wouldn’t be right without using liquid nitrogen - “my hair gel is equal parts duck fat and liquid nitrogen” he quipped - and that’s how he made his horseradish cream pearls, which lasted about two minutes before melting in the afternoon beach heat. Still, his oysters were to die for.
Ceviche at sunset and the ultimate dinner party
The final beach event of Saturday was Sunset Cocktails and Ceviche in the company of Eric Ripert himself. The chef and host of Cookout was in fine form as he created three explosive appetisers including the stellar salmon, which is served in Blue and contains wafer-thin slices of foie gras, and baguette. Guests had a glass of champagne in hand and the sight of the sun yawning over the azure horizon alongside the classic food made for a multisensory marvel.
The evening of Saturday, 14 January, saw the splendid Ultimate Dinner Party event at Camana Bay. Guests were given glasses of Champagne on entry and delectable hors d’oeuvres from Black Trumpet delicatessen including a mini beef and Guinness pie. The crowd then split up into three groups, dining either at Ortanique, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink or Abacus.
The guest chef in Ortanique was Top Chef’s Richard Blais, who assisted in creating the local wahoo tartare, fried Cayman chicken, pickled radish and smoked aioli. This was followed by a great truffled conch, lobster and chanterelle mushroom bisque, chef Cindy Hutson outdoing herself through the rest of the menu.
At Michael’s Genuine, Premier McKeeva Bush surprisingly dined at the same table as Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin, while James Beard award winning chef Michael Schwartz teamed with April Bloomfield to create a menu using many local ingredients.
At Abacus, Calgary Chef Paul Rogalski reunited with his old friend Ron Jacobson, who is now the executive chef at the restaurant. In the mid-1990s, Rogalski and Jacobson worked together at the Hyatt Regency Hotel here on Grand Cayman.
Rogalski designed a menu that featured a taste of the Rockies and from his ethnic roots. His two-temperature lobster borscht featured an island of sour cream ice and lobster lox surrounded by a sea of thick, hot borscht and finished with fresh truffle. Wow.
He followed that with exquisite Cuban cigar smoked duck breast and then a delicious tenderloin of wapiti elk, served with an oxtail perogie. Paired with a great selection of wine, the “Old Friends Reunite” dinner was a culinary masterpiece. But just to ensure it would be remembered, guests were given a snow cone topped with bourbon infused maple syrup, a sweet and cool end to a most memorable meal.
Following the main dinner, drinks and fabulous desserts were served at the Crescent and guests enjoyed a host of local musical acts including Samuel Rose, Jeffrey Wilson and KK Alese.
Let the diets begin
The 2012 Cayman Cookout came to an end on Sunday with the Bon Vivant Sunday Champagne Brunch and Cook-off along with a children’s brunch on the beach, followed by the Artisan Market out by the North Sound Pool.
That evening, the Cookout Gala Dinner featured many of the event’s best chefs preparing a course for the seven-course meal.
Many diets then started on Monday.