The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman in mid-January was a feast of epicurean celebrities. In one ballroom, there was Emeril Lagasse. Bam! Out on the beach, there was José Andres. Olé! Out on the Great Lawn, Mr. Bizarre Foods Andrew Zimmern was eating Cayman iguana rillette. Yuck! – Unless you’re Andrew Zimmern, who had a different word for it: Delicious!
As it does every year, Cayman Cookout wowed people with four days of culinary demonstrations, lunches, dinners, cocktail making, wine tastings and other sumptuous and creatively imagined events. An early-morning yoga session with Krug Champagne anyone? How about Dom Pérignon and caviar for a putting contest at the award-winning Ritz-Carlton Golf Club?
Things took off on Thursday morning, Jan. 17, and in the case of the getaway event with Eric Ripert, it literally took off. After boarding a private Falcon 7X jet, a limited number of lucky guests experienced lunch in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica at Strawberry Hill Hotel, and then flew back to Grand Cayman in time for the Sippin’ Whilst Sunset Sailing cruise in the tranquil blue waters off of famous Seven Mile Beach.
That evening, ticketholders started to line up way before the 7 p.m. start, eager to taste the fare at the Jacques Scott Wine Fair and Auction on Jan. 17. Their wait was rewarded with delectable dishes prepared by some of the best Ritz-Carlton chefs from around the world. Seared scallops, jerked duck breast, wahoo sashimi, cheeses from all over the world and of course, a mouth-watering selection of desserts include award-wining executive pastry chef Melissa Logan’s mini panna cotta with a mango burst – a tiny “egg” served in a mini faux frying pan complete with a teensy piece of toast on the side.
The auction part of the event was silent so people could enjoy the live music and bid on various wines, including rare wines and many in magnums and double-magnums, with the proceeds split between the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Culinary Arts Scholarship.
The next two days of Cayman Cookout were stuffed with food, wine and spirited events, including chef Amanda Cohen’s “Caribbean Candy” luncheon in Andiamo, the charming al fresco restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Being the owner of an award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Dirt Candy, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Cohen of course prepared a four-course menu of vegetarian dishes, including a take on the famous Italian dish, bagna cauda, made with fermented black beans instead of anchovies; a salad made with pickled baby fennel, compressed white and black beans and caramelised – yes, caramelised – yogurt; and a surprisingly delicious grilled and smoked broccoli “hot dog” served in mini hotdog buns with sauerkraut relish, mustard and edible flowers.
Later that afternoon, the Pinot Panel event featured some of the biggest names in New World Pinot Noir production, including famed master sommelier and now winemaker, Larry Stone, and his top-rated Oregon wines, Lingua Franca. Another one of America’s most famous sommeliers, Rajat Parr, was scheduled to appear at the tasting, but wasn’t lucky enough to catch a flight out of the Northeast before a winter storm hit, leaving him stuck with his boots in the snow, rather than wiggling his toes in the sand of Seven Mile Beach.
Sunday wound up the Cayman Cookout with Champagne, rum, cigars and The Great Gala, an event that earned its adjective. First, hundreds of guests enjoyed an extravagant brunch filled with steak, eggs, lobster, caviar, sushi, gourmet cheeses and free-flowing Moet & Chandon Champagne at the Bon Vivant Amateur Chef Competition Brunch. While guests indulged, two ambitious and fearless amateur chefs and their helpers cooked off against each other, with their dishes judged by the likes of chefs Eric Ripert, José Andres, Andrew Zimmern and Emeril Lagasse. For the first time in the 11 years of Cayman Cookout, the amateur cook-off resulted in a tie – so both chefs won first prize.
Moving outside by the Harbour Club Pool until the sun set, Rum and Rubosto offered a selection of premium and super premium rums, rum cocktails, cigars and coffee, all to the melodic Latin American sounds of the band Son Cubano.
The greatness in the decadent eight-course gala dinner came in the form of the a line-up of chefs with enough Michelin stars between them to fill the Caribbean night sky. Preparing courses, which were all paired with fabulous wines, were Eric Ripert, José Andres, Dominique Crenn, Yann Lejard, Emm Bengtsson, Amanda Cohen, Thomas Raquel and Thomas Seifried, while Andrew Zimmern emceed the event. One of the reasons Grand Cayman is regarded as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean is because at Cayman Cookout, the gala dinner features this kind of star-studded chef line-up every year.
Cayman Cookout, which attracts visitors as well as local residents, proved once again that it is well worth the wait to delay dietary New Year’s resolutions until the day after the Caribbean’s best culinary festival ends.