The first annual Cayman Cookout this past weekend was undoubtedly a huge success, and will be a hot topic at dinner tables here and abroad for a very long time.
For both overseas guests and locals alike the weekend was a truly wonderful culinary journey of Caribbean, Caymanian, speciality and fine foods and wine, guided by some of the world’s most talented chefs and sommeliers with plenty of fun, culture and rum tastings along the way.
Hosted by the Department of Tourism, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Food and Wine magazine, and sponsored in part by Cayman Free Press, the high-end four-day festival is the first of its calibre in the Caribbean.
One visitor, Jennifer Tokich from Chicago, was taking her first trip to the Cayman Islands purely because of the Cayman Cookout. She couldn’t say enough good things about her time here at the event.
‘The food is just simply amazing and the presentation of everything – with the island in the backdrop – really added to the experience. Everyone is so nice and it is much more intimate than we thought it would be,’ said Ms Tokich who attended with her mother, best friend and best friend’s mother.
And the festival has been an eye opener to the beauty and atmosphere of the Cayman Islands. ‘I would come back regardless of the Cookout,’ she said. ‘It’s extremely relaxing here. I don’t know how anyone gets any work done.’
One local resident who attended the Welcome Party on the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s beach on the opening night, was also very impressed with the execution and intimacy of the event.
‘I’m glad they kept the numbers to a minimum to allow for more interaction with the visiting chefs,’ said Chef Wayne Jones-Connor of Food for Thought Professional Caterers. ‘Because they weren’t being greedy with the numbers, it felt like a really exclusive event.’
Mr. Jones-O’Connor said he would definitely attend again next year. ‘Absolutely, we loved it,’ he said.
The Welcome Party on Friday evening was truly a magical setting, with many of the tables and chairs covered with romantic canopies, while giant sand sculptures depicting various pieces of local relevance such as underwater life, dominated the dramatic setting.
It was all about food, of course, and around the perimeter of the beach were various stations holding a variety of delicious appetiser-type portions.
Meanwhile there was plenty of wine, spirits and beer with which to wash to it all down.
Celebrity chefs such as Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, Laurent Manrique and Laurent Tourondel were on hand to mix and mingle with guests and patiently posed for photo after photo.
The weather did threaten to dampen the fun once or twice towards the beginning of the evening when the wind blew up with a showering of rain, but it quickly passed and there was to be no real disruption of the event, which had taken on a momentum of its own regardless.
Into Saturday there were various cooking demonstrations taking place.
One demonstration on ‘molecular gastronomy’ by Michael Laiskonis, exeuctive and award-winning pastry chef at Le Bernardin restaurant in New York was again a very intimate and enjoyable session.
Chef Laiskonis succeeded in making what could have been a very complicated subject simple enough for those wishing to make fancy desserts at home.
He emphasised that, as a pastry chef, you start with the raw elements to create something. Understanding those basic ingredients is the fundamental aspect because molecular gastronomy is about manipulating ingredients and turning some traditional concepts on their heads.
One example of such manipulation is the mango pearls that Mr. Laiskonis demonstrated making. The mango-based recipe sees little caviar-like pearls created from the process (for the recipe, see the sidebar).
Another highlight of Saturday and Sunday included the Cayman Cookout Tasting Pavilion, a wonderful showcase of local food, wine, spirits and culinary tools where there was a variety of tasty treats on offer for everyone.
Sunday’s Champagne Brunch Chef Cook-Off was a fun, dynamic event, which ultimately saw Ian Dawson-James, bailli of the Grand Cayman Chapter of the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs come out on top over his competitor Sean Collins of Mise en Place. The timed cook-off saw celebrity chefs judge the winner based on what they cooked out of a mystery basket of ingredients.
Meanwhile onlookers enjoyed a flowing champagne brunch with a myriad of foods to choose from.
A Cook’s Tour of Cayman with Anthony Bourdain on Sunday afternoon at Pedro St James was truly a feast of culture and traditional Caymanian cooking, all hosted in a vibrant display at the beautiful historic setting.
The booths set up had a vast array of local delights such as marinated conch, Cayman-style lobster and Christmas beef to delicacies such as pepper jelly and jerk sausage along with sweet treats like peppermint candies, snow cones and rum cake.
Chef Bourdain seemed more than impressed with the local dishes on offer and even jokingly told Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford that he was trying to figure out how to get a job here so he could stay.
Meanwhile, others who made the bus trip to Pedro seemed more than happy with the festive spirit there. Swanky provided some vibrant tunes, quadrille dancing by Dance Unlimited was a vivid display of colour and movement and the sun shone bright and intense.
Meanwhile the bus trip out to Pedro through the neighbourhood of South Sound prompted many compliments from visitors, such as ‘beautiful’, ‘tranquil’ and ‘awesome’.
It was a festival that truly gave guests a real taste of the Cayman Islands and an appetite for more.
Recipes: courtesy of Chef Michael Laiskonis
Caramelized White Chocolate
340g white chocolate
200g whole milk
3 sheets gelatin, bloomed
400g heavy cream (36 per cent fat)
- Warm the white chocolate and add the glucose.
- Bring the milk to a boil and stir in the bloomed gelatine.
- Remove from heat and slowly incorporate into the white chocolate.
- Add the cream and emulsify with an immersion blender. Transfer to a container and chill, allowing to crystallise.
225g mango purée (10 per cent sugar)
25g lime juice
100g granulated sugar
3g agar agar
0.4 g locust bean gum
- To prepare the base, combine the mango purée, lime juice, and sugar, warming to dissolve the sugar.
- Reserve warm.
- To complete, disperse the agar agar and locust bean gum in the water; transfer to a small saucepan.
- Bring this mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and incorporate into the base.
- Drop the mixture into cold vegetable oil, allowing 5-10 minutes to set. Transfer pearls to cool water to rinse, then drain.