The blend of food and wine is hardly a new one, but when it’s correctly designed it can be quite spectacular.
The Cayman Cookout is testament to the thought and skill that can go into the process and this year’s host, Eric Ripert and his sommelier at Le Berdardin restaurant, Aldo Sohm, are masters of the art
The awards and plaudits have come thick and fast during a stellar career including being named as an outstanding chef in the United States. He is currently part-owner of renowned New York restaurant Le Bernardin and designed the Blue restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. It is the only restaurant in the Caribbean to have been awarded the AAA five diamond accolade.
Chef Ripert is also the host of Cayman Cookout, repeating his successful tenure of the epicurean event of 2009.
‘What I loved about last year was the intimacy between the chefs and the public. It’s a nice sized festival; I don’t like it when there are 5,000 people. The Cookout was a great success last year but obviously I’m biased!’
Since he first visited Cayman seven years ago there has been a measurable increase in the diversity of restaurants and the quality of food. He likes to eat locally when on-island. Eager residents are always being keen to take Chef Ripert to their favourite restaurants and the chef is equally keen to sample the fare, be it sushi, roti or jerk chicken.
‘Caymanian-style cerviche is very good. I’ve never seen it where they use the steak sauce in there that is very unique and gives it a good flavour.
‘Good food is good food wherever you go but in the Caribbean the food tends to be spicier because of the ingredients. You can see the influence of Jamaica and other islands in the mix of the food.’
There’s also a local dish that finds favour with the man with one of the most advanced palates in the world.
‘Let’s not forget the rum cake too – the more rum, the better!’ he laughed.
One of the features of his New York restaurant, Le Bernadin, is that it marries great food with extraordinary wine. Wine Director at the restaurant, Aldo Sohm, was named Best Sommelier in the World 2008 by the World Sommelier Association and he is also appearing at Cayman Cookout. He explained the way that he and Chef Ripert work together on finding the ideal wine for a dish.
‘Chef has a very playful way of cooking so I try and always get the flavours together in a very delicate way. He designs dishes then we talk about it a lot. I go there very often with 10 glasses of wine to find the right pairing for a dish. Certain dishes take two days to find the right pairing.’
Chef Ripert said that he was initially surprised at the amount of wine drinkers and connoisseurs in the Cayman Islands as well as some of the extensive wine cellars in the restaurants. ‘Our sommelier at Le Bernardin is very talented but at the same time it’s not like he’s a teacher telling you what to do but he’s sharing a passion. It’s an experience to have someone who can guide you without being intimidating. It has to be fun – wine is fun!’
Aldo Sohm said that it is about communication: finding which wines people like and guiding them to choose something suitable to complete the dish.
‘When you go to an establishment like ours ultimately you’re trying to achieve the best possible experience and when food and wine works together you’re getting that. If one competes against the other it’s still a great experience – but it’s not the ultimate,’ he said.
Outside the kitchen Ripert explained that he would love to see more of the Island this time around.
‘I want to take the time to go Scuba diving on the great wall. Since I’ve been coming to Cayman over many trips I’ve never had the time to do that before.’
Aldo Sohm is also looking to get out and about when time allows, being a first-time visitor to the Cayman Islands.
‘At Cayman I definitely want to see Stingray City and explore a lot. I love to sit in cafes and watch people and get the vibe a little bit. I haven’t been to the area before so I am doubly excited,’ he said.
Mr. Sohm may be world-renowned for his incredible skill and approach to wine but he said he is also looking forward to a rather more local drink whilst here.
‘I love rum, I have to admit – I like daiquiris very much! Plus the cigars, of course. I like julep too, anything mint-driven but I’m not a cocktail person at all,’ he added.
The Cayman Cookout is a rare opportunity to see a talented clutch of chefs and sommeliers that rarely would come together in such numbers. Chef Ripert describes this year’s group as ‘exceptional’ in a festival that has repercussions beyond the consumption of outstanding food and wine.
‘It’s a way of celebrating life and having a good time, and for the locals I’m saying, ‘come and have fun with us,’ and for those travelling I would say it basically guarantees fun.
‘It’s going to show also that Cayman is a great place; it’s very welcoming and very special and it’s a good opportunity to show off the island,’ he added.
It’s also adding to the growing feeling that Cayman has everything in place to become a true culinary centre, said the chef.
Tickets are available from The Ritz-Carlton box office in the lobby for all Cayman Cookout events.
For more information on Cayman Cookout 2010, head to caymanislands.ky/cayman_cookout/