Food writer says Cayman’s food is great

 Jane Milton is a food consultant, writer and driving force behind the food industry website The Food Network. Her books include The Practical Encyclopedia of Mexican Cooking, which is now in its 14th reprint.
   Milton, originally from Loch Lomond in Scotland, visited Cayman during January for Culinary Month. She was immediately taken by the warmth of the locals.
   “Everybody was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and having been on other Caribbean islands I can tell you that folk aren’t always like that. Sometimes they resent the fact that you’ve come.”
   Milton and colleagues took in a massive swathe of what the island has to offer on a fast-paced schedule, including a cooking demonstration at the Lighthouse restaurant and a helicopter trip which she rates highly as a great way to check out the size of the island.
   “George Town is probably not as big as the suburb of London I live in! From way up high you can see so much green and how populated the island is.”
   The journalists went to several events at Cayman Cookout including the opening night party which she says had some excellent eats.
   “Right from that first night the quality of the food was great. It was great that local restaurants were given a chance to take part in that and it wasn’t just The Ritz using their own chefs.
   “It really showed the quality of the food being cooked. It’s not easy to transport the food out your kitchen and still serve it the way you want to serve it but people really managed it that night,” saysMilton.
Turtle trouble
   A trip to Stingray City brought food for thought, but the journalist said she was less comfortable at the Turtle Farm.
   “I go in and out of food factories all the time and used to work in a poultry company. You’d open a door and there’d be 30,000 day-old, cute little fluffy chicks in a barn. Then six weeks later they’d be coming into your kitchen for you to cook.
   “But I couldn’t get my head around the fact that the part of the farm where they are all packed up in tanks was something people would want you to see – to me it was mass production, factory farming.
   “Kids were picking up turtles which turtles were flapping about; they didn’t look all that comfy about it.”
   Milton also rates the bioluminescence trip as a major highlight of her trip, saying that it was a really amazing thing to see and calling it ‘incredible’.
   “Paddling out in the dark was one thing but once we got into the bay it was just amazing to see and interesting – there’s not that many places in the world that you can see it and we were really lucky to be in Cayman at a time that we could do it.”
   Milton also paid tribute to the fact that walking on the beach late at night felt safe.
   “There are a lot of places where I wouldn’t even contemplate doing that at night. It’s also to do with the friendliness of people; you felt sure that if anything did happen somebody would always help.”
    The well-travelled cook and author says that Cayman has a real advantage as a culinary destination, partly due to its diverse population. A visit to Camana Bay for Taste of Cayman showed the wide range of food and styles available.
   “You could easily be in Cayman for a fortnight, have a great meal every night and not eat in the same place twice. Because of the mix of population there’s a very cosmopolitan mix of food which is unusual for such a small island.
   “If you look at what a lot of those other islands can offer food-wise, the quality and variety of quality food on Cayman Islands is really good in comparison.”
Local dishes
   Milton says that she sought out local dishes wherever possible including jerk chicken and pork, Cayman-style fish and more. She found that people were generally happy to chat about their dishes and recipes.
   “We went to MacDonald’s and it was really good – we had escoveitch chicken there which was great, fried, crispy chicken and piquant, vinegary vegetables – cooked to order. For a fast food-type place that was incredible. If it’d been in the UK they would have ruined it.
   “I loved the fact that people use Mahi-Mahi, Conch Fritters and so on and it’s important that those things stay on the menus. It was also very impressive the way that people had so much knowledge about why they weren’t using Cayman-caught fish and all of the marine stewardship stuff. People were very clued-up on things like that.”
   Milton also loved the Market at the Grounds, a great way of getting a real feeling for local recipes and an idea of what people are like. But there is one thing that didn’t work out during her trip.
   “I’m sick I didn’t get to go to one of the National Trust cookery classes which sound superb – what a great thing for local people that is. It’s really important that those traditional recipes don’t die out and are passed on.”
   To make an impression on the global culinary market, Milton says that Cayman Islands have to promote the inherent quality of the local dishes.
   “Cayman has to be proud of the native food and make more of it. If you are a food traveller orsomebody who travels looking for the next unusual thing you’ve not tasted anywhere else then local food is the thing to separate a destination.”
   She says that she would advise anyone thinking of a Caribbean visit to go to Cayman because it has such high standards of food. Ideally, visiting during Taste of Cayman or Pirates Week would help visitors sample truly local food. Culinary Month was well-organised although there were a couple of hiccups.
    “There was a little too much overlap between Taste of Cayman and Cookout and I thought people should have been encouraged to visit Taste. They were both really well-organised – sometimes on other Caribbean islands the organisation is not quite so committed.
   “I think the Cookout is great but if people only ate at the Ritz events they will have missed out on some of the local restaurants – there’s so much to offer here and on Little Cayman. It’s not just a diving destination, there’s certainly a lot of other stuff to do,” concludes Milton.

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