Cayman Cookout at the Brasserie: A culinary symphony

 Whoever came up with the proverb suggesting that too many cooks spoil the broth didn’t know about the Cayman Cookout.
   That’s the impression I came away with after witnessing the crowded culinary artistry that took place at the Cayman Cookout’s wine dinner event at the Brasserie restaurant.
   On that night Brasserie Executive Chef Brad Phillips joined forces with four other featured chefs and an entourage of other chefs and assistants to present a dinner that was as amazing to watch prepare as it was to eat.
   As a guest at the proprietor’s table, situated away from the crowded Brasserie dining room in the adjoining Market Place, I had a great view of the kitchen, which was abuzz in activity.
   The Brasserie kitchen, which is basically new after a major remodelling job over the summer, is squeaky clean, state-of-the-art and quite large as far as commercial kitchens go. The chefs all told me they loved it.
   The concept for the five-course meal was to have each of the five featured chefs prepare one course.  
   In concert with the new push by the Brasserie to ‘go green’ and offer sustainable foods, the courses used locally grown vegetables, some from  the restaurant’s own garden and some from local farms.
   Of course, the other requirement of a wine dinner is wine and New York-based wine expert Anthony Giglio was on hand to discuss the fine Spanish wines paired with the menu.
   Leading off was Chef Paula DaSilva, the runner up in season five of the television show Hell’s Kitchen and the chef de cuisine at the popular restaurant 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale.
   She prepared spiny lobster salad with cold garden vegetable gazpacho sauce, a combination that was neither soup nor salad, but it was exquisite. It was served with white wine, 2007 Erre Punto Blanco, Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza, a substitute for 2006 Belondrade y Lurton, which didn’t arrive on island in time for the dinner.
   Next up was Cindy Hutson, the self-taught chef and co-owner of Ortanique in Coral Gables, Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and soon, Camana Bay.
   Hutson’s local pumpkin ravioli with almond brown butter sauce left me wanting more as well; so simple, but so delicious!
    The ravioli wasn’t the easiest thing with which to pair wine, but pairing difficulties can be easily overlooked when the wine is great.  The 2004 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva fit the bill.  I just ate my ravioli first and savoured the wine after I had finished.
   With access to the kitchen, I was able to get right in there with all the chefs and take photos. Between the chefs, their assistants, dishwashers and the wait staff coming in and out, there were as many as 20 people in the kitchen at a time.  
   Even in a kitchen as large as the Brasserie’s, it became crowded. I had to marvel at the ease with which everyone worked together in such close quarters, in an almost symphony of movements.
   It was then time for Chef Dean Max, renowned seafood expert and executive chef at 3030 Ocean to step up to the plate.  The acclaimed seafood expert didn’t disappoint, with a local satin snapper served with wild Cayman onion, brown butter carrots and coconut oil.  If there was one thing that didn’t quite work during the evening, it was the wild Cayman onion, which was a little too wild for my tastes. But the fish with the coconut oil was utterly divine.
    As for the wine pairing, I’m not one who insists seafood should go with white wine. However, I found the pairing of a hearty red wine with mild fish a bit strange.  Part of the problem was that the wines originally selected for the dinner didn’t arrive on time and substitutes had to be found.
   But, once again, the quality of the wine won me over. The same wine as was served with the ravioli was served with the fish, only the wine was a year older.  Again, I saved most of my wine to enjoy between courses, rather than drinking it with my meal.
   In baseball, the most powerful hitter bats forth, and it was left to Chef Michael Schwarz to swing for the fences on the final savoury course.  The owner and executive chef at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami – and soon with a second location in Camana Bay – hit a home run.
   The rib eye steak with a delightful baked panade of caramelised onions and local greens finished me off in grand style. The steak had been seasoned and then grill seared as a whole roast and sliced, medium rare, just the way I like it.  It was served with 2004 Trasnocho from Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza, another very good wine that soared with the steak pairing.
   Brasserie’s Executive Chef Brad Phillips brought the dinner to a close with a trio of island sweets as we all finished our wines.
   Not all of the chefs on hand for the evening created a menu item. Also in the kitchen was Chef Sara Mair, who appeared in the 3rd season of the television show Top Chef, and who will become the executive chef of Ortanique in Camana Bay when it opens.
   I’ve been to many wine dinners and other group functions at restaurants, but this one was truly remarkable for both the food and quality of the wine.
   One of the reasons group dinners often come up short in restaurants is that it can be difficult for the house chefs to handle presenting a large number of meals all at once, especially multi-course menus featuring complicated dishes. The timing has to be just right for everything. Because of the large group of chefs on hand, the Brasserie was able to nail the timing on everything.
   In the case of the Brasserie wine dinner for the Cayman Cookout, instead of the large number of cooks spoiling the broth, a big team of great chefs made the entire meal better than the sum of its parts.