Cayman is once more preparing itself for a January blowout with a series of events based around food, drink and flavours from the Caribbean and beyond.

Culinary Month began in 2010 and built largely on the success of two flagship events. The Cayman Cookout, hosted mostly at Ritz-Carlton and curated by Eric Ripert, featured a series of limited-seat demonstrations, tastings and participatory events under the tutelage of a host of famous chefs including Jose Andres and Anthony Bourdain. It also was notable in 2010 for having a distinct flair with wine pairings, introducing wines to Caymanian palates and even rum mixing sessions.

Conversely, the 22nd edition of Taste of Cayman brought together the island’s finest restaurants, chefs and food producers who congregated at Camana Bay to show off their wares to the islands.

It was decided to expand these two January events into a month’s worth of culinary attractions, explained Erin Bodden of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

“Culinary month was born from an idea developed between tourism industry partners in the Cayman Islands. January 2011 will be the second annual Culinary Month which has been developed as an annual opportunity to connect Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s most successful and growing festival Taste of Cayman with other epicurean events on island that are united by the goal to create an exciting and packed month of activities to attract more tourists to the Cayman Islands while raising additional funds for CITA programmes.

“The month aims to bring our culinary industry to the attention of the world through creating not just one but many first class events throughout the month giving their members and other local businesses the opportunity to host unique and creative CITA endorsed events that will ultimately draw people from around the globe to experience world-class food and wine,” she revealed.

Eric Ripert, the famous New York-based French chef, also filmed two episodes of his show, Avec Eric, whilst on-island, something that Ritz-Carlton owner Michael Ryan said would promote Cayman as a tourism destination.

“Building on the positive momentum of the Cayman Cookout and Cayman Culinary Month, the filming of Avec Eric in the Cayman Islands will bring increased attention not only to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and the Dragon Bay development, but to the country as a whole.

“This program will reveal the culinary delights of Cayman to a whole new audience, already loyal to Avec Eric and the Eric Ripert brand,” he said.

Ripert added that Cayman was becoming known as a Caribbean capital for great food. The TV programme also showcased local fishermen as well as visiting various tourist attractions, giving the destination – and not just the food – a publicity boost.

Culinary armoury

Indeed, culinary tourism is a concept which has increasingly become part of a destination’s armoury in attracting visitors.

During the mid-1980s, then-Prime Minister Harold St John identified that whilst visitors to Barbados were steady, attracted by the colonial capital Bridgetown and the beaches of the Platinum Coast, there was a need to expand on the tourism product.

What transpired was an early example of thinking outside the box that has now become a central part of Bajan tourism: the Oistins fishing town on the South Coast. Once famous for a battle between roundheads and royalists in the seventeenth century, St John – and later, his widow, Stella St John – played a significant part in repositioning the area to appeal to another market entirely.

These days, the redeveloped waterside is a family-friendly area where tourists can go and see weaving of nets and by night the boats themselves bring in the catch. Most famously, every Friday and Saturday the Fish-Fry takes place at Oistins fish market, where a hundred vendors set up in the huts to provide oodles of local food including the local speciality, flying fish, plus sweet potatoes, macaroni and all sorts of sides. Because the fish is noticeably fresh from the sea and the drinks flow freely, tourists flock here in their thousands to experience a very local-feeling vibe, explained Bajan expert Ian Bourne.

Culinary tourism is niche marketing like sports or medical tourism; it broadens the base for reaching the travelling market and assists with increasing foreign exchange and building bonds between nations & territories,” he explained.

Food writer, consultant and expert Jane Milton visited Cayman in 2010 during January to check out the Cookout and Taste of Cayman.

“I don’t think many people think of Cayman for food- they come for business or for diving and the beauty of the islands- the safe feeling you get on Cayman versus other Caribbean islands. Cayman is a beautiful place, lots to offer, really friendly people, really safe feeling, warm, sunny, clean and all mod cons too like wifi .

“That’s why the Taste of Cayman is such a good activity as it draws attention to the food. For me I would still like to see the traditional food focused on more and less emphasis on the fine dining – the Cayman cuisine is something that only Cayman islands can do so it makes sense to make more of it and that would bring more food tourism.

“There are lots of food festivals, for instance Tasting Australia, which have been going for a long time and therefore have gathered their reputation – people come from all over the world to that, as they do to Slow Food every year in Turin. I don’t think [Culinary Month] has that pull yet but it could build up,” said Milton.


ssential experience

For some, cuisine has long been a motivation for travelling; an essential part of any cross-cultural experience is tasting the local food, but it is only relatively recently that the concept has crossed over into the mainstream. Culinary Tourism spawned its first industry in 2001 with the International Culinary Tourism Association, which is intended as a central point for information, whether a media contact, services to the tourism industry, academic research or destination marketing. In 2010, the organisation put on three days of conference in the Culinary Tourism Thought Leadership World Summit, attended by 500 delegates from around the world who discussed all aspects of the culinary destination experience.

According to tourism futurist Ian Yeoman, disposable income and spending patterns has led to food becoming a higher-profile part of spending. Further,a more multi-cultured outlook has developed with today’s easier access to world information through TV and the Internet.

The consumer of today will watch the latest Bollywood film, consume a curry, purchase exotic spices for cooking and will read about Rajasthan in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet. Multiculturalism has now become an everyday concept in the daily life of the consumer; today curry is the United Kingdom’s favourite dish,” he told Hospitality Net, a leading consumer website.

Yeoman also identifies the ubiquity of celebrity chefs, higher awareness of health aspects and the very modern search for new experiences as elements pushing the phenomenon.

In the Cayman Islands, the evidence seems to support Yeoman’s hypotheses: Cayman Cookout 2010’s final seven-course gala dinner spectacular, despite being the most costly on the bill, sold out weeks in advance, and Taste of Cayman had in excess of 3,000 people through the gates during the evening, a very significant figure from a total three-island population of 50,000.

Culinary tourism may be the new kid on the block but those are the kind of figures to make any bottom line perk up, as Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott told the Compass earlier this year.

“Culinary tourism is a growing phenomenon and one which the Cayman Islands is superbly positioned to take advantage of.

“With over 150 restaurants and a range of cuisines that reflect the diversity of the population of the Islands, Cayman has something unique to offer its visitors.”