Dueling chefs at Cookout cook-off

Like an Old West showdown at high noon, two of Cayman’s top amateur chefs will duel in The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman ballroom on Sunday, 16 January, but instead of pistols, they’ll be using knives… and pots, pans and a several other cooking utensils.

Chef Eric Ripert of the Ritz’s restaurant Blue, said the cook-off is one of the “most fun and lively events” of the Cayman Cookout.

“It is a great chance to showcase the local culinary talent of the Cayman Islands and another way for the visiting chefs to interact with the talented chefs of the Island and discover the beauty of Grand Cayman,” he said.

The cook-off is not just a spectator event; those who attend the competition will also get to enjoy a champagne brunch that is equally exciting and unique.

Although the cold food at the brunch will be similar to what the Ritz’s 7 Restaurant Brunch offers on a weekly basis – with favourites like a caviar station, raw bar, sushi bar and cheese antipasto station – the hot food will be prepared fresh at food stations manned by chefs of some the Island’s most popular restaurants.

Something for all tastes

There will be something for all tastes: Icoa will handle the lamb station; Bacchus the veal station; Grand Old House will offer pork at its station; Cracked Conch will serve Yellow Fin Tuna; Abacus will prepare poultry; Solana will make black snapper; Hemingway’s will have a sea food “hot pot”; and there will be a station manned by Chef Scott Popovic, the corporate chef for Certified Angus Beef. There will also be a kids’ brunch menu.

Unlike many brunches that serve sparkling wines, the bubbles flowing at this event will be Moët Brut Imperial Champagne, provided by Jacques Scott and Moët.

Mix of cultures

Nancy Harrison, marketing coordinator for The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, spoke about the way the Bon Vivant Champagne Brunch Cook-off event brings many culinary cultures together.

“This particular Cayman Cookout event is special because it truly integrates Cayman into the international culinary scene and reaffirms why the Cayman Islands are indeed the culinary capital of the Caribbean,” she said.

The cook-off portion will pit Tessa Gall against Fraser Hughes, who advanced to the final after two rounds of preliminary competition at Bon Vivant, the event sponsor. The ultimate winner not only gets bragging rights for a year, he or she will win a trip for two to Food & Wine’s Best New Chef event in New York, including airfare and accommodations, and dinner for two at Le Bernardin, the Michelin three-star restaurant of Chef Eric Ripert.

The amateur chefs will get 15 minutes to complete the prep work and then 45 minutes to make five plates of a dish that will be judged by a panel comprising Chef Ripert, Chef Anthony Bourdain, Chef Susur Lee, Chef Jose Andres and Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor.

Guntram Merl, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s executive assistant manager, director of food and beverage and a judge during the preliminary rounds, was impressed by the talent of the amateur chefs that participated in the competition.

“Without exemption, all the participants this year were highly talented cooks, but what was even more remarkable was the obvious passion and love for food each participant displayed,” he said. “Our two cheftestants, Fraser and Tessa, are no exception, and without this passion one cannot do truly great food.”

Cynthia Hew of Bon Vivant agreed that all eight of the original contestants were really impressive.

“We have more foodies here than we know,” she said. “They’re armchair chefs, but they take cooking really seriously.”

Unlike at Bon Vivant, where the contestants cooked on Viking gas ranges, Mrs. Hew said Viking induction ranges would be used instead for the final.

The event will also feature chats with the visiting chefs who will serve as judges and some other surprises.

Mr. Merl said the cook-off is an important event of the Cayman Cookout, firstly because it is fun.

“Secondly, it involves the community, and my hope is that it will inspire people to dig out their wooden spoons, invite friends and family over and prepare a great meal.

“I hope to get some invites.”


Fraser Hughes presents his dish during a preliminary round of the Bon Vivant Cook-Off Series.
Photo: File