One of the biggest pulls for punters at Cayman Cookout 2011 is the opportunity to see the best of the best at work. For everyone who loves cooking – or eating, for that matter – the chance to view the creative process was a rare and welcome one. Indeed, there was also the opportunity to get a little more hands-on at times as chefs sought to demystify a process that, while it may seem like alchemy, is also something anyone can take a bash at.
Proof of that was at the Grand Cayman Beach Pavilion when Rachel Allen took the stage. The Irish chef’s demonstration was titled Home Favourites and was notably good-natured, with her easy and very likeable persona helping the crowd relax even as they wondered how she pulled five dishes together from their constituent ingredients in just under an hour. There was a delicate poached monkfish and tomato, sherry vinegar and hazelnut salsa, a lamb curry that filled the venue with the irresistible aroma of roasting coriander and cumin seeds, tuile biscuits and – best of all – a fabulous brown soda bread.
Susur Lee was born in Hong Kong and made his way to Washington, DC, via New York and Toronto, and his passion for his subject is evident in the intensity of his concentration. The chef’s Beach Fusion demo had one particular star and that was his stellar curried rack of lamb, which was marinaded in a blend of spices including coriander, turmeric, curry powder and pepper, and then roasted.
It was lifted to great heights, however, by the dual sparkle and coolness of a lightly tart-tasting carrot cardamom chutney and a chilli mint chutney.
There was also a brilliant sautéed shrimp in Assam sauce, which was sweet, sour, a little hot and salty. Served with oven-dried pineapple, it had its roots firmly in Asia. Lee is considered one of the most inventive fusion authorities around and even in a short demonstration made the ingredients sing on the plate.
At completely the opposite end of the spectrum was the Just Desserts event, hosted by Gail Simmons and Michael Laiskonis. It proved to be a riotous occasion, with three audience members invited on stage to compete in the creation of a dessert during a live rapid-fire competition. And even while the clock was ticking, chefs Eric Ripert, Jose Andres and Charlie Trotter, having peeked in to watch, quickly got involved as sous chefs for the competitors on stage. There was much laughter, lots of fun, and if there was a moment where the barriers between celebrity chefs, food and the crowd were broken once and for all, it was this. After a hard-fought battle, it was Whitney-Lehr Flynn whose cake creation won the approval of the judges – and won her a goodie bag from Bon Vivant.
“It was an amazing experience; cooking with chef Ripert was a dream come true. I’m here on honeymoon with my new husband. We got married six days ago and had planned it months before we knew about the Cayman Cookout, but this was a great surprise as we are huge foodies,” said the newlywed.
Another hugely entertaining demonstration came on Saturday morning, when Asturian chef Jose Andres threw the original schedule out in favour of something unforgettable. Originally meant to be an on-stage demo of Catalonian and Spanish cuisine, instead Senor Andres had arranged for two fire pits to be created right on Seven Mile Beach, on which two paella pans were perched in anticipation.
Sure enough, the energetic, knowledgeable and very enthusiastic chef roped in several audience members as his assistants; that they actually cooked the paella under his guidance and virtually the only time Andres touched the dish was to help move the pans to keep the fire under control. Whether joking about the merits of Spanish and Italian olive oils or explaining that a good paella is all about the flavour of the rice, the Spanish chef was in his element and the crowd responded with real affection. A cooling gazpacho offset the lobster and chicken rice dish in rustic style. The only thing missing in this brilliant demonstration of Valencian largess was a glass of horchata.
A little more exclusive was the Mixology 101 event at North Sound Pool. Anthony Giglio, author of Cocktails in New York, was the host as several of Cayman’s finest bartenders served up their own creations; some were sweet, some frozen, some sour, but all were inventive. The favourite of the attendees on the day was the Ritz-Carlton’s own Simon Crompton, who created a pineapple-based cocktail he called the Chiquimula. Giglio is an engaging and laid-back presenter, even more so in the relaxed surroundings of a poolside bar, and the people present responded with enthusiasm to his chat; it may not have been the most interactive of events, but nobody was complaining all that much, for some reason.
The Cookout provided a framework for disparate styles and techniques to be communicated to the public, and what it proved more than anything was that wherever a cuisine originated, it inevitably also put across the personality of the creator.
Therein lies, perhaps, the genesis of the phenomenon of the celebrity chef.