The Cayman Cookout 2011 featured a significant majority of events around host venue the Ritz-Carlton. Such was the interest in the epicurean whirl, there were also many delicious prospects on offer in other venues.
Camana Bay’s growing number of top-quality restaurants were the destination of choice for many people on Saturday night, where Abacus, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Ortanique all put on brilliantly delivered celebrations of Cayman’s culinary offering, each with a different but very welcome approach. Proof positive, indeed, that the Cayman Islands are well on their way toward becoming the culinary capital of the Caribbean.
Dinner at Michael’s
James Beard Award-winning chefs Michael Schwartz and Michel Nischan cooked sustainable cuisine for excited Cayman Cookout guests on Saturday at Michael’s Genuine restaurant.
The chefs pride themselves on serving simply prepared cuisine and embracing the farm-to-table concept.
“It’s really exciting and wonderful using local foods in these dishes tonight,” said Mr. Nischan, who began the Wholesome Wave Foundation, which essentially doubles the value of food stamps in America if they’re going toward the purchase of locally grown produce.
TV personality Anthony Bourdain, Top Chef host Gail Simmons, Chicago chef Charlie Trotter and world-renowned chef Jose Andres were among the celebrity attendees.
The event started with hors d’oeuvres of local Lionfish ceviche with local passionfruit, assorted pizzette with local vegetables, crispy polenta with local heirloom tomato chutney, and grilled homemade goat sausage with local radish and roasted fennel aioli, as guests mingled and sipped on sparkling Pinot Noir, which was disgorged a la minute.
The meal started with a first course of wood-fired chili-spiced local eggplant with tomato ginger sauce and crispy onion, which was paired with a semi-dry Riesling.
The second course of local yellowfin tuna “melt” on homemade onion toast and local greens paired with a Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc delighted everyone.
Pan-roasted local yellow eye snapper with a succotash of local vegetables paired with a 2001 Pinot Noir made up the third course.
For the main course, Cookout guests enjoyed wood oven-toasted white oak pastures grass-fed beef rib-eye with creamy white beans, local kale and walnut pesto.
A Betts & Scholl, Rhone Valley 2005 Syrah matched the unique flavours.
After congratulations and introduction by Chef Andres, pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith presented a dessert tray to each table consisting of a caramelized pineapple “tarte tatin” local coconut milk sherbet, bruleed local bananas, hazelnut crisps and lemongrass granita matched with a France MV champagne.
Mr. Schwartz was congratulated with a round of applause from the satisfied diners.
“Thank you to everyone who came out tonight,” he said.
Irish Meets The Islands
Another highlight of the meals at Camana Bay during the Cayman Cookout was Rachel Allen’s Celtic-Caribbean fusion dinner at Abacus, which carried several surprises for the taste buds.
Who would have thought of combining black pudding with bananas, or potato soup with coconut, or smoked salmon with yams?
The unique menu was drawn up over two months by Allen and her partner in crime in the Abacus kitchen, Ron Jacobson, with the intention of bringing some tastes from Ireland and combining them with Caribbean flavours.
During Saturday night’s dinner, Chef Ron took care of the kitchen while a relaxed and chatty Allen met and mingled with all the guests and played the friendly and lively hostess.
The celebrity chef of the TV show, Rachel Allen: Bake! is a member of an Irish cooking family dynasty who run the famed Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork. She visited Cayman for the cookout with her two children, parents and husband Isaac, who is the son of Darina Allen and grandson of Myrtle Allen – two names Irish readers and anyone who has ever attended a cooking class in Ireland will be familiar with.
Melt in the mouth
This meal was a long way from the meat and two veg of the typical Irish cooking of old. And it all worked beautifully.
The sweetness and soft texture of the bananas were a wonderful accompaniment to the blood pudding, the coconut milk in the soup lent a wonderful Caribbean flavour to a very traditional soup and the yam and salmon cake, topped with melted and crispy Dubliner cheese (which incidentally actually comes from County Cork, not Dublin), was a melt-in-the-mouth success.
Oysters in Guinness batter were partnered by a sweet and tangy ginger mayonnaise, while another traditional dish of loin of bacon with sausages with mashed potato was given a Caribbean flavour with dasheen, or taro, leaf, instead of the usual green cabbage, and stewed pineapples.
For those who still had room, a selection of Irish cheeses and brown soda scones, followed by Bailey’s ice cream with rum-soaked raisins finished off a truly memorable meal, which was accompanied by wine, or Guinness, or Black Velvet – a cocktail of Guinness and champagne – so that each course could be properly toasted with a “Sláinte!”.
Bandana Beach BBQ
Chef Cindy Hutson’s signature bandana was worn with pride by attendees of the Cookout event held at Camana Bay’s newest restaurant.
Ortanique’s tagline is Cuisine of the Sun, and the evening began with the warm glow of the sunset.
Attendees gathered on the beach island for a series of hors d’oeuvres, including a delicious garlic and cilantro shrimp and delicious Seranno ham and manchego cheese croquettes, washed down by judicious amounts of either Seven Fathoms rum or carefully-selected wines.
The party then moved back to Ortanique where the fun really began with a host of dishes that delighted the crowds. Particularly popular was the caja china crackling suckling pig, which had been cooked in an unique way, explained chef Gary Ferguson, a guest chef invited from The Ribcage restaurant in Kingston,Jamaica to assist with the cooking.
“Back in the days when the Chinese were in Cuba building the railroads, they built a kind of box to cook pigs in. This was designed by a guy in Miami who remembered his grandfather talking about it,”
Once the pig is actually cooked – with the fire on top – it’s the culmination of a five-day process including salting of the skin. As a result, the pork was incredibly juicy and the crackling crunchy – a perfect blend.
Punchiness with subtlety
The roasted yuca with mojo – that Canary Islands marinade that became a signature of Cuba – was particularly excellent and the black bean and avocado salad worked very well off the creole-sauteed local callaloo.
Everything down to the cornflake-encrusted sweet plantain had something to recommend it.
Following a very long day of demonstrations and tastings in the sun, the punchiness of the cuisine allied to some subtle touches and exciting blends of seasonings really did satisfy the palate.
The sweet guava and cream cheese bread pudding topped by pineapple and coconut ice cream dessert was fresh with citrus explosion and cooled things down; more than a few people chose to top the meal off with a Romeo y Julietta cigar, too.
All in all, it was a reminder if any were needed that the sun has certainly inspired cuisine, whether Caribbean, European or African elements. Not quite fusion, more a marriage of continents – or at least, a passionate liaison.
Later in the evening many decamped to Silver Palm, back at The Ritz-Carlton, for the Sugared: Desserts and Cocktails event which featured a dessert buffet and candy bar, whilst DJs played suitably funky sounds past the midnight hour. There were some absolutely spectacular bites and outstandingly creative sweet treats which fuelled some equally spectacular and creative dance moves, too.
Among many desserts created by Le Bernadin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis were pecans and cocoa nibs tarts with praline whipped cream, bubblegum marshmallows and green tea biscuit creations with insistent caramel notes. No wonder that many of the chefs found their way back to the venue to discuss recipes, adventures and Cayman’s place in it all, as Saturday night seeped softly into Sunday morning and the Cookout 2011 gathered apace for one last day of artistry.