In a constant quest to prove that there are oodles of things to do in the Cayman Islands if you just go looking, my friend Lynne and I attended one of Ortanique’s famous cooking classes.
I say “famous” because the event’s reputation had it sold out in no time, and after my own personal experience, I have to say it isn’t just the cooking that makes it memorable.
‘Twas a bright Saturday afternoon as we walked in the doors of this colourful restaurant, not really knowing what to expect. As other participants arrived and were handed the first of many glasses of champagne, we settled into the social atmosphere. For those of you who are unaware, Ortanique is owned by Chef Cindy Hutson, a self-taught marvel in the kitchen who has earned rave reviews in the US and now brings her particular brand of magic to Grand Cayman.
They were setting up the tables in the upper seating area, ready for us amateurs to descend. Cindy’s partner, Delius Shirley, was smiling calmly while arranging the plates and cooking stations. At high noon all was ready. The shout went up, and the group made their way to the battlefield!
We were split into three teams – Red, Yellow and White, and were seven to a table. Lynne and I were on the Yellow team…‘cos we’re sunny people. Everyone was handed a bandana and we immediately donned them. We felt like chefs already! Now it was time for the rules.
Each team had to create the following with the ingredients at hand: ceviche, guacamole, jerk chicken pasta and chocolate lava cake. Luckily, anything that needed to be chopped had already been prepared, so none of us students ended up with ceviche a la index finger. Each group also had its own assistant chef from Ortanique ready to give advice when necessary. The moment was upon us and we were off!
I offered to make the ceviche and promptly dumped the entire container of fish into my bowl, splattering a teammate with juice in the process. Our chef, Mike, sensing he had a live one here, tried to offer words of encouragement and some helpful tips. Cindy was also making announcements to steer us in the right direction. In the meantime, my Yellow teammate Anthony had taken on the task of the guacamole. As the first course progressed, I was carrying on with flair. I had added the lime juice, some colourful components, and now some orange juice. What did Gordon Ramsay have that I didn’t? The time was ticking by, and suddenly it was time to pay the piper! We were given plantain chips for the presentation, and as I tried to arrange the fiddly little things in my bowl so they wouldn’t fall over, I wondered how chefs managed hundreds of such creations per day. In went the ceviche and guacamole and our first dish was spirited away to the judges. Five minutes later we found out we had won one point for the ceviche but had lost out to another team on the guacamole. This is when it officially went from a fun competition to war!
My friend Debbie took hold of the skillet for the jerk chicken pasta challenge. Probably best to keep me as far from fire as possible. She chose her ingredients wisely, as the old knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade might have said. The result was a flavourful dish with a nice kick, full of creamy goodness. Did we get the point? No! Clearly the fix was in!
As we approached the final course – dessert – each team had one point, so this would be the decider. By now a healthy dose of champagne, not to mention several wine pairings, had turned opposing teams into ruthless adversaries, not above trying to win the prized point by devious means. I snuck outdoors to grab a few examples of local flora for our plate. There was lots of huddling and whispering in those moments, as our two lads threw chocolate mixture into pots with gusto. We didn’t know what shape they would take when they emerged, but so long as they weren’t burnt that would be fine, as our presentation was going to blow everyone away!
When the three plates were lined up, Delius got ready to make the announcement. We were all a-quiver and….apparently all three teams were disqualified. Some of our plants were poisonous, another team had the professional pastry chef, which gave them an unfair advantage, and the third team’s unsubtle attempt at bribery (fanned US$20 bills around the plate) had backfired. We were at an impasse! How would a winning team be decided upon?
Delius and Cindy seemed strangely prepared for a tiebreaker. Each team would have 10 minutes to work out a 30-second song or skit and the best one would win the day. My bandana became my thinking cap and it was all breathtakingly clear. Ten minutes later I had our masterpiece (ahem.) With the team behind me sporting makeshift instruments of large bowls and spoons, we brought it! (To the tune of Ice Ice Baby)
Alright stop! Collaborate we’re cookin’,
Yellow’s back with a brand new invention,
Chic-ken, on the plate it’s tasty,
Mix-it-with-some-wine and we’re gettin’ hasty.
Dinner plate, it’s lookin’ too small,
Think I got a dustbin lid down the hall.
If you got a recipe, yo we’ll cook it,
Fire up the hot plate and watch us do it!
Cook, Cook, Baby…
Cook, Cook, Baby…
Red Team, you ain’t no good,
Seems you forgot you’re workin’ with food!
White Team, you didn’t bring it,
Tasted your dish, didn’t pay to wing it.
Yellow, we’re the colour of the room,
You know when we arrived we would spell your doom!
If you got a recipe….
Do I really need to tell you who won? You have got to sign up for this the next time it’s offered. We had a fantastic time!
Watch the krazy kitchen antics video at http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/videos/Vicki-cooks-up-a-storm-at-Ortanique/