Eric Ripert is the star chef hosting the Cayman Cookout 2012 once more and the talented Frenchman is clearly enjoying the experience.
“It started with a casual conversation at Calico Jack’s about a food festival in 2006. Since then we’ve done three international and one local festival,” Eric says, smiling.
“I think it was a full moon party – we were very inspired and creative.” The event takes place at Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman between 12th and 15th January with the Ultimate Dinner Party on Saturday, 14th January, at Camana Bay. And whilst from those small acorns a relatively mighty oak has grown, Eric tells Weekender that one of the brilliant things about Cookout is its relatively intimate vibe.
“Compared to festivals in the United States, for example, it is very interesting; we have such talent coming from the wine business and chefs, some big names. However, the size of the festival is small compared to those when you get 15,000 people walking through the tents.
“We keep it small here; for the participants it is nice and not overwhelming. It is a good interaction and I really enjoy that. You want to be close to the people and exchange ideas, they have questions about what you do and we are able to do that. It is a very, very nice thing,” muses the French genius.
It is a different type of feedback from the more formal interaction between chef and sit-down restaurant visitor, he notes.
“We are on the beach; we are on a boat to Stingray City; we are enjoying Grand Cayman together and that is very special. We are new friends. And at the same time, of course, we bring our knowledge of food and cooking. That’s what makes the festival special to my eyes.
“A lot of the chefs are coming for the first time but someone like Jose Andres is now really part of the fabric of the festival. He wants to be mayor! Chefs coming for the first time really are wowed and even though I have seen three opening parties I am still overwhelmed with what’s going on, in a good way,” says Eric.
And it’s not just the food, but the ambience, the happy guests, the mingling, the beach, the music, the sandcastles…
“It’s special, it’s whimsical in a sense. It’s not just a party, it is a very special moment.
“All the elements come together; Seven Mile Beach is amazing, the weather usually is amazing and you have those parties. We had the special lunch at Starfish Point last year – every year we have something new.
“There is one thing that everybody says once they have had their first experience as a chef at Cookout and that is very simple: That they want to come back.”
Indeed, word is spreading far and wide about the festival and there is a distinct buzz on the culinary scene when Cayman is mentioned, the chef explains.
“The industry is very well aware of Cookout and the media have done a very good job of promoting it in magazines and television, therefore you have a lot of people who know about it, especially foodies. People who are interested in food are very aware of the festival.
“I hear more and more people saying they went to Aspen or Miami and now want to come to Cayman. For them it is a long weekend or the beginning of a vacation. It is an unbelievable experience which if you tried somewhere else you would not get the same. You could come every year and every year would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in a sense.”
The Cayman Cookout takes place at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman from Thursday, 12 January, to Sunday, 15 January. There are numerous events with a host of famous chefs and wine experts. Keep checking out Weekender for lots more details over the coming weeks. But just for now, some names to toy with include Richard Blais, Anthony Bourdain, Jose Andres, April Bloomfield, Laurent Gras, Francois Payard, Paul Rogalski and many, many more. Wine experts include Ray Isle, Aldo Sohm, Andrea Robinson, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, Nicholas Morleyt, Gerhard Kracher, Tim Duncan and several other huge names in their field.
The Cookout takes the form of a series of tastings, demonstrations, tours and talks by these talented individuals and is presented by the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Food & Wine and the Cayman Islands. On Saturday, 14 January, Camana Bay hosts The Ultimate Dinner Party, where the executive chefs of Ortanique, Abacus and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink team up with celebrity chefs to create a party and dinner at each restaurant plus entertainment, cocktails, dessert and more at the popular town centre venue.
For a full list of events and ticket
information please head to www.caymanislands.ky/cayman_cookout
For a full list of events and ticket information please head to www.caymanislands.ky/cayman_cookout