Ben Kallenbach, newly-installed executive pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, has quite the story to tell.
“I spent two years with Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain just before coming here,” he told the Compass. “Bahrain is surprising – there is a US military base, the naval command centre is there, so there is a fairly large American contingent. It is a hard life adjusting to Middle Eastern culture; this year, with the political protests the whole year was a disaster.
“At the hotel, we were kind of sheltered from it – it is a big compound so there weren’t tear gas guns being shot off five feet away or anything like that, but we were told not to go out, not to walk around, especially at night,” he said.
From a culinary standpoint the Middle Eastern food culture and palate has a hankering for sugar, and lots of it.
“It’s crazy – the Baklawa tastes like sugar and rosewater, or sugar and pistachio – it’s so sweet,” he said. “Here in Cayman we average out at two or three individual pieces at a buffet per person, but in Bahrain it’s five or six.
“The cakes are enormous, the platters are enormous and the platters are two or three times the size they are here because it’s such a visual thing. The people have money, the cakes are enormous, four or five tiers.”
The chef said one of the major adjustments he had to make in his new role on Grand Cayman was being able to use alcohol again.
“You don’t think about it but it’s a little splash of brandy here, the rum we put into things, a bit of bourbon there – even Kaluah and Baileys and Frangelica. You just can’t use it over there or if you do, you have to put a label on it saying it contains alcohol. There is a difference that you can tell.
“Also, I had to tone down the sweetness level,” he said.
Baklawa is a traditional, pastry-layered dish that originated in the Ottoman Empire and Central Asia. It is something the chef said is intricate and from which he has learned much.
“Some are very small, almost like French petit-fours; it is a lot of work,” he said. “From a culinary standpoint you cannot get that experience anywhere else. On a personal level, the culture was amazing. To be there and learn; Bahrain has a large percentage of expats from France, the UK, India so the experience of using those different products and the local spices and teas was absolutely amazing.”