The aprons are donned, the ovens are preheated and the knives are sharpened. The Bon Vivant Cook-off Series is back and now it’s time to get down to some serious cooking to see who can claim the title as best amateur chef in the Cayman Islands. At an announcement event held at Bon Vivant on Tuesday, 13 November, the eight quarterfinal ‘cheftestants’ were announced after the judges looked over the recipes and photographs of what the applicants proposed to prepare in the first round of the cook-off. They cheftestants had to submit their applications by the end of October. After announcing the selected quarter finalists, Bon Vivant’s Cynthia Hew randomly drew the names of the competitors for each of the first round of cook-offs, which will all take place at the Bon Vivant store at Camana Bay. The quarterfinal and semi-final cook-offs are open to the public, free of charge.
Bon Vivant Cook-off Series gets under way on 4 December
There’s much more than just bragging rights at stake during the cook-off. After the quarterfinals and semifinals, the remaining two cheftestants will cook-off at the very popular Cayman Cookout event, the Bon Vivant Champagne Brunch in the Royal Ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman on 20 January.
Judges for the event, which will be co-hosted by Top Chef All-Star Spike Mendelsohn, include celebrity chefs Eric Ripert, José Andrés and Anthony Bourdain, along with Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor.
The cheftestant deemed by the judges as the winner will receive a trip for two to New York City on Cayman Airways and hotel accommodation at The Ritz-Carlton. Once in New York, they will attend Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef event and have lunch in the restaurant known as ‘The Temple of Seafood’ – Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin.
The competition is open to non-professional chefs only, which also precludes anyone who has previously worked in a professional kitchen.
Each of the cheftestants is allowed to bring one non-professional chef assistant, who can help them with minor tasks and preparations only.
The cheftestants must purchase all the food required to prepare four portions of their dish – two for the judges and two for the audience – and the only thing that can be prepared in advance is basic stock.
The competitors only have one hour to prepare their dishes, after which the judges award 0 to 10 points for four different categories of criteria: originality of recipe and the use of local ingredients; presentation; showmanship and skill; and taste.
The first cook-off on Tuesday, 4 December, at 4.30pm puts two newcomers to the competition against each other. In that quarterfinal, youthful Emily DeCou will prepare ‘Grilled Jerk-seasoned Conch’ while Michael Treacy cooks ‘Three Lions on our Plate – Roar Lionfish Ceviche, Lion Balls and Pan-seared Lionfish Fillets’.
Immediately following that cook-off, another competition newcomer, Sarah Bourke, will have a lionfish invasion of her own – Panko Lionfish, Lionfish Sushi and Ginger-glazed Lionfish Skewers. She’ll cook-off against a semi-finalist from last year’s competition, Jacqueline Hastings, who will prepare Pan-seared Scallops, Wasabi Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Asparagus, Citrus Soy Glaze and Cayman Citrus Coulis.
The next day, on Wednesday, 5 December, the 4.30pm cook-off pits Cody Bush – a returning contestant from last year that lost to eventual competition winner Eric St. Cyr – against Marty Tammemagi, another repeat cheftestant who lost a close cook-off in last year’s semi-finals. For this cook-off, Bush will make Lobster Wellington and Tammemagi will prepare Local Snapper with Gnocci in coconut sauce.
At 6pm on the 5th, newcomer Megan Timmons will prepare Pan-Seared Red Snapper with Local Papaya Avocado Salsa to go against last year’s runner-up Maureen Cubbon, who will cook up Grilled Local Lamb Chops and Homemade Paneer topped with Callaloo and Kale Tomato Curry, served with Local Root Vegetable Rosti.
The cheftestants that win their quarterfinal cook-offs will advance to the semi-finals on 11 and 12 December.
During the announcement event, Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Executive Chef Frederic Morineau congratulated the cheftestants for being chosen to participate in this year’s cook-off.
“I think it’s great so see some people coming back to participate again and it’s great to see some new people and some young people as well,” he said.
Chef Frederic told the cheftestants the top priority is taste.
“But it’s all about fun,” he said.
“We’re around friends here, so relax.”