For the next four days, Grand Cayman will not only be the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, but it could be considered the Culinary Capital of the World as celebrity chefs and culinary television personalities, along with renowned wine makers and food purveyors converge on the island for the fifth annual Cayman Cookout food and wine festival.
Starting with tomorrow night’s Wine Auction Dinner presented by Jacques Scott and Chefs of The Ritz-Carlton and ending with the sold-out gala dinner that will feature seven of the best chefs on the planet, Cayman Cookout will offer a unique array of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and discussions about things epicurean, as well as lunches, dinners and several signature events such as Sunday’s Bon Vivant Taittinger Champagne Brunch and Cook-Off.
There will be 34 separate events, most of them taking place somewhere on the property of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Seven events will take place at other venues, including Friday night’s Barefoot BBQ Presented by Certified Angus Beef; Saturday’s “Burgers in Paradise with Eric Ripert and Spike Mendelsohn” at Rum Point – with a stop at Stingray City; lunches at the Brasserie and Luca restaurants on Friday; and dinners at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Ortanique and Abacus as part of the Ultimate Dinner Party at Camana Bay on Saturday night.
During the first two or three weeks of January, just after the holidays, tourism traditionally slows down. The objective of holding the Cayman Cookout during this “shoulder season” is to increase visitation during a historically slower period, something Cayman Islands Director of Tourism Shomari Scott thinks it has.
“Despite the economic downturn, the Cayman Islands has managed to hold its own with respect to visitor arrivals and since 2011 in particular, a positive trend has continued indicating impressive growth year on year,” he said. “How much of this actual visitation can be directly attributed to the Cayman Cookout is difficult to say, but we are confident that the awareness of the Cayman Islands created through the hosting of this unique and prestigious event is a contributing factor in driving increased visitation, particularly from North America.”
Mr. Scott said attendance at the Cayman Cookout increased 40 per cent in 2012, noting that it attracted about 1,800 international visitors.
“The intent is to hold steady around this mark and not grow the event considerably more because the intimacy of the experience is what differentiates it from other festivals,” he said.
Even with most of the action taking place at The Ritz-Carlton, the increase in visitors helps other local hotels, said Jaime Moench, director of sales and marketing at the The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
“The week to host Cayman Cookout was intentionally selected to drive visitors to the island during what was considered a lower-occupancy period,” he said. “The formula has proven successful; hotels beyond The Ritz-Carlton are welcoming a steady influx of Cayman Cookout visitors this weekend.”
Although no economic impact study has been conducted for the Cayman Cookout, Mr. Scott said the event increases tourist awareness of the Cayman Islands within the target markets; creates opportunities for the Cayman Islands to be seen in unexpected mediums; builds and leverages brand alliances; and strengthens the strategic proposition of Grand Cayman being the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.
“Based on those objectives, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism considers that the Cayman Cookout delivers an acceptable return on investment and considerable economic benefit for the destination,” he said.
The culinary tourist
During the 2012 Cayman Cookout, the Department of Tourism conducted a survey to obtain information from the attendees of the event, Mr. Scott said.
“The study revealed that the majority of respondents surveyed – mostly visitors – attended between two to five events, and confirmed that many learned about Cayman Cookout through magazines, their family and friends, and via The Ritz-Carlton,” he said. “Among the visitors that attended Cayman Cookout 2012, 62 per cent stated that this event was the main reason for their visit, while another 21 per cent reported that it had some influence on their decision to visit Cayman at that time.”
More importantly, many of those visiting mainly to attend Cayman Cookout event liked what they found.
“While more than half of the respondents indicated that Cayman Cookout 2012 was the main reason for their visit to the Cayman Islands, an impressive 81 per cent claimed they would be very likely or likely to return to the event in the future, and 60 per cent responded that they would be very likely or likely to return to the Cayman Islands at another time of the year,” Mr. Scott said.
The Cayman Cookout has grown over the past five years in other ways as well.
It is so popular with overseas chefs – including some of the biggest names in the culinary world – that some who want to come cannot.
David Kinch of the Manresa Restaurant in California, one of America’s foremost “farm-to-table” chefs, will participate in the cookout for the first time.
“I am so looking forward to participating in this year’s Cayman Cookout,” he said. “Not only is it an opportunity to cook with some old friends, but to make new ones with chefs who I haven’t met yet, but admire. It’s also a luxury for me to be cooking with many new island ingredients in such a magical setting.”
The Cayman Cookout has also grown with respect to the number of local and international sponsors, which is now up 62, in addition to its presenting sponsors, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Food & Wine Magazine and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. The event’s host, Chef Eric Ripert, has helped drive the growth of the event from the standpoint of visiting chefs, some of whom he appeals to directly to attend. Chef Ripert said he was excited about this year’s event.
“Just when you think it can’t get any better, Cayman Cookout gets better year after year,” he said. “The line-up of attending chefs and wine makers this year is incredible. I am particularly looking forward to my Burgers in Paradise event at Rum Point on Saturday.” Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman General Manager Marc Langevin said he was pleased The Ritz-Carlton was once again involved with the Cayman Cookout.
“It is rewarding to see how the event has evolved over the past five years,” he said. “Cayman Cookout is one of the world’s finest food and wine festivals and it takes place right on our doorstep showcasing the Cayman Islands on a global scale.”