Entertainment was the order of the day at Abacus, with Canadian Top Chef winner Dale MacKay working in tandem with executive chef Ron Jacobson and the executive editor of Food & Wine Magazine, Ray Isle. Co-owner of Abacus and host Markus Mueri was on typically eye-glinting form, cracking jokes and at one stage inviting the whole restaurant in for a shot of tequila, after which everyone picked up their own courses. This ensured the ice was truly broken and whilst the chefs assembled the dishes, hungry minds were able to watch these skilful guys in action.
The fare on offer was pretty special too, with a five-course spectacular that began with grapefruit-cured hamachi with paddlefish caviar, tofu puree and chives. The bitter notes of the caviar and the grapefruit in particular were offset beautifully with a Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc selected by Isle, getting things off to a refreshing start.
Next up was a blue crab salad with spiced Cayman pineapple, daikon and avocado mousse, paired with a magnificent Albarino from Pazo Senorans. It proved that tastes of the Mediterranean and the West Indies can often inhabit similar palates, particularly when seafood is concerned. Third up was a black cod with pulled pork broth, which also featured sweetcorn, smoked tomato, kale and mushroom. The hints of barbecue were playful and the Oregon Pinot Noir added some punch. The roast cannon of lamb alongside sweet and sour eggplant, hummus and jus sounded more notes of Europe which were reinforced by the Agricola Punica Montessu of Sardinia; richness and technique that elevated the dish and the evening alike. Less successful was a planned pavlova, which MacKay admitted had not set due to the humidity. Instead, a kind of meringue dish with sorbet and cilantro was presented alongside a lightly-fizzy Italian Moscato, which provided waves of sweetness to wash the palate gently to the shores of the final bite.
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
At Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink there was a pairing of guest chef David Kinch – whose Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa is a California culinary icon – with Michael Schwartz and his team at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.
Chef Kinch is known for his unique style of meshing modern cooking techniques with local ingredients. Given the local ingredient-driven cooking style at Michael’s Genuine, matching Kinch at Michael’s for an event called ‘Genuine Manresa’ was an obvious choice.
Among the guests at the dinner were fellow celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Jose Andres and their families, many of the foreign journalists covering the Cayman Cookout, along with local VIPs, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and Commissioner of Police David Baines.
The event started with sparkling rosé wine and passed canapés, which included local lionfish tartare and local eggplant crostini among the four offerings.
Once seated, guests were served the first of three courses created by Kinch, starting with an Arpege Egg made with local eggs from Donna Connolly’s Healthier Choice Eggs Farm. This poached-in-the-shell egg was topped with cold cream and guests were told to scoop right to the bottom with their little spoons so they could get some of the hot egg with the cold cream in every bite.
The next course was yellow fin tuna and mollusk vinaigrette with goat feta cheese from Vermont Creamery. It was served with halved cherry tomatoes that were just barely cooked and a salad of micro greens and thin radish slices. This tartare-like course both looked and tasted fresh and offered a variety of tastes and textures.
Finishing up Kinch’s effort for the evening was fresh wahoo with passion fruit, crispy greens and local boniato in salt meringue. Cooked medium rare, wahoo took on a new identity when combined with the passion fruit, a unique combination of two local ingredients.
Michael Schwartz and his chef de cuisine Thomas Tennant took over for the final course, a cocoa-rubbed slow-roasted Harris Ranch short rib that was perfectly tender and served with whipped and roasted baby carrots and herb salad.
The meal finished off with a dessert selection from Michael’s Genuine pastry chefs Hedy Goldsmith and Adriana Duran that included a fantastic Vermont Creamery fromage blanc sherbet and slow roasted strawberries.
Each course was paired with wines selected by Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink Sommelier Eric Larkee and included wines from New Zealand, Italy, Oregon and the highlight of the night with the short rib, 2009 Bodegas Aalto Tempranillo Ribera del Duero from Spain.
At Ortanique restaurant, Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame was at the kitchen’s helm, working alongside Top Chef’s Sara Mair and Certified Angus Beef corporate Chef Scott Popovic.
On the menu was a decadent four-course dinner, featuring big flavours which drew their inspiration from comfort food classics. Each course was expertly paired with a selection of Fantinel wines, with company president Marco Fantinel in attendance.
The dinner started with a selection of passed hors d’oeuvres, including popcorn cooked in beef fat butter, Jamaican peppa shrimp and – my favourite – Katafi-wrapped Bay scallops with a kimchee dipping sauce.
The first course was a sweet and sour spicy local red snapper, with local red cherry tomatoes, pineapple, and fresh Thai chilies, served with aromatic jasmine rice and micro cilantro. It was paired with 2011 La Roncaia “Eclisse” Bianco, a fresh and zesty Sauvignon Blanc which paired perfectly with this spicy dish.
Next was winter spiced pork meatballs, served with creamy grits, a sunny side-up quail egg, house-cured bacon pomme dauphine and a local watercress salad. The dish was served with 2007 Fantinel Sant Helena “Venko”.
Next was a favourite dish of the night, CAB natural short ribs, smothered in a classic bordelaise sauce with a serving of local lobster mac-n-cheese, chanterelle and charred corn salad. This was paired with Fantinel’s 2008 La Roncaia “Refosco” Rosso, a bright ruby red, packed with flavour and a hint of spice.
The meal was finished with a decadent creamy vanilla bean cheesecake, with poached pear brunoise, wine pear reduction and ginger gelee. It was served with my favourite wine of the evening, 2008 La Roncaia “Picolit” Late Harvest, a deliciously golden wine with an elegant floral bouquet and a hint of acacia honey. A perfectly sweet ending to a delicious meal.
As part of Cayman Cookout, 2013, Camana Bay stepped up with a very special night of epicurean celebration involving guest chefs at three of its top restaurants. Intrepid investigative reporters Alan Markoff, Joanna Lewis and Joe Shooman bravely volunteered to take on this extremely difficult assignment. Luckily for all concerned, this was one UDP that made it through to full term without anybody getting into trouble or losing any receipts.
Editor’s note: Pictures from Cayman Cookout 2013 start here.