Cayman Cookout: Nourishment for our tourism sector

This weekend marks the seventh annual Cayman Cookout, the gastronomic festival hosted by Chef Eric Ripert that planted the Cayman Islands flag on the regional map of fine dining.

Timed to coincide with the “shoulder” of Cayman’s tourism season (the traditional mid-January lull in visitor arrivals), the Cookout’s impact has not been confined to boosting business temporarily over a weekend, but has laid the groundwork for the concerted effort to brand Cayman as “the culinary capital of the Caribbean.”

In Thursday’s editorial, we commented on the evolution of Cayman’s farming sector and the increasing quantity and quality of local produce available in our stores and restaurants. That side of the equation only covers the flow of goods from the farm to the kitchen. The Cayman Cookout picks it up from there, celebrating the preparation and enjoyment of fine food and beverage — which will no doubt include, prominently, local ingredients and dishes.

On Thursday, we opined that geographic realities limit Cayman’s prospects for becoming a Mecca for “agri-tourists” (who are interested in production), but those same caveats do not apply to Cayman being a magnet for “gastro-tourists” (who are interested in consumption).

In terms of higher-class dining options, Cayman competes far above its weight class. The Cookout, and related events such as February’s Taste of Cayman festival, are the premier showcases to visitors and residents of what’s on Cayman’s menu.

Several pages in recent editions of the Compass have touched on the topic of celebrities associating themselves with Cayman, both physically — pop star Taylor Swift taking a family vacation here; and financially — Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing incorporating his two major firms here. (Or even fictionally — although who can dispute that Jack Nicholson impersonator’s having achieved, if not international fame, at least local infamy?)

When a famous or trusted person says something good about Cayman, through word, deed or cell phone selfie, the resulting enhancement of our reputation as a desirable destination for business and pleasure should not be underestimated. As any old-hat or new-age marketing professional will tell you, the best and surest way to get new customers is by virtue of voluntary, word-of-mouth recommendations from existing customers.

(Of course, Pinnacle Media Publisher David R. Legge disputes that vehemently. He contends it’s by advertising — big-time — in the Compass!)

This weekend’s Cookout features, in addition to Chef Ripert, such renowned food (and drink) personalities as Jose Andres, Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael White, Sean Brock, Norman Love, Lynn Crawford, British Chef of the Year and Master Chef finalist Adam Handling, mixologist Charles Joly, and Food & Wine magazine’s executive wine editor, Ray Isle.

Chef Ripert is, of course, head of Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City, as well as Blue by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which is one of the three major sponsors of the event, along with Food & Wine magazine and Cayman’s Department of Tourism.

Speaking of attracting repeat customers, Chef Ripert and The Ritz have done such a tremendous job with the event over the years that Messrs. Andres and Bourdain have ensconced themselves as regular headliners of the Cookout. (For one week a year in Cayman, the trio of Ripert, Andres and Bourdain combine forces to become “los tres amigos” — and, yes, that has included at least one photo op on horseback.)

Serious culinary experts, traveling to Cayman to have some serious fun: That just about sums up the spirit of the Cookout.

To our visitors, whether you plan on cooking or eating, we extend our sincerest welcome, and express our highest hopes that you have the most delicious experience while in Cayman.
Bon appétit.

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