The return of Cayman’s international film festival, CayFilm, celebrated the fusion of food and fashion on the big screen. Culinary delights took center stage during a four-day schedule punctuated by food-inspired films.
In a star-studded lineup, including actor Wes Studi and screenwriter James V. Hart, no one represented the culinary relationship with cinema better than celebrity chef turned producer, Eric Ripert.
From the luxury hotel that Ripert considers his home away from home, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, the chef provided a glimpse into his journey from the kitchens of Paris to cable television host.
The origins of Blue
On day two of the festival, Calia Brencsons-Van Dyk, former producer of “The Martha Stewart Show,” held a discussion with Ripert, where the chef shared the story behind Blue, now in its twelfth year at The Ritz-Carlton.
After some consideration, he says the seafood restaurant finally came to fruition over a few drinks.
“They put me on a boat with my luggage from the airport. We went to Stingray City with a case of Champagne. We came back without the case of Champagne. We went to eat at Calypso Grill and it was done,” he says.
VIP guests and filmmakers were treated at Blue by Eric Ripert Sunday evening to a menu prepared by the chef himself. Guests enjoyed a four-course offering of fresh seafood from tuna carpaccio to smoked butter scallops paired with fine wine.
“I decided (the menu) would be harmonious and a progression of flavors and textures, going from very light to rich with the meat, of course. It’s what I do every day,” Chef Ripert says.
He described the VIP experience as part of an easy day for him that started with a morning at the beach.
“I cook here a few times a year and each time I come to the kitchen, I find my boundaries and it’s pretty easy. The team is fantastic and they have been with us here for a long time. They are dedicated. We have beautiful products in Cayman, especially seafood,” he says.
Chef Ripert has long pushed the culinary boundaries in his work with seafood, most notably at his flagship, New York City restaurant, Le Bernardin.
When he came on as a business partner at the restaurant in 1994, the still fledging chef faced naysayers.
“At the time, there were rumors that I was too young for the restaurant. [They said] Le Bernardin is a four star and I wouldn’t be able to maintain the four stars. I would not be able maintain the prestige because I was very naïve,” he says.
“I worked really hard and I didn’t listen to the rumors. In 1995, we got four stars again from the New York Times. At the time, it was the newspaper that made you a success. That changed my life, of course, in the sense that I still have a job at Le Bernardin.”
Two decades on, Chef Ripert now balances his work in the kitchen with work on screen. Through three seasons of his cooking show “Avec Eric,” he says television now ranks in priority alongside his responsibilities as a restaurateur.
Just as in the kitchen, he says, a good production team is key for a successful show.
“If you don’t have a good director, if you don’t have good technicians, there is no way you are going to have a good show,” he says.
“I was very mindful about making sure not to lose the grasp of the kitchen in Le Bernardin [during the show]. It is very important to commit to excelling in the kitchen because it’s where my bread and butter are and where my passion is.”
When asked about the stresses working in the kitchen, he tried to dispel myths about life as a celebrity chef. While the profession has come with sacrifice, he says, the reality is often far from what is depicted on television.
“In America, we make sure in the kitchen it’s a civilized environment, it’s helping people to begin their career in a positive way. So we are very frustrated when we see TV shows with chefs like Gordon Ramsay who’s promoting insulting and harassing people in the kitchen. This is total fantasy, and shame on the production and shame on him for promoting that,” Chef Ripert says.
In January, his annual Cayman Cookout will return for its 10th year.
He remains tight lipped about the details of the anniversary event but promised an exciting lineup: “We are bringing a lot of famous, talented chefs and we have a lot of surprises for the festival. I don’t want to give it up yet. We are waiting until almost the last minute to share, but it is going to be very dynamic and more fun than ever.”