Chef Jose Andres nearly came up empty on a lionfish hunt Thursday morning during one of the early events of this weekend’s Cayman Cookout. He was happy about it.
Mr. Andres and chef Thomas Tennant led a group of people who paid $475 for the privilege of diving to hunt the invasive lionfish and, perhaps most importantly, having the chefs prepare the catch on board. In two dives, the group culled just three lionfish.
“In this last dive,” Mr. Andres said of the second excursion, “we couldn’t find any. But that’s good news. I see less lionfish than I did eight years ago.”
That is how long Mr. Andres has been participating in the Cayman Cookout, now in its 10th year.
“I fell in love with scuba diving here in Cayman,” Mr. Andres said. “I love hunting the lionfish.”
He has also added it to the menus of some of his restaurants. At Miami’s Bazaar Mar, it is his No. 1 seller, he said.
Mitch Heller, 62, of Montclair New Jersey, was one of the divers looking for and eating the fish. He said Mr. Tennant prepared several ceviche dishes, as well as a plate of seared lionfish with a lemon-vinegar sauce. The fish was paired with Dom Perignon Champagne.
This is Heller’s sixth Cayman Cookout, but the first in which he participated in the lionfish hunt. He was glad he did.
“It was a unique experience,” Mr. Heller said. “Excellent.”
“I don’t think there’s ever been a scuba diving party that had [food] as good as we had today,” Mr. Andres said.
Mr. Andres, Mr. Tennant and a host of top chefs will again provide insight into their craft while creating some of their best dishes during the annual cookout that runs through Sunday.
The high-profile event, sponsored by The Ritz-Carlton and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, is headed by chef Eric Ripert, who founded the event a decade ago. Other chefs on this year’s schedule include Anthony Bourdain and Emeril Lagasse.
Events range from US$75 tastings to a US$1,500 private jet getaway with Mr. Ripert and Terry Peabody, owner of New Zealand’s Craggy Range winery. The getaway features a wine-paired lunch at an undisclosed location.
The weekend’s largest events are Friday night’s Barefoot BBQ (US$335) at the Royal Palms, Saturday’s lunchtime Beach Bash at Rum Point (US$325) and the Big Tastes brunch on Sunday, which is sold out.
A number of the 60 planned events are already sold out.