A 5,000-strong crowd gathered on Camana Bay’s Festival Green last Saturday to sample the very best of local produce and culinary creativity. This was an especially important year for the festival: its 30th anniversary.

The vendors reflected just how diverse Cayman’s gastronomy is today, with everything from fresh Italian pasta by Edoardo’s to tacos by Sunshine Grill. The Westin Grand Cayman served up Keema Pav, a minced lamb curry hailing from India, while Andiamo at The Ritz-Carlton had prepared a rich pumpkin risotto topped with osso buco ragu. Anchor & Den looked to South America with a hearty chicken stew named Carmonada.

Of course, there was also a strong suit in classic Caribbean flavors, such as conch fritters, curried goat and jerk chicken. Cayman Cabana focused on its signature “locavore experience,” which included fish rundown, pumpkin soup and coconut ceviche.

Another highlight was the Tanqueray Secret Garden tent by Jacques Scott, where top mixologists Amba Lamb, Fede Gisbert Johnson and Simon Crompton shook up gin-based craft cocktails amid a lush botanical backdrop.

Joined by stands from WineSchool3, Tortuga and Cayman Spirits Co., no one was going thirsty that evening.

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However, there were some grumbles about the length of the queues and lack of seating generally – something that organizers can hopefully fine-tune for future events.

Delicious coconut ceviche, courtesy of Cayman Cabana.

A slew of hotly-contested prizes was decided by a panel of local judges, who made their choices based on taste, presentation, aroma and service. The Brasserie scooped Best Food for its chipotle BBQ beef and pork sliders, served with garden green papaya slaw, while Best Dessert went to that perennial local favorite, Tortuga Rum Cake.

One of Jacques Scott’s gin offerings – the “You Say Goodbye, I Say Aloe” cocktail, made with Tanqueray No. TEN, green tea-infused sherry and aloe soda – was recognized as Best Drink of the night.

Cimboco and Chicken Chicken shared the Best Booth award for their Caymanian-styles set up, complete with palm trees, coconuts and flags.

It was down to attendees to cast their votes for Cayman’s Best Restaurant. The people’s choice for 2018? Beach House at The Westin, which overturned The Ritz-Carlton’s two consecutive wins to take home this prize.

Jacques Scott’s Simon Crompton can’t seem to stop smiling.

“We chose a Keema Pav, which are lamb sliders, however, we wanted to give a local influence to the dish,” says The Beach House Chef, Guarav Kumar. “Our pastry chef said he could make coconut buns to serve the lamb in. He used cassava flour and coconut butter, resulting in incredible buns. The aroma was spreading all around and people were just coming to us.”

Aspiring home cooks got their chance in the spotlight, too. Miss World Cayman Islands, Kristin Amaya, triumphed in The Amateur Chef Cook-off with the help of chef Jolene Nelson.

And the popular Heavy Cake competition was won by Jodiann Jackson. “I enjoy baking heavy cake because it reminds me of my late grandmother, Josephine Pearson, who use to bake all the time,” Jodiann says. “I also love keeping the Caymanian heritage and tradition alive.”

What is a food festival without grilled corn?

As the evening continued, an impressive fireworks display lit up the skies over Camana Bay, before live entertainment by Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince and Journey tribute acts kept the crowds dancing late into the night.

What a long way the event has come from its beginnings as a small chili cook-off in a field in the late 1980s. Many happy returns, Taste of Cayman.

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