Bourdain helped make Cayman region’s ‘culinary capital’

Cayman Islands chefs and hospitality figureheads have paid tribute to Anthony Bourdain for helping to transform the islands into the culinary capital of the Caribbean.

Mr. Bourdain, celebrity chef, best-selling author and television host, was found dead on Friday in his hotel room in Kaysersberg village on the Alsatian wine route of France, where he was shooting an episode of his CNN series, “Parts Unknown.” He was 61.

The Associated Press reported that a prosecutor in eastern France said Mr. Bourdain apparently hanged himself.

Along with fellow chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andres, Mr. Bourdain was known as one of the “three amigos” of the Cayman Cookout, the renowned culinary event hosted by The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

Mr. Ripert found Mr. Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room on Friday.

In a statement, Mr. Ripert said, “Anthony was a dear friend. He was an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many. I wish him peace. My love and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones.”

Mr. Bourdain visited Cayman for every edition of the festival, most recently for its 10th anniversary in January.

He gave numerous interviews highlighting his passion for food and travel, served as a judge in the cookout competitions and hosted his own signature event, “Around the World with Anthony Bourdain.”

Marc Langevin, the manager of The Ritz-Carlton resort, speaking on a personal level, said the news of Mr. Bourdain’s death had been a shock.

He added, “It certainly came as a shock and sadness. Anthony has been a supporter of our Cookout since the beginning and became our good friend over the years. We will miss him dearly.”

Several Cayman Islands chefs spoke of Mr. Bourdain’s influence on the culinary scene in Cayman.

Anthony Bourdain, right, with Eric Ripert at the 2016 Cayman Cookout. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

Dylan Benoit, who worked at Market Street Group and Yara before starting his own business Prime Group, recalls having his Nikkei-style piri piri shrimp assessed by the famous chef at the last event.

He admitted it was a little nerve-racking to have his food appraised by someone who has traveled the world to sample the best dishes every culture has to offer.

“Whatever dish you’re serving,” Mr. Benoit said, “chances are he’s had it in the place it originated from, made by the person who is known for making it the best.”

He said the dish, a Brazilian twist on a Mozambique specialty, had sparked a discussion about how the two countries had been separately colonized by the Portuguese and the links that help spread culinary cultures around the world.

“His wealth of knowledge on international cuisine was immense, and he ate the whole thing, which was encouraging,” said Mr. Benoit.

He added that it had been a privilege to meet him and paid tribute to his influence in Cayman.

“For him to come here with Eric Ripert and put on these type of events was instrumental in establishing Cayman as the culinary capital of the region,” he said.

Roman Kleinrath, head chef at Luca and Hemingway’s, has cooked for Mr. Bourdain at the annual Cayman Cookout. He said the famous chef had an impact on the industry.

“I think he was a great person and I loved his show,” Mr. Kleinrath said. “The way he talked about food, he inspired all of us.”

He called Mr. Bourdain’s death “very sad and tragic.”

Thomas Tennant, former head chef at Michael’s Genuine and a key personality at the Cayman Cookout, said Mr. Bourdain was a true influencer whose reputation extended beyond the culinary world.

He said he brought a “raw insightfulness without a filter” to the world and along with Eric Ripert and Jose Andres formed a “powerhouse of personalities” that had helped make Cayman’s culinary festival such a success.

“Tony brought the journalism aspect with his bad boy persona, which is a welcome wind of change in terms of visiting chefs to Cayman. The island could not have developed its culinary magnetism to draw people to visit in great numbers without Cookout and Tony.”

He said Mr. Bourdain’s influence would live on in Cayman through everyone that cooked with him, interviewed him and was inspired by him.

Anthony Bourdain was a familiar face each year at the Cayman Cookout. – Photo: Chris Court

He added, “Limelight aside, he was a generous human being who might have struggled with many real world situations. He will be truly remembered for his greatness. My prayers go out to his many friends, family and loved ones.”

Alan Markoff, of Slow Food Cayman and a journalist who specializes in food and wine, said he was shocked and saddened by the news of Mr. Bourdain’s death.

Mr. Markoff shared the stage with the celebrity chef, hosting question and answer sessions with him at a number of the Cayman Cookout events.

He said he was always impressed by his professionalism, as well as his outspoken nature.

“No matter what kind of mood he was in, as soon as the microphone was turned on, he was all business and his performances were fantastic,” Mr. Markoff said. “The other thing that struck me was his brutal honesty in answering questions. He didn’t mince words. He didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear, he told them how he honestly felt.”

Mr. Bourdain did not limit himself to food either, said Mr. Markoff, recalling how the chef had shared some frank views on American football and its impact on those who play it.

Vicki Wheaton, a regular MC at the Cayman Cookout and other events around the Cayman Islands, remembers feeling nervous at the prospect of interviewing Mr. Bourdain for the first time at this year’s event.

“I knew him to be a sharp, witty individual who had the potential to turn me into a stammering idiot in front of hundreds of people,” she said.

“It turned out to be one of the easiest, most entertaining chats I have ever had with a celebrity. His stories were fascinating and he put everyone at ease, particularly the chefs at the various food stations who were clearly keen to hear a compliment from the man they so admired.”

During that interview, in January this year, Mr. Bourdain spoke passionately about the importance of food in bringing people together.

“The ability to eat someone else’s food, to reach a hand across the table, is essential,” he said. “When you give someone food, you’re doing something that your mother did; you’re nurturing another. Be polite, be a good guest, be grateful, be curious – these are qualities sadly missing in the current discourse.

“I’ve sat down with members of Hezbollah, former Viet Cong who were cheerfully killing Americans 30 years before … in every case, food bought us together. I just have the most ridiculously warm conversations with people who in any other circumstance might be shooting at me.”

Tourism leaders in Cayman also paid tribute to Mr. Bourdain Friday, following news of his death.

“Our prayers and condolences are with his family and friends. The Cayman Islands will remember him most fondly and with much love,” the ministry and department of tourism said in a joint statement.

CNN confirmed the death as a suicide. In a statement Friday, the network said: “It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain.… His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much.”