EDITORIAL – Cayman’s aspiring chefs meet the culinary challenge

Congratulations to Cayman’s Youth Culinary teams, who represented our country admirably with their “Page One” performance at the Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge in Barbados last weekend.

The team of Bradley McLaughlin and Ayanna Davis-Eden finished second in the overall competition, which is part of the annual Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference. They and fellow teens Mohyndra Brown and Josh McLean worked hard to prepare for the event, and that hard work paid off.

During the competition, entrants were judged on the basis of their technical skills and techniques, and for the presentation, taste, texture and creativity of their dishes.

The Duelling Challenge demands quick and cool thinking under pressure. (As part of their training, Cayman’s entrants practiced in front of cameras and took a few tips from Toastmasters, just in case they should be called upon to speak.) By preparing for and participating in the event, the “Cayman Four” gleaned confidence and competence that no doubt will prove valuable inside and outside the kitchen in future years.

Credit also goes to Cayman Youth Culinary Program Director James Myles and coach Chef Carlos Sierra of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, who helped the students prepare, and to the businesses and individuals who supported them along the way.

The program is an example of a forward-thinking, practical partnership to prepare young Caymanians for future success. As Chef Carlos could attest, pursuing the culinary arts – particularly in the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” – can lead to a potentially rewarding lifelong career.

Cayman’s restaurateurs, chefs, kitchen assistants, maître d’s and waitstaff comprise a vital component of our country’s tourism-based economy. In addition to showcase events such as the Cayman Cookout and Taste of Cayman festivals, the local culinary scene underpins the reputation and reality of the country’s status as a world-class tourism destination.

As evidence, simply look at another of today’s front page stories, reporting that Cayman’s average hotel room rates, of just more than US$426 per night, are the highest in the Caribbean … well above the runner-up, St. Lucia, at US$369.

(Amid the context of regional recovery from the devastating 2017 hurricane season, Cayman’s concurrent 16.5 percent increase in air arrivals this year is a tremendous outlier. Only three other countries – the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St. Lucia – experienced significant increases in tourism this year, but “only” of about 5-6 percent.)

While Seven Mile Beach and Stingray City, of course, are our show-off attractions, it must be recognized that many other competitors in the region also offer immaculate stretches of white sand and breathtaking aquatic vistas. (And also, which we consider to be unfair advantages, other features such as hills, rivers and waterfalls.)

What separates Cayman as a luxury destination – in other words, why we are able to charge more for rooms – is the safety of our jurisdiction and high quality of our accommodations and attractions. As demonstrated by the focus on food at resorts ranging from The Ritz-Carlton, Kimpton Seafire, Westin Grand Cayman and Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, all the way to Sunshine Suites, Sunset House, Morritt’s Resort and Cobalt Coast – the restaurant experience is an inseparable component of the hotel experience.

Considering the scores of standalone eateries throughout Cayman, the only “reservation” we can cite about Cayman’s culinary landscape is that we can’t make reservations at some of our finest restaurants (Grand Old House, Andiamo, The Brasserie, Calypso Grill), since they close down for a few weeks on a seasonal basis, usually late-August through September or October.

Until then, we eagerly await their reopenings – of course with appropriately whetted appetites.

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