Cayman Cookout fills bellies with mirth

Cheeses and other culinary delights await guests at the Barefoot BBQ at Royal Palms. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

The beach haven of Grand Cayman was transformed into the culinary capital of the Caribbean this weekend, when the Cayman Cookout brought a menu of world-class chefs to its shores.

Emeril Lagasse, Jose Andres, Andrew Zimmern and many others joined Eric Ripert in toasting the town and tickling the taste buds of tourists and locals. Mr. Ripert, speaking at Saturday’s Beach Bash at Rum Point, said the five-day event has brought thrills and pleasant memories for its hosts and guests alike.

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“It’s a great event and the cookout has a life on its own,” said Mr. Ripert, the proprietor of Blue at The Ritz-Carlton. “As you can see, it’s a lot of good energy. Everybody’s having a good time.”

The Cookout started Thursday and wound all the way through Sunday evening’s Great Gala dinner at Blue.

Chef Emeril Lagasse entertains the crowd. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

Television personality Al Roker, who hosted the Beach Bash on Saturday, said he enjoyed being a part of it. Mr. Roker, a star of NBC’s Today show, said he’s been coming to Cayman for decades but had never been to the Cookout.

Mr. Roker said that he first came down to Grand Cayman in 1985, and that there were no food franchises then. Rum Point, he said, was just a few small buildings, as opposed to what it has become today.

“The cuisine on the island has really expanded like crazy,” he said. “The world-class cuisine is just really spectacular. I’m just happy to be here. I’ll come down every time someone invites me.”

Mr. Ripert said that one tangible change to the Cayman Cookout has been the absence of the late Anthony Bourdain, who loved coming down to Grand Cayman each year.

“We are paying homage to his legacy and to his friendship,” Mr. Ripert said. “Tony loved his fans and he loved the Cayman Cookout. He came [10] times. Throughout the festival, we pay homage to him everywhere, and we will do that to the last minute. That will be our ‘Thank You’ to him.”

Chef Bernard Guillas entices guests at the Barefoot BBQ. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

A moment later, Mr. Ripert was asked about the best way to honor Mr. Bourdain.

“To drink, smoke, eat and enjoy life,” he said.

Not much pirating, but plenty of rum

Other than the couple wearing pirate hats and a roomful of hearty “Arrr!”s at the end of Friday’s “Rum: How to be a Pirate in 60 minutes” session, there was little swashbuckling in mixologist Charles Joly’s tutorial on rum drinks.

Nevertheless, the crowd at Mr. Joly’s session did not seem to care. They were learning about rum – and other spirits – and enjoying a lesson on how to mix their own drinks.

Mr. Joly, who has won the James Beard Award along with Outstanding Bartender of the Year, and who expects to mix 8,000 cocktails at the Academy Awards’ Governors Ball in February, showed attendees how to properly stir, mull and garnish while promoting the attributes of a good rum.

Culinary fans enjoy the annual Beach Bash at Rum Point. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The combination of rum, lime and sugar is the basis for a number of cocktails, he said, as he detailed how to create a proper rum mojito.

“We should have the same expectation of the liquid in our glass as we do for the food on our plates,” he said.

With an enthusiastic “Arrr!” the crowd seemed to agree.

Rain or shine

A half-hour-long deluge of rain interrupted the Cayman Cookout’s Barefoot Barbecue on Friday at the Royal Palms, causing some food stands to close earlier than last year. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm of many attendees remained undampened by the downpour, and they continued to party into the late evening, enjoying gourmet food, champagne and drinks. A DJ and a fireworks display added to the entertainment.

Few seemed happier than chef Bernard Guillas, who runs the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club restaurant near San Diego, California. Mr. Guillas once again prepared his signature dish of whole snapper or grouper baked in a pastry and then flambéed on an open grill.

General Manger of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Marc Langevin and host of NBC’s ‘Today’ show Al Roker at the Beach Bash – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

“It’s a great time to share a great passion with passionate people from all over the world,” Mr. Guillas said of the Cayman Cookout.

First-time attendees Michelle Soderquist and Ram Meng, both from Denver, Colorado, were drenched from the rain, but said the event had exceeded their expectations.

“It’s amazing,” Ms. Soderquist said. “People are so nice and the food is amazing.”

Ms. Meng, who said she has attended other culinary festivals, said she was enjoying the atmosphere of the Cookout events.

“This is more intimate,” she said. “It’s more laid-back. We sat with Jose [Andres] on the beach. “

“It’s above and beyond what we thought it would be,” Ms. Soderquist said.

Journalists Mark Muckenfuss, Kayla Young and Spencer Fordin contributed to this story.

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