For the man who has made a career out of eating strange, bizarre or downright weird foods, the lineup of Cayman’s culinary flavors on the Great Lawn of The Ritz-Carlton on Friday was a gastronomical delight.
Andrew Zimmern, the American celebrity chef and TV host who has captivated millions around the world with his “Bizarre Foods” series on the Travel Channel, hosted the Flavours of Cayman event as part of the five-day Cayman Cookout.
Chef Zimmern proved to be a charming, down-to-earth guy who just likes to eat and meet new people. From the age of five, he said, he watched his father get adventurous with foods. In 1966, his father took him to Chinatown, and he had his first chicken foot. He said his obsession for weird foods started there.
He shared stories from his international culinary encounters and his obsession with weird foods with chefs from restaurants across Cayman and over 200 guests.
Mr. Zimmern made his way through food stalls featuring some of Cayman’s top chefs and culinary delights with Pinnacle Media’s own Vicki Wheaton and Slow Food Cayman’s Alan Markoff in tow.
Among the dishes served were Cayman Cabana’s turtle stew and marinated conch and Kirk Market’s rabbit rundown with dumplings. At the Kaibo booth, he tried squid ink cracker and at chef Thomas Tennant’s booth, green iguana.
“Iguana is delicious,” he said, referring in particular to the green curry with dumplings. Chef Zimmermn also tried Grand Old House’s braised conch cooked on a Kamado Joe grill, and the Wharf’s fried pressed veal head.
Cayman Cabana owner Luigi Moxam bragged about Cayman’s national dish, turtle stew, cooked by his wife Christina.
He informed chef Zimmern that locals are picky about how turtle should be cooked, and that many parts of the animal, such as the fin, lungs, liver and kidney are enjoyed by locals.
“What is phenomenal about turtle that people do not know, is that, like pigs, it has dozens of muscles in its body, some of which taste much different from the others. Turtle has nine different flavors in its muscles. It’s incredible. It has very dark meat in some places and very light meat in others and it’s an extraordinary flavor,” Mr. Zimmern said.
He gave Mrs. Moxam the thumbs up for cooking turtle on the bone.
“If you are visiting here, write down the restaurant names and go and visit them. Keep the local restaurant community vibrant and alive. Culture in this part of the world is so important to support. It’s the economic driver of tourism,” Mr. Zimmern said.
He complimented Kirk Market’s rabbit rundown with dumplings. “It’s so perfectly cooked, just the right amount of heat, thyme and the sauce is fantastic, and those wonderful little dumplings in there – just heaven,” he said, adding that a homemade hot, pickled-vegetable relish accompanying the rabbit dish elevated the whole experience.
Joao Baptist Fernandes, head chef at Kirk Market, said he was very proud of what Mr. Zimmern had to say about the dish.
Taking a seat on stage with Ms. Wheaton and Mr. Markoff, Chef Zimmern answered questions about his compulsion to eat weird foods and travel the world.
A fan was curious what surprised him about some of the foods he liked or disliked.
Chef Zimmern said no particular dish came to mind, but to give each dish a chance and “not judge a book by its cover.”
He said he’d gone into small, humble homes in remote parts of small countries and had been impressed with their welcome, their kindness and hospitality.
He said he usually cannot wait to get home to try cooking dishes he finds on his trips.