Day one of the Cayman Cookout included a whole host of memorable events from a cooking demo with Chef Eric Ripert along the stunning Seven Mile Beach to a sunset rum tasting aboard a beautifully restored ‘pirate’ ship. I started the day at a cooking demonstration presented by Chef Grant Achatz, owner and executive chef of Chicago’s Alinea.
It was my first time meeting Chef Achatz and I was very interested to see the award winner at work in the kitchen. Known for his talents in molecular gastronomy, Achatz worked with dry ice for his demo, offering a delicious lobster and pineapple dish. Diagnosed with stage four tongue cancer in 2007, he endured as radiation therapy eradicated his sense of taste. As he explained in essays published by The Atlantic, Achatz adapted as best he could, instead relying on his sense of smell to continue his cooking and dish development.
I asked Chef Achatz whether it was hard to acclimate to the cooking-by-smell method. Describing his early years cooking within Chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry kitchen, Achatz explained his appreciation of one dish where Keller utilized his “squab spice”, a mix of allspice and cinnamon sprinkled on plates after they were heated, allowing the scent to enhance the dish’s main ingredients. After losing your sense of taste, the chef explained, you realize how much your other senses can guide you through the cooking process, from knowing when a pan is hot just by hearing it to tasting rosemary on your food just by smelling it.
“We have courses where we utilize ‘scent pillows’, capturing smells within a plastic bag. Then we pop holes into the bag with a syringe, and slide it into specially designed pillowcases. When the dish is presented at the table, it’s placed on the pillow, and the scents billow up around the plate, enhancing the course.”
Future plans for the chef?
“I’m in the process of writing a memoir. (laugh) Well, not really. But I should be! Especially since I’ve already cashed the advance check.”
And the sense of taste? Back 100%, according to Achatz.
In the evening, I enjoyed a marvelous dinner at local restaurant The Brasserie, hosted by wine expert Anthony Giglio. Chef Dean Max lead the kitchen team, which included Chef Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Chef Cindy Huston of Ortanique, and Chef Paula DaSilva of 3030 Ocean, in presenting dishes from spiny lobster salad to satin snapper.
**As a guest of the Cayman Island Tourism Board, I gratefully appreciate the opportunity to cover this spectacular event.