2012 Cayman Cookout: Reunited, and It Feels So Good

Even in a collection of islands, from the Bermuda Triangle to the Gulf of Mexico, Grand Cayman manages to stand apart. Despite its outward resemblance to every other island nearby – sandy beaches, restaurants of every kind, hotels and resorts lining the waterfront – the island is a business mecca, with banks and international conglomerates at every turn. As the honorable McKeeva Bush, Premier of the Cayman Islands, explained to me on Saturday evening, the goal is to create an ever-growing, business and family-friendly destination, a place where you won’t get the party hearty demographic – the obnoxious, the aggressive, the frenetic photo-snapping. Instead, you have an active commerce, a developing community, a low-key gathering of well-knowns, little-knowns, and locals. It is this sun-sparkled, unique existence that makes the Cayman Cookout so magnificent.

Over the past four years, the island-bound winter event has brought together the crème de la crème for culinary demos and one-of-a-kind gatherings, offering a plush destination weekend for food and wine lovers. The roll call of the Cayman Cookout is masterfully assembled each year, with friends Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain inviting some of their favorite fellow chefs to join in on the fun. Also on the bill each year, chef Jose Andres, rounding out the event’s cornerstone culinary three Musketeers.

This year’s lineup also included chefs Laurent Gras, April Bloomfield, Paul Rogalski, Michael Schwartz, Francois Payard, Richard Blais, Dean Max, and Cindy Huston, along with Andrea Robinson, Ray Isle, and Farmer Lee Jones. Taking place at the oh-so-comfortable Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman – where Ripert has his name on not one, but two of the resort’s dining destinations – the majority of the events were held either onsite or at a restaurant nearby.

My schedule began at a restaurant nearby.

I visited chef Dean Max’s The Brasserie last time I was covering the Cayman Cookout, and was impressed with Max, not only by the dishes he prepared, but for his restaurant, a dining room of chic island decor with a large greenhouse and patio area just outside. In the greenhouse, and in every green space scattered throughout the restaurant’s parking lot, the chef and his team have planted fruits, vegetables, and spices. This year, he noted the restaurant’s acquisition of its own fishing boat, taking farm-to-table up a notch to gatherer/producer-to-table. The utilization of the limited space and resources available in order to manage as many aspects of the dining chain as possible. Impressive indeed.

Friday afternoon, event guests gathered for a Moet Chandon luncheon at the Brasserie, dining on conch tempura, pimento berry smoked pork, sea salt-crusted red snapper, spiny lobster cannelloni, and an apple banana mousse alongside pairings of Grand Vintage, Rose Imperial, and Nectar Imperial champagnes.

As sunset arrived, I gathered with other Cookout guests to shuttle down to Seven Mile Beach to the evening’s Tiki Beach BBQ. The meat-heavy event brought out a beach full of revelers as Andres, Ripert, and Bourdain barbequed the night away. Bombay Sapphire, Patron, and Caybrew were happy to provide drinks to parched guests while the Ritz-Carlton pastry chefs provided a dessert respite.

A baker’s dozen of diehards danced the night away, the crowd thinning out post-BBQ – sponsors, chefs, and crew buzzing about in the breakdown of the evening – and I made my way back to the hotel to rest up for day two of my Cayman Cookout adventure.

~Jennifer Heigl

*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender

**You bet your sweet bippy I was invited to cover this event – and I am grateful for it. Many thanks to the folks at the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and the staff at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman for taking such great care of me.

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