“Who wouldn’t want to come down to Grand Cayman in the middle of the winter for a weekend of amazing food and guaranteed sunshine?” asked Chef Richard Blais. The Top Chef contender packed his knives and headed to the tranquil island at the behest of chef Eric Ripert, who hosted the fourth annual Cayman Cookout. Ripert, who boasts the only five-diamond restaurant in the Caribbean, corralled his famous foodie friends for a weekend of culinary delights.
With the Ritz Carlton serving as a luxurious home base (Blue by Eric Ripert is located on site), the epicurean event drew a slew of refined palettes and the masters who are known to please ‘em. Anthony Bourdain, Food & Wine’s Dana Cowan, José Andrés, and François Payard were the weekend’s celebrities and each gave a star performance. “It’s an honor to be here with all of my heroes and idols,” said Blais. “To share a platform with them is amazing.”
With five shades of blue glistening on the horizon and soft white sand beneath guests’ well-heeled toes, those who flew in for the occasion were treated to an experience that was unprecedentedly riveting and relaxing. For four days the demonstrations, tastings, sit down meals, and parties abounded, but a few events were not to be missed.
On Friday night the crowd headed to the beach for a Barefoot BBQ of gourmet proportions. With world-class chefs manning the grills and a live band playing the Dollar Song at Tikki Beac it was the perfect island evening…for the guests. “I loved slicing that meat, but it got exhausting,” said Bourdain. Ripert had to deal with his own issue.”The wind was blowing all the smoke in my direction, but it was still a great night.”
Bourdain, who got scuba certified earlier in the week, took advantage of the island mentality. The cantankerous TV host spent time on the beach with his family, threw back a few local brews, and engaged in witty banter with his fellow chefs. His Saturday morning chat with Ripert, titled Good vs. Evil, was one of the weekend’s highlights. The two, who each had a Negroni in hand, questioned eachother and the resulting nuggets were priceless. Bourdain ruminated on his distaste for Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, and the Olive Garden, while Ripert revealed that John McEnroe is the only person on earth he wouldn’t welcome into Le Bernardin. However, Snooki and The Situation, were given a personal tour of his restaurant when they visited.
Later in the day we had the pleasure of sitting alongside Ripert for a three course Caribe Luncheon at the Ritz’ Periwinkle. Chef Laurent Gras designed an appropriately light menu of conch, Caribbean lobster, and wahoo. The afternoon provided a brief sojourn for Ripert, who took a break from cooking to enjoy his colleague’s fare. “It’s so nice to just sit down for a delightful meal without doing the prep, “ he said. Even when he’s not working in his restaurants’ kitchens, he’s manning the stove. “At home my wife makes the salad, but I always cook the main course,” said Ripert, who then headed down to the beach for a quick stroll and a seaside cigar.
But only a few hours later he was at it again. Ripert capped off the day with a sunset demonstration where he taught the crowd how to properly prepare tartare, ceviche, and carpaccio. With a glass of champagne in hand, guests tasted his creations before heading off to the Ultimate Dinner Party at Camana Bay.
The party started with cocktails along the canal, followed by dinner at one of three restaurants, and a dessert after-party complete with white and black truffle macarons courtesy of Chef Payard. We were treated to a locally inspired dinner at chef Cindy Hutson’s Ortanique, where a few of her fellow Top Chef contestants created a course. “Everything here is fresh and seasonal,” said Hutson. “Cayman Cookout keeps getting better and better and it’s elevating this destination. Farmers are now growing produce to fulfill these chefs’ needs and it’s totally changing this island.”
And things are clearly on an upward trajectory. Next year Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, and Daniel Hume will bring their panache to the Cayman Cookout; Andres and Bourdain will return as well and we’ll definitely be coming back for seconds!