In just three short years, Grand Cayman has won over the culinary world. Elevating an already burgeoning dining scene to new heights, Cayman Cookout has earned the destination some serious culinary credibility. And this year’s event once again promises to deliver a world-class experience for foodies and wine lovers alike.
The Cayman Islands has long touted its more than 150 restaurants and numerous Wine Spectator Award winning venues to both visitors and locals. But when Eric Ripert, one of the world’s leading Michelin star chefs, took up residence at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman to open his restaurant, Blue, the destination began to garner significant international attention.
Fast forward several years later when Ripert, led the charge to create what is now billed as Cayman Cookout (13-16 January 2011), sponsored by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Food & Wine magazine. Now recognised as a premier epicurean celebration rivalling other world-class culinary events including the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and the star-studded South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Cayman Cookout is the jewel in our culinary crown.
Supported by Ripert’s celebrity chef status, the event has been successful at drawing some of the world’s top chefs, many of whom are personal friends and colleagues invited by Ripert himself. Now in its third year, the four-day event has become a highlight on the calendar, attracting celebrity chefs, passionate foodies and oenophiles and discerning travellers, several of whom even travel by private jet.
Perhaps the biggest draw for stargazing food lovers though, and the key differentiator from other major food festivals, is the opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s leading chefs and sommeliers. Unlike other food and wine classics, Cayman Cookout was designed to provide ample access to the chefs themselves. Often described as a weekend of “barefoot elegance”, Cayman Cookout participants – both the celebrity chefs and the paying guests – are encouraged to kick off their shoes and relax, Cayman style. The result is an intimate, laid-back event that also feels refined and elegant all at the same time.
The highest profile Cookout to date, this year’s superstar line-up includes Ripert of course, together with culinary masters Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés, Rachel Allen, Susur Lee, Michael Schwartz, Charlie Trotter, Food & Wine magazine’s Gail Simmons and wine and spirits experts Ray Isle, Anthony Giglio, Denis Cakebread and Bo Barrett. Bourdain, making his third appearance at Cayman Cookout, is always a big draw, dazzling audiences with his wit and wisdom about food. But this year’s hotly anticipated event is sure to impress even discriminating gourmands as Canada’s revered Susur Lee and the UK’s ever-popular Rachel Allen are scheduled to appear.
Touted by Food & Wine Magazine as “one of the best chefs of the millennium”, Lee, the undisputed master of Asian-inspired fusion, has taken the culinary world by storm. Headlining the “Beach Fusion” event, as well as participating in several group chef events, Lee is sure to gain new devotees in Cayman. Allen, Ireland’s beloved BBC chef, will delight with her signature simple, yet classic cuisine, for an event billed as “Home Favourites”.
The two chefs are in good company with some of America’s top chefs also on the Cookout programme including the incomparable José Andrés, often referred to as the ‘unofficial ambassador of Spain’, and Charlie Trotter of the namesake restaurant Charlie Trotter’s Chicago, considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. Adding to the excitement this year is Cayman’s newest ‘chefs in residence’, Michael Schwartz and Cindy Hutson, who will both appear at Cayman Cookout. Schwartz, owner of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami has opened up the second location of his popular restaurant here in Grand Cayman, and Hutson, also of Miami, has just opened Ortanique, both at Camana Bay.
Cayman Cookout promises a long weekend of unique gourmet adventures, including chef demonstrations, wine and spirits tastings and food focused excursions. Events will include a gourmet picnic at Starfish Point with Eric Ripert, Chef José Andrés cooking up a Spanish fiesta on Seven Mile Beach, a candy-themed evening of opulent sweets, tantalising pastries and drinkable desserts and even an “uncovered lunch” at Blue, where guests will get to step onto the line to see how the region’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant makes it all happen. These events and more will provide visitors and Caymanians with an opportunity to sample international fare along with the island’s gourmet delicacies.
Also on the agenda are several wine and spirits tastings, a draw for those interested in sampling some of the finest the world has to offer. Guests will get to compare tasting notes with none other than famed sommeliers Anthony Giglio and Ray Isle who will headline several events including a tasting of South African wines, the “Royals of Champagne” and even a “Mixology 101” course. This year’s Cookout also welcomes husband and wife winemakers Bo and Heidi Peterson Barrett, Dennis Cakebread, head of sales and marketing for Cakebread Cellars of Napa Valley, and winemaker Fernando Remirez de Ganuza.
Since its inception three years ago, Cayman Cookout has gained ground in the culinary arena, putting the destination on the map as a world-class dining hotspot. Many speak of Cayman’s “culinary renaissance” that is drawing international attention and attracting chefs from other leading culinary destinations like Miami and New York City. Our rich resources of fresh seafood and unique ingredients are only part of the story. The destination is of course attractive to the globe’s leading chefs for the clientele we appeal to. Discerning travellers possess equally discerning palates and as such, access to gourmet food and wine is a strong qualifier for those choosing their next vacation destination.
Over the years, Cayman’s thriving restaurant scene has gone from strength to strength and the addition of Cayman Cookout to the calendar has served to enhance our status on the worldwide culinary stage. Dining options in Cayman continue to scale to new culinary heights with imaginative cuisine and top chefs at the helm. Camana Bay for example is home to vibrant dining options with three top restaurants and a popular culinary event, Taste of Cayman Food & Wine Festival, which occurs the same month as Cayman Cookout. It’s no wonder that foodies and wine aficionados are now flocking to the Cayman Islands at the start of every year!
While January is now aptly dubbed, Cayman Culinary Month, this thirst for culinary tourism continues throughout the year. And Cayman is only too happy to oblige tourists thirsting for their next foodie fix. Blue, Luca, Osetra Bay and others are keeping those with cultivated taste buds coming back time and again. What’s more, Cayman has real diversity when it comes to our food scene. From local street-side cafés with authentic Caymanian favourites to four-star dining, there’s something to suit everyone’s palate. With such exceptional culinary variety and unsurpassed ambiance, the Cayman Islands inspire even the most discriminating gourmand.
It’s no secret that great cuisine plays an important role in the history and culture of the Cayman Islands and Cayman Cookout allows us to deliver a truly unique culinary experience. Not only do visitors get to indulge in mouth-watering dishes amidst the serene beauty of the Cayman Islands, but they also get to meet and mingle with top chefs from around the world. As such, the event has positioned the Cayman Islands as the Caribbean’s culinary capital, attracting not only a high calibre of celebrity participants but an influx of discerning travellers anxious to explore all our islands have to offer, both food and beyond.