Grand cuisine from the Cayman Cookout festival

Cayman in the News 26 February 2019
On Grand Cayman, celebrity chef José Andrés is at least as famous for his spectacular entrances and carousing banter as he is for his seafood paella. In 2018 at the Cayman Cookout, the Western Caribbean island@s annual gastronomic festival, the Washington, D.C.-based Spanish chef arrived at his cooking demonstration held on Seven Mile Beach@s glorious white sands by dropping into the water from a helicopter and swimming ashore.

Article by Peter Hum

On Grand Cayman, celebrity chef José Andrés is at least as famous for his spectacular entrances and carousing banter as he is for his seafood paella.

In 2018 at the Cayman Cookout, the Western Caribbean island’s annual gastronomic festival, the Washington, D.C.-based Spanish chef arrived at his cooking demonstration held on Seven Mile Beach’s glorious white sands by dropping into the water from a helicopter and swimming ashore.

In past years, Andrés has appeared wearing a water-powered jetpack, driven a jet ski to the demo with fellow star chef Emeril Lagasse and ridden horses, Three Amigos-style, with fellow culinary greats Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain.

Whipping up anticipation at the 2019 festival in mid-January, Ripert, the Cookout’s host, would only say to the crowd waiting for Andrés: “He is minutes away from here, but it is something you have never seen in your life.”

Then, as The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine blared over the sound system, Andrés piloted a yellow, one-man submersible out of the water and onto the beach. To complete the moment, he spritzed the beach with champagne once his craft’s cockpit opened.

After his hero’s welcome, Andrés regaled the throng of 200 that filled his tent on the beach with a spontaneous Falstaffian monologue, alternating tips on cooking tips with much teasing of his New York-based friend Ripert. In between jokes, Andrés snuck a shot or two of vodka and several spoonfuls of caviar, which he even shared with fans in the front row.

“If you want to make sangria, buy a half-pound of Paramount caviar,” Andrés said. “Why do you want money in the bank?”

“The first part of the recipe is to eat caviar. Why? That will show you’re a very smart person.”

Over its four days, the festival’s 11th edition consisted of more than 60 events that glowed with the kind of merrymaking for gourmets that was typified by Andrés’s antics.


Some were small, kitchen-sized affairs held in its palatial hosting venue, the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, where you could rub shoulders with vintners, charcuterie-makers and mixologists sharing their wares and expertise. There were casual yet lavish lunches and dinners for hundreds that sprawled across gorgeous beaches, and fine-dining feats at the luxury resort’s most sleek restaurant, Blue by Eric Ripert, which holds the only AAA five-diamond rating in the Caribbean.

Ripert, the chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York, which last fall was named the world’s best restaurant by La Liste, opened Blue in the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman in 2005 and, not long after, the Cayman Cookout debuted.

Initially, the festival was much smaller, with just a few visiting chefs, some beachside classes and a gala dinner.

“Over the past decade, we’ve intentionally kept the festival small and intimate,” Ripert said. “The exclusive yet friendly and relaxed atmosphere, plus interactions with the chefs and professionals is part of what makes Cookout such a special event.”

Almost all of the Cookout’s experiences are individually ticketed, with a few at prices more expensive than a tin of top-notch caviar.

At the low end this year were beverage tastings, such as a get-together focused on bourbon cocktails with star mixologist Bob Peters, that cost US$75.

Tent-covered cooking demos on the beach with Andrés, Lagasse and others such as San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn, Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton or Ottawa-born New Yorker Amanda Cohen were priced between US$175 and US$195, including samplings of their fare and cocktails.

Believe me, it’s hard to beat tucking into Silverton’s tapenade on grilled bread or Cohen’s carrot risotto while sipping on a cocktail and wiggling your toes in the sand, especially when back home is in the grip of yet another polar vortex.


All-you-can-eat-and-drink lunches and dinners that featured snazzy small-plates fare by leading Grand Cayman restaurants and visiting chefs cost between US$225 and US$375. For US$675, attendees who were certified scuba divers went on a dive with Andrés to hunt for lionfish before their lionfish lunch. The event-closing gala dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert, which featured a course apiece from seven star chefs, cost $900, including elite wine pairings.

At the high end, for $1,200, guests could enjoy a private-jet trip with Ripert over the Cayman Islands, followed by a private lunch with him. This experience was limited to 10 guests and was sold out.

As Andrés says, “Why do you want money in the bank?”

Mind you, the Cayman Islands is a British territory, where residents and companies pay no direct taxation, and Grand Cayman has been ranked as one of the more expensive Caribbean destinations.

“Prices for the events are pricey, but so is everything else on the island!” says Pourang Rahimi, a Toronto orthodontist who this year took in some Cayman Cookout events for the first time.

Rahimi, who flies to Grand Cayman several times a year for work, went to several cooking demonstrations, lunches and dinners with his wife.

“This was a perfect opportunity to sample the offerings of top chefs all in one place,” says Rahimi, adding that he and wife are foodies who love to cook.

“Overall, the Cookout was an awesome experience and one that I will do my best to return to annually.”


“This was a perfect opportunity to sample the offerings of top chefs all in one place,” says Rahimi.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this year’s Cookout and past editions was that this year, for the first time, Bourdain, the globe-trotting TV personality, author, celebrity chef and best friend of Ripert, was absent.

Bourdain, who hosted Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, took his own life last summer in France.

At this year’s Cookout, Bourdain’s memory was frequently invoked, most of all at a beachside event where Ripert, Andrés and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern paid a humorous but bittersweet tribute to their late friend, after the crowd had been served hamburgers and negronis in Bourdain’s honour.

“Tony was eating burgers every day, when he was not on tour,” said Ripert. “And he was drinking negronis every night, and actually every lunch.

“His theory was negroni was the right cocktail because it gets you hammered right away … why not go to the strongest?” Ripert said, before toasting Bourdain’s memory.

Ripert said that Bourdain always enjoyed his trips to Grand Cayman and the Cookout.

“Tony was so happy to be here,” Ripert elaborated. “For him, it was true luxury to enjoy that time with the family because he was travelling, as we all know, almost 300 days a year. It was a way to reconnect to his family, to his friends. It was something he was always, always excited about.”

Ripert said he asked Bourdain last year whether he was done with coming to the Cookout after being a star there for 10 straight years.

“Are you crazy? I’m coming back next year,” was Bourdain’s response, Ripert said.

Andrés said that Bourdain enjoyed mingling with Cookout attendees, but added that “he’d rather hear one story from you than (pose in) a selfie from you.”

Andrés said he felt the same way. “I’d rather prefer you don’t ask me for a selfie, and you tell me something that’s important about you. Because we are here in the end because of you. We want to be with you. I want to know who you are.

“The best gift that Tony Bourdain gave all of us was making us believe that even people that were different than us, that spoke different languages, different accents, different religions, different skin colour, hair, colour of eyes … Tony was a guy that somehow made this very big beautiful earth, big planet, he made it almost smaller. He kind of made us connect with each other. That’s who Tony was. That’s what Tony makes me believe.”

Traditionally, Bourdain had been featured at an outdoor lunch event on the Ritz-Carlton’s lawn, in which he and guests sampled small plates made by Cayman restaurateurs.

This year, Zimmern, the chef-host of the TV show Bizarre Foods, took Bourdain’s place in a similar event that had been tweaked to align with the newcomer’s specialty. Stations served iguana rillettes, turtle stew with marinated conch, lionfish poke, oxtail and goat tacos and more.

“This is the best 14-course meal you’ve ever had,” Zimmern said. “This is heaven.”

That night before, further south on Seven Mile Beach, almost 900 foodies feasted on epicurean creations such as simply grilled shrimp and squid with fideus noodles and squid ink, served by Ripert and his team, or Andrés’s high-end riff on hot dogs.

The next day at lunch, almost 400 people made the trip to Rum Point, an idyllic, palm-shaded beach on the north side of Grand Cayman. Many guests worked up an appetite by boarding a catamaran and fitting in a swim with stingrays in the famed shallow sandbars called Stingray City en route to lunch.

Ripert says he loves frolicking with the surprisingly docile stingrays. “It’s a very unique, powerful, and beautiful experience that still moves me each time I go,” he says. “It’s my annual tradition. They say kissing them brings good luck and I like to think they remember me!”

While the Beach Bash lunch was held at Rum Point, it was champagne from sponsor Moët & Chandon that flowed like water, helping to wash down a bevy of upscale street-food treats from a dozen or so kiosks.

“It’s a very unique, powerful, and beautiful experience that still moves me each time I go,” he says.

There, Lagasse was doling out bundles of lobster and sea urchin wrapped in lettuce. Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton, another festival headliner, was handing out samples of her famous grilled cheese sandwiches. For carnivores, a favourite was the barbecued corned beef brisket with goose fat potatoes handout at one station. But lamb barbacoa tacos, a rib-eye-beef “poke” and bison steamed buns were not far behind.


On Sunday, the festival began to wind down with a truly epic, giddy-making brunch for several hundred people in the Ritz-Carlton’s ballroom, where there was a seemingly endless supply of champagne, caviar, steak and eggs with lobster, sushi, perfectly grilled Mediterranean Sea bass, exquisite gold-leafed decorated desserts and much more.

A nap would have been in order after that monumental meal.

Then there was the gala dinner to bring the festival to a close, where the menu promised such dishes as Andres’s Hokkaido scallop with squab juice and braised shiitake, Ripert’s sautéed Dover sole, with almond matsutake salad, parsnip mousseline and soy-lime emulsion, and Swedish chef Emma Bengtsson’s grilled striploin with truffle-braised mushrooms and fermented rosehip.

Of course, you couldn’t have eaten everything that tempted you during the Cayman Cookout, which could only give you additional motivation to return next year.

Peter Hum attended the 2019 Cayman Cookout as a guest of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.

If you go …

When: The Cayman Cookout is typically held over four days in January.

Cost: It varies with many experiences you sign up for. This year, beverage tastings typically cost US$75, attending a celebrity chef’s cooking demo cost about US$175, all-you-can-eat lunches and dinners cost between US$225 and US$375. It cost US$1,200 for a private-jet getaway and lunch with star chef Eric Ripert, and all 10 spots were sold.

Accommodation: The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman is the venue for much of the Cookout’s events, and deluxe accommodation there is convenient. But cheaper accommodation is available elsewhere, and you can still attend Cookout events.

Flights: Air Canada and WestJet both offer direct, four-hour flights from Toronto to Grand Cayman throughout the week. There are many connections through the United States.

More info:


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