A hard act to follow

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on the global tourism industry and the same holds true here in the Cayman Islands. However, one benefit for Cayman's hotels — for those looking for silver linings in dark clouds — is that they have developed closer relationships with the local community than they've ever had before. Whether it was through staycations, themed weekends or imaginative culinary events, the outreach to the local community has been unprecedented — as is the number of residents who have stayed in or visited the hotels.

The efforts of Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa to offer affordable and delicious culinary events for the local community have been especially noteworthy. Dinner events like Barbacoa on Saturday nights and the Voyage Through the Mediterranean on Thursday nights offer fantastic value for a fun and satisfying night out. Although both of those events cater to larger crowds, Seafire's culinary team saw that there was a gap for those looking for a more intimate, fine-dining experience. The Avecita Chef's Table — ACT — dinner series launched last month accomplishes that.

The ACT dinner series is similar to the chef's counter dinners that were regularly offered at Avecita before the pandemic, but with one important difference: They are collaborations between the Seafire culinary team and a guest chef from another local restaurant for a two-night-only dining experience. ACT 1 on 15 and 16 December saw Chef Dylan Benoit of Prime Group and Carnivore Premium Meats in Camana Bay bring his crew over to Avecita to work with Chef Massimo De Francesca and Kimpton Seafire's culinary staff in preparing a six-course meal that highlighted the styles of both teams.

The meal

Fine dining incorporates numerous elements like flavour, aroma, texture, freshness, serving temperature and doneness. There's also presentation, which includes how a dish looks on the plate, how a dish is presented by the chef and/or server, and even the words used to describe a dish or entire meal on a written menu.

ACT 1's keepsake-worthy menu prepared for each diner described the meal by its ingredients and preparation processes. For example, the final savoury course was headed "35-Day Dry-Aged Striploin" and listed the following below: "confit | beef fat potato | charred onion aioli | grilled broccolini."

The optional paired beverage was listed below the food for each course.

Another important element of fine dining is how the food and beverages of individual courses — and entire meals — fit together as a whole, and incongruity with any particular theme.

Starting from the three-part amuse bouche course, with each item meant to be eaten in a single bite, diners got a sense of the synchronicity of ACT 1. The first two bites were gazpacho and "gambas al ajillo" — garlic shrimp. Both of these are Spanish dishes in which Ave and Avecita specialise. The inspiration for the last bite — elk tartare — came from the game meat Carnivore sells, partially because of Benoit's nostalgic familiarity with it from his childhood growing up in Canada. To pair with the wide range of flavours in these three bites, Seafire Beverage Manager Jim Wrigley and his bar staff created a Champagne cocktail that incorporated complementary elements of each bite — including an elk wash. These three small bites paired with the cocktail epitomised the collaborative nature of the meal while simultaneously highlighting the strengths of each team.

Another course that meshed particularly well was medium-rare duck served with a foie gras "carbonara" in a pasta shell, topped with crumbled porcini and served with a premier cru Pinot Noir from the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. Partially because of the harmony between the various elements of the dish paired with just the right wine, this dish soared to heights greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Just before the dry-aged beef course, warm coconut brioche was served and Chef Dylan told guests they should take some of the bread and dip it in the candle that was burning in front of them — which turned out to be a candle made entirely of rendered beef fat. Delicious surprises like these are what make fine dining — and the ACT dinner series — fun and memorable.

ACT II takes place 26 and 27 January, with Bacaro's Chef Federico Destro and his sous chef joining Chef Massimo and the Seafire culinary team. The price for the ACT dinners is CI$85 for the food alone and CI$55 for the optional beverage pairing. With only 14 seats available for each night, the ACT dinners sell out quickly. Call 746-4111 to make reservations.

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This article appears in print in the January 2021 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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