News from our hotel partners

A spa cure for the post-quarantine blues

Stepping out of quarantine after being stuck indoors for what feels like forever can be a surreal experience. Just seeing someone face-to-face, experiencing human touch, breathing in fresh air or enjoying the warmth of the sun on your skin can feel overwhelmingly good.

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Chef Massimo's Kitchen: Salt - the magic ingredient

Few ingredients in a dish can extend through the entire preparation process, from initial seasoning, through cooking and finally serving. Salt is one such ingredient.

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A deliciously successful gamble

If the residents who attended the Cayman Cookout at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman last month missed having internationally renowned celebrity chefs, wine and spirit experts and other culinary personalities host the events, they sure didn't show it.

The 13th edition of the Cayman Cookout, which took place 15-17 January, was smaller and more locally focused in 2021. To long-time attendees, it probably felt similar to the first years of the event — before the Cayman Cookout became known as the Caribbean's premier epicurean food and beverage festival and started attracting "foodie" visitors from all over the world. Because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, neither the tourists nor the visiting talent could attend this year, but management of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman took the chance that residents would still come to support a trimmed-down version of the event featuring local talent.

The gamble paid off. Most of the events were sold out, including the exclusive "All about Truffle" dinner in the Blue by Eric Ripert restaurant and the three returning signature events.

Bare feet and fine food

The three signature events — the Barefoot Barbecue, Rum & Robusto and the Bon Vivant Cook-off Brunch — have always been favourites with residents.

The Barefoot Barbecue took place in its usual Friday evening time slot. However, in another throwback to the early years, the event once again took place on The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman beach instead of another site, as it has in recent years.

At stations set up in the sand, 11 of Grand Cayman's top chefs, including Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Executive Chef Frederic Morineau, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca and Carnivore Premium Meats owner/chef Dylan Benoit, prepared meat or seafood delicacies. In addition to their dishes, highlights included the coconut curry mussels with Goan poee bread created by Chef Sandy Tuason and his culinary team from The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa; the plant-based mac & cheese topped with vegan chili made by Chef Britta Bush of Saucha Conscious Living; and the locally famous sticky toffee pudding of Calypso Grill's Chef George Fowler.

New time, great vibe

The biggest change in the line-up of signature events was moving Rum & Robusto from its normal Sunday afternoon time slot — where it served as a transition from the cook-off brunch to the gala dinner — to a Saturday afternoon time slot.

The event traditionally hosted a mix of residents and visitors, many of them coming from the decadent Champagne brunch. This year, however, the attendees were all residents and although some were coming from the wine-pairing lunch, most of the guests were there specifically for Rum & Robusto. The result was a sophisticated party around the Harbour Club Pool complete with live music, cigars and rum cocktails.

Because of its new time slot and positioning as a true stand-alone event, there was a big step-up in the food offerings at Rum & Robusto this year. Highlights included the roasted pig soft tacos by Chef Charith Heman from Abacus, the chicken cakes stuffed with Peruvian "sweety drop" peppers from Chef Thushara Siriwaradana of Grand Old House, and the sourdough bread topped with smoked baba ganoush from Chef Mario Uxa. The latter previously served as sous chef at Blue by Eric Ripert, but is now the chef at Le Soleil d'Or — the farm inn on Cayman Brac.

Cooking off for charity

The Bon Vivant Cook-off Champagne brunch has been a highlight of the final day of the Cayman Cookout since its inception, although the cook-off portion of the event has gone through several iterations. Once the culmination of an amateur chef competition, in 2020 it saw local professional chefs participate. This year, The Ritz-Carlton decided to go in a different direction to acknowledge the ongoing pandemic.

Pairing off in the competition were two local heroes in the Cayman Islands' efforts to overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic: Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee and Community Kitchen’s Kathy Gardner-Nicholson.

While the two local hero chefs raced against the clock to prepare their dishes, guests enjoyed sipping on free-flowing Moët & Chandon Champagne and hearing from two old Cayman Cookout friends. In a taped video segment from a breezy and cold New York beach, Cayman Cookout's usual host, Chef Eric Ripert, welcomed guests and said he's looking forward to returning to Cayman Cookout next year.

Chef José Andrés, another Cayman Cookout regular known for dramatic entrances to his cooking demonstration, appeared live from the streets of Washington, D.C. with his daughters, saying he missed not being in Cayman this year.

During the brunch, guests indulged on a cornucopia of lavish foods, some prepared by the chefs of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and other dishes made at stations presented by eight chefs of local restaurants.

In the end, the panel of judges — which included Premier Alden McLaughlin — couldn't choose a winner between Dr. Lee's spicy Indonesian beef rendang dish and Gardner-Nicholson's conch soup, and the competition was deemed a tie.

There was a clear winner in the event, however. To help support the community, and particularly those facing food security issues because of the pandemic's economic impacts, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman used the event to raise CI$35,000 for the Cayman Food Bank.

As guests wound down toward the end of the brunch, they enjoyed a wide array of breads, cheeses and desserts. Guests who tried the dessert creation of pastry chef Dhanapal Saminathan and Chef Sara Mair-Doak left the 2021 Cayman Cookout with an incredible taste in their mouths. The simple sugar doughnut filled with a sweet and savoury bacon cream and topped with a piece of Smokies candied bacon offered those guests something to remember as they look forward to a 2022 Cayman Cookout — one that hopefully takes place in better circumstances than this year.

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

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Chef Massimo's Kitchen: I love Nutella

We tend to think of Valentine’s Day as the focus of February, but that’s just one notable day celebrated among a solid list of other observances that we can treat ourselves to throughout the month.

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Kimpton Seafire: Putting fun into dining

Over the past couple of years, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa has held a series of weekly dining events such as Island Fest, Pintxos + Paellas and Barbacoa. In addition to offering good beverages and good food — and plenty of it! — all of these events offered something else in common: good fun. All of those elements are there again in the resort's most recently launched dining series, the Voyage through the Mediterranean in Ave Restaurant on Thursday nights.

"Fun is truly an essential part of all our events," said Kimpton Seafire Director of Food and Beverage Himanshu Jethi. "While planning an event, we look at the complete experience for guests — one that goes beyond just food and drinks. We look for ways to involve guests and make them a part of the event."

The concept of the Voyage through the Mediterranean series mimics a cruise through the Mediterranean Sea in which stops are made in various ports. The menus, cuisine, entertainment, activities and décor are then themed to the country visited.

Each stop lasts six or seven weeks before the voyage sets sail for the next port of call.

Simply Greek

The first seven-week stop of the voyage was Greece. Called "Simply Greek," the event involved three courses of food, starting with "orektika" — the Greek word for appetisers. This course, which was brought to the table and served family style, included marinated olives, stuffed grape leaves, smoked salmon dip, Greek salad, grilled vegetables, skewers of grilled lamb and chicken, and "saganaki" — pan-seared halloumi cheese flambéed with ouzo.

The appetisers alone would have probably been enough food for a satisfying meal, but the "kyria piata" — main courses — were the real stars of the dinner. These dishes, which were served from the chef's counter adjacent to the open kitchen, included grilled whole octopus, moussaka and two different kinds of grilled fish — local snapper and Mediterranean turbot — along with a vegetarian main course that incorporated couscous, vegetables and herbs. Side dishes included baby potatoes and wood-fired vegetables.

Finally dessert, which was also served on the chef's counter, included three traditional Greek options including "loukoumades" — deep fried fritters covered in honey, cinnamon and walnuts.

Four different cocktails, created specifically for the event, were also available, including one made with retsina, the traditional Greek wine infused with tree resin. Perhaps the most unique cocktail was the "Tzatzini," which blended juniper-infused vodka, lemon, cucumber dill syrup and Greek yogurt. The cocktail paired extremely well with the food, particularly with the lamb and moussaka.

"We were trying to integrate the flavours of Greek cuisine into the drinks in a way that would pair with the food and enhance the overall immersiveness of the experience," said Jim Wrigley, Kimpton Seafire's beverage manager.

Fun activities

Although the food and cocktails offer plenty of fun in themselves, it is the attention to other details that makes the Voyage through the Mediterranean a series of events, rather than a series of dinners.

For Simply Greek, there was Greek music playing in the background, with local violin player Kate Allenger playing along. Some of the Ave staff wore historical Greek costumes and two dancers, also in costume, performed a traditional Greek dance — and later invited guests to join them. Perhaps the most authentic and fun activity for guests was the opportunity to smash a plate — a famous Greek custom at celebratory gatherings — in a designated area for a donation of CI$5 to benefit the local Feed Our Future charity.

The culinary team has to start sourcing some of the elements for the events — including specialty food ingredients and activities props — months in advance, Jethi said, noting that the smashing plates for Simply Greek, for example, were sourced from Greece.

Jethi said that the planning process for the events is also fun for him and his staff.

"With a diverse and multicultural team, we take inspirations from people’s travels or their experiences in certain destinations and try to incorporate those," he said, adding that the hope is then to create a better guest experience. "It's all about the memories we can create."

Next stop on the Voyage through the Mediterranean is Spain, starting on 14 January.

Jethi said "Viva España" will also offer plenty of fun.

"Guests can enjoy a flamenco performance, drink wine from a porron or shake a leg doing Macarena."

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

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