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The perfect beach meal

Dining on Seven Mile Beach while watching the sun melt into the Caribbean Sea is one of the sublime experiences Grand Cayman offers. The food need not be fancy to enjoy this experience, but it helps if it's delicious and served with friendly professionalism. 

At Bar Jack, the beach restaurant/bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a sunset meal is a tasty experience that is not only by the sea, but also, if you want, of the sea. You can still get a cheeseburger in paradise (and a good one at that, made with Niman Ranch all-natural beef) if you want, but the most popular menu items come from the sea, just steps away from where you dine. Why eat a cheeseburger when you can have seafood by the sea?

Fish tacos and more

For those who like fish and tacos, Bar Jack's fish tacos are a must-try. They start with a layer of blackened snapper pieces and are then topped with Caribbean coleslaw, toasted pumpkin seeds and lime aioli. The tacos are served with lime wedges, which give them a refreshing tartness. The combination of ingredients creates a Caribbean flavour that is unique, delicious and satisfying. 

There are three, fully stuffed tacos in an order, which is plenty for one person to eat, or for two or three people to share as an appetiser. 

There are several other seafood options on the Bar Jack menu, including conch tacos, wahoo ceviche, tuna poke sushi rice bowls, lobster and shrimp corn dogs, blackened fish burgers made with mahi mahi and crispy shrimp po-boy sandwiches.

The wahoo ceviche in particular is excellent. Made with one of the most loved food fish in Cayman waters, it combines starfruit and lime juice, red onion, pieces of orange and avocado to form a zesty seafood treat. It is served with tortilla chips and is easily shared with two to four people. 

In addition to seafood and burgers, Bar Jack serves a variety of sandwiches, salads and bowls as well as chicken wings, quesadillas and nachos. Sandwiches and burgers are served with a choice of French fries, sweet potato fries, seasonal fruit or a mixed green salad.

There's also a kids' menu that includes the ever-popular chicken tenders as well as build-it-yourself fish tacos, with fun add-ons like goldfish crackers.

Desserts include ice cream, fruit plates and key lime pie, as well as one that is a huge hit with kids or adults who are young at heart: classic s'mores, which are served on a wooden board with a mini hibachi lit with Sterno. All the classic ingredients for a s'more are on the board — graham crackers, marshmallows and Hersey's chocolate bars, along with a pronged skewer. Guests make their s'mores themselves, right at the table, which is great fun for kids and adults alike.

Although the waitstaff dresses casually in shorts, there is nothing casual about their service — it's the same high-level, friendly service you find throughout The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

Drinks

Bar Jack features a full-service bar with beers, wines and cocktails. It's most well-known cocktail is a frozen piña colada. It's made with coconut cream, coconut milk and pineapple juice, which are blended into soft-serve ice cream and then swirled with Flor de Caña rum from Nicaragua. It's rich and tasty and has enough sweetness to serve as an after-dinner dessert cocktail.

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This article appears in print in the August 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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The ultimate staycation

By: Alan Markoff, Camana Bay Times editor

I like to go places I've never been for my birthday.

In my 61 years, I've found myself on 10 July in faraway places ranging from exotic (Fiji) to cultural (Italy) to decadent (wineries in British Columbia) to rustic (tent camping by a lake in New York's Adirondack Mountains).

This year, however, I was grounded, unable to take flight to a new experience. 
Or so I thought.

The trip came up suddenly and unexpectedly. The arrangements were simple. There were no security checkpoints, no immigration lines, no customs lines, no worrying about overweight bags, no taxi fares, no rental cars, no travel stress. I didn't even have to get on a plane, because I was simply driving the 15 minutes from my home to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. This is where my wife Lynn and I would experience the Ultimate Staycation to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary two days later.

Respite

For nearly three months, we — like most Grand Cayman residents — were basically housebound, roughing it in a state of domestic captivity. The so-called new normal was very much a bland normal. Three days and two nights at The Ritz-Carlton provided a much needed respite from pandemic stress and added lustre to our dual celebrations.

Since late June, the government has permitted hotels to reopen for resident staycations. In order to create some revenue and provide work for their staffs, hotels — including The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — now offer residents unprecedented staycation deals.

Since the opening of the resort almost 15 years ago, I have spent countless hours attending a variety of events at The Ritz-Carlton, but had only previously spent one night there: in a garden-view room after a service club event. Having a vacation stay in an oceanfront room — a standard feature of the Ultimate Staycation — for my birthday was indeed like going someplace I'd never been.

Celebrate in style

A stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is a stay at a Ritz-Carlton, pandemic or not. We experienced the same high level of Ritz-Carlton food, Ritz-Carlton amenities and Ritz-Carlton service that I've come to expect. If anything, the service was better — albeit, behind protective face masks — than normal, a reflection perhaps equally attributable to the happiness of staff to be working again and to fewer guests than normal, allowing for more personal guest attention.

The staff at The Ritz-Carlton seem to relish celebrations, almost as an excuse to be even nicer to their guests. Before we stepped foot in my room, I had been wished a "happy birthday" twice. Upon entering,  I immediately saw white towels on the king-sized bed, rolled up and banded in a way that looked like a three-tier birthday cake, topped with a handwritten card wishing me birthday greetings from the housekeeping team. There was also a small cake, shaped like a sandcastle and a souvenir birthday gift left in the room for me.

Beach and pool

The west side of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman sits on one of the best parts of Seven Mile Beach. It's been years since I last leisurely enjoyed that section of beach.
The first day of our stay, we checked in, quickly changed into our swimsuits and headed for the beach, lounging in chairs just feet away from the shore. It was late afternoon, however, and we had dinner plans, so we had only an hour to enjoy the sun, sea and sand that tourists pay top dollar to enjoy.

Arranging for a beach cabana has always seemed extravagant to me, but I learned differently the next day. Cabanas offer shade, comfort and on the day I was there, the ability to stay on the beach even when it rains. 

In the cabanas, there was a refrigerator with water and soft drinks and a few snacks. Personal attention was supplied by Myles, our cabana butler.
We spent six glorious hours on the beach, enjoying several forays into the sea that afternoon. It was the longest spell I've spent on the beach at one time, probably in my entire life.

Food and beverage

I know the food and beverages served at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman well. One of my shortlist of favourite restaurants is Taikun, which in my opinion not only serves the best sushi on Grand Cayman, but also the best sushi I've eaten anywhere. That was the choice for my birthday dinner.

Although we normally choose the omakase — a five-course meal with the selections left up to the chef — a new menu item caught our eye. "Sensei" is a selection of traditional sushi dishes, including sashimi, nigiri and maki. The Sensei meal for two was probably big enough for four and left little room for dessert. However, since it was my birthday, Taikun was going to serve me dessert no matter what. The "Bonsai" dessert is fashioned like a tree, with chocolate limbs and branches and green confection leaves, planted in a chocolate crumble ground that covers a layer of caramel, making it both a sight and taste sensation. 

The plan the next day was to enjoy Bar Jack's famous fish tacos while in our cabana. However, the Ultimate Staycation package includes a daily breakfast at Seven restaurant and after eggs Benedict and a side of smoked bacon, there was not room for lunch. Instead, we saved ourselves for dinner and opted for frozen cocktails instead.

Dinner at Seven included delicious and juicy Niman Ranch steaks — the restaurant is after all, first and foremost, a high-end steak restaurant in the evenings — which came with a choice of rubs and sauces. The side dishes were served à la carte, and the truffle mac and cheese was so good, we might make it the main course of a meal in the future.

We finished our dining experiences with lunch at Andiamo on our anniversary on Sunday, right before we headed for home. Andiamo's pizza and an order of Parmesan truffle fries were the kind of comfort foods we often eat when travelling, making us feel as if life were normal again — and we didn't have to suffer from jet lag!

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This article appears in print in the August 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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Kimpton Seafire keeping staff fed in style

Most Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa employees who have remained on the island haven’t been able to work very much as a result of the closure of the Cayman Islands’ borders to tourists and the subsequent “shelter-in-place” order due to the Covid-19 threat. But that doesn’t mean staff members haven’t been eating well.

The Kimpton brand is well known for its gourmet approach to dining at its hotels and the culinary team at Seafire wasn’t about to let the coronavirus situation change that.

Kimpton Seafire General Manager Steven Andre says the staff meal programme carried on after the hotel’s closure.

“We wanted to support our staff during this difficult time,” he says. “We have an amazing team which goes above and beyond for our guests every day, and we wanted to do the same for them.”

About half of the Kimpton Seafire’s staff enjoy one meal a day prepared by the kitchen staff.

Andre says the culinary team uses various methods of communicating the menu to staff, including Facebook and group chats.

“The culinary team also sends an email the day prior with upcoming meal offerings,” he said. “Seafire staff will soon have the added option of selecting a meal based on their dietary needs such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, etc. from a web-based document we are in the middle of creating to ensure everyone’s needs are considered. With this platform, we will also be able to send out the entire weeks’ worth of offerings for convenience.”

In addition to staff, the daily meal offerings also include immediate family members, Andre said.

“We also hope to increase the meal periods in the near future to a lunch and dinner offering.”

Staff members pick-up the meals at set times at the designated “drive-up” station in front of the hotel, which ensures that social distancing requirements are met, Andre says.

“The boxed meals are distributed to staff in their car with minimal physical interaction from managers suited up with masks and gloves,” he says. “We are following our government’s protective guidelines and hours for access.”

Culinary creativity

Kimpton Seafire Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca says developing the menus for the staff meals is a collaborative effort with the culinary team, which currently consists of eight members including himself, sous chefs and sous chef leaders and the executive pastry chef.

“The chefs assess our inventories, discuss and plan for the week,” he says. “Our goal is to ensure each meal includes a protein with sides such as starches, veggies and a sauce, gravy or glaze using what we have already in our inventory or what we can source locally during this period.”

Each pick-up box for the staff includes a full meal along with a surprise treat.

“It could be a side of homemade gelato, dessert, cookies or small bags of nuts,” De Francesca says.

Vegan or vegetarian options are offered daily as well.

“We’ll normally design the vegetarian and vegan item to be dairy free, gluten-free and nut free as well in order to accommodate other common restrictions,” he says. “Seafire staff have a direct line of communication with our culinary team, so they are able to accommodate specific allergies or restrictions accordingly.”

The meals, which differ from week to week, are getting rave reviews from staff.

“We love to know that staff is enjoying our preparations,” De Francesca says. “Some of the most popular meals that we’ve created so far are renditions of classic comfort dishes such as shepherd’s pie, which is ground beef and vegetable ragu, gravy and topped with whipped herb potatoes; orange-glazed pork ribs served with sweet potato purée and tropical coleslaw; and crispy fish and chips served with green apple tomatillo salsa and lemon tartar sauce.”

The actual food preparation on a given day is done by four chefs from start to finish, De Francesca says.

“We all wear safety masks and gloves while ensuring the heightened standards for distance and spacing, while maintaining our extremely rigid safety and sanitary precautionary measures.”

In this challenging time of the Covid-19 pandemic, De Francesca says the culinary team finds it rewarding to be able to cook for the hotel’s staff.

“We have all worked together for a long time, but it has been especially gratifying to collaborate and support each other through this meal program,” he says.

Andre says the programme is very much appreciated by staff.

“We have had an amazing response from Seafire staff, with many sharing their gratitude,” he says. “It has really kept us all connected and comforted.”

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Staycationing in the Cayman Islands

It's the year of the Cayman Islands staycation.

And why not? Even if residents don't have much choice in the matter, every year tourists spend big money to vacation in the Cayman Islands.

Given what's happening in the rest of the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists would likely spend even more if they could come and have a healthy and safe vacation in our tropical paradise this summer. They can't, at least not until next month, but we can and there are some excellent staycation opportunities at Dart-owned properties across all three Cayman Islands in August and beyond.

Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa

With no tourists on island in August, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa is catering to residents with a number of imaginative initiatives. 

"We're trying to come up with as many different options as we can to entice residents to come to Seafire," says General Manager Steven Andre. 

In addition to special room rates, there is also the ability to rent a luxury cabana, day bed or chaise lounge for Seafire's "Day Getaway." These rentals include daytime access to all of the amenities and facilities — including the three-tiered infinity pool — at Grand Cayman's only AAA Five Diamond Resort. On weekends, the Day Getaway includes live music and outdoor activities for kids.

Seafire is also offering a work-play getaway option. The "Office with a View" package offers an oceanfront room from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The package includes usage of all amenities, including the pool, gym and non-motorised watersports.

"What we're trying to do is give people an alternative to working from home," says Steven. "You come for the day, we give you an office with a great view, you come down for lunch or you can have room service delivered, you take a break and go for a swim or workout in the gym. You can even bring your pet."

Email [email protected] or call (345) 746-0000. Book lounge chairs or cabanas online at seafire.idaypass.com. 

Le Soleil d’Or

For those looking to get off the island without leaving the Cayman Islands, both Sister Islands offer staycation options. 

Those yearning for a getaway with personalised luxury need look no further than Le Soleil d'Or on the south coast of Cayman Brac.

"Let us take care of you," says General Manager Anoop Jayaprakash. "Our amazing team is always ready to go above and beyond to provide you with a memorable experience."

Le Soleil d'Or is an elegant farm inn that comprises the Manor House with four guest rooms and the Coast House that sleeps three adults or two adults and two children. 

Included with each room is a complimentary daily breakfast that incorporates some of the fresh fruits and vegetables grown on the organic farm.

The inn's private Beach Club, which features a 50-metre pool and a beach with thatched sun shelters, is located less than a mile away.

"We are happy to provide our guests with snacks, water and towels to enjoy at the beach club," says Anoop. 

Other activities offered by Le Soleil d'Or include a complimentary 40-minute tour of the property's 20-acre farm, as well as access to beach bicycles, non-motorised watersports equipment, the fitness centre and basketball and tennis courts.

"In addition, our guests may choose to purchase services such as massage treatments and dive excursions," says Anoop. 

Buyouts of the four-room Manor House are available for groups. For more information, contact [email protected] or call (345) 926-1966.

Paradise Villas

Residents can leave all of their COVID-19 stresses at home, along with their shoes, socks and wristwatch, with a staycation at Paradise Villas on Little Cayman. 

The laid-back inn features 12 beachfront cottages that offer peace, quiet, rest and relaxation. Catch up on some reading as you lounge by the pool or in a hammock and then head over to The Hungry Iguana restaurant when you're hungry. A small grocery store and liquor shop are just a mango-throw away, as is Little Cayman's quaint airport. 

For reservations, email [email protected] or call (345) 948-0001.

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This article appears in print in the August 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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Feeding Ladies and Gentlemen with ceremony

Like most of the world, the Cayman Islands tourism industry has come to a halt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotel sector of that industry has been hard hit in terms of the number of employees who no longer have work as a result of local and international airport closures.

Dart, as the hotel owner, funded a voluntary package that included flights for those who were able to leave the island. However, several hundred Ritz-Carlton employees remained and were subsequently subjected to stay-at-home orders.

General Manager Marc Langevin thought of a way to support his “Ladies and Gentlemen” —how the Ritz-Carlton refers to its employees all over the globe — through the stressful period: a daily pick-up meal service available for all employees on Grand Cayman who wanted to sign up for them.

“The meal pick-up service has been a wonderful way to continue to support our Ladies and Gentlemen during these uncertain times and provide some relief to food costs at home, as well as providing healthy options for them to enjoy,” says Langevin.

Every Friday, the culinary team shares a menu created for the following week with all staff members, and provides a link to sign-up for the meal pick-ups. The creative and diverse menu is a collaboration between the hotel’s banquet chefs and its restaurant chefs. 

Members of staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman greeted employees coming to pick up meals at Easter with a special holiday ceremony.

The 300 employees who have signed up for the meals drive to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s porte-cochère near the main entrance, where they first present their employee identification and meal cards at one station. At the second station, employees choose one of two menu options available for the day. And finally, at the third station, there’s a happy little ceremony, delivered with the friendliness, precision and attention to detail that would be expected from a hotel brand that is world-famous for its high service level.

One of the resort’s senior leaders — which include Langevin, Hotel Manager Hermes Cuello and many others — deliver hot boxes to employees. They also provide a special treat for the day, which could be anything from a pastry dessert, fresh fruit, a gallon of milk or even flowers.

There’s music playing throughout the process and the delivery team smiles and dances as they provide employees with their meals.

 “At the core of our Ritz-Carlton values, is providing genuine care for all,” Langevin says. “This is a great way to carry out our company’s motto: ‘We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen’.”

The employees very much appreciate the support and often express their gratitude for the meals, Langevin says, adding that the meal deliveries are gratifying for the management as well.

“We love seeing everyone at the drive-through every day and having that brief connection, even if it is at a distance and for a quick moment,” he says. “We have been able to stay connected as The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman family that we are.”

Community support

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman employees aren’t the only people who get to experience the meal delivery ceremony. As part of the resort’s “Community Footprints” programme, The Ritz-Carlton kitchen also provides 20 to 30 meals for the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, which are picked up at the same place near the main entrance to the hotel. In addition, The Ritz-Carlton continues to support Meals on Wheels of the Cayman Islands — which is also part of its annual Community Footprints programme — by providing 120 meals per month.

“One of the things we’ve been reminded of during this crisis is how important it is to support our community and to be more united than ever as a society,” says Langevin. He’s happy The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman can continue to support its Community Footprints charities at a time when that support is most needed.

Langevin said he has “been in awe” of the solidarity he’s seen in the Cayman community since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“We are grateful that we are able to contribute to that,” he says. “We will continue to do so for as long as we can.”

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Article photo: In the kitchen at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, where they prepare daily meals for more than 300 employees, are, from left, Chefs Mario Uxa and Thomas Seifried of Blue by Eric Ripert; Chef Marcello Piacentini of Banquets; and Chef Kunal Sharma of Andiamo.

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