News from our hotel partners

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.

--------

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

READ MORE

The Bunker that's good for your golf

By: Jonathan Joyce

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has long been the top destination for tourists visiting Cayman. This year has presented locals with the opportunity to book a staycation and take advantage of the resort’s amenities. For golfers, in addition to a nine-hole championship course, the Ritz also offers "The Bunker," an indoor practice facility that features two Trackman simulators, multiple televisions and lounge seating. It is luxury indoor golf, Ritz-Carlton style.

Oliver Riding, the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grand Cayman, said The Bunker is open to the public for individual, group and corporate events.

“We book individual private lessons, group clinics and corporate events with food and drink available from any of our restaurants," he said. "We also have steady bookings from golfers who are looking to improve their game or have fun playing one of hundreds of golf courses that are available.”

I entered The Bunker recently to work on my game. My plan was to play a round of simulated golf at Adare Manor, host of the 2027 Ryder Cup. But first I went to the practice range. The big-hitting screen revealed a typical outdoor range with an assortment of detailed swing data. I took a swing and saw the ball soar into the sky before turning hard to the right — bit of a duck hook in golfer’s parlance. Looking at the data, my club face was closed, causing the ball to go right. Over the next 15 minutes, I made small adjustments based on the information provided and eventually saw the ball flying straight and true.

Feeling confident, I headed to the first tee. I had a half hour left in my booking. Plenty of time to play nine or 10 holes. The Trackman simulator allows for a realistic playing experience in a fraction of the time it takes to play outdoors. But unlike a video game where I can play as Tiger Woods, it was me hitting the shots. While no one will ever mistake me for a professional, I played well and left with some confidence to take into my weekly Saturday game.

Over on the other simulator, Tim Dwyer, one of the Ritz-Carlton's golf professionals, was conducting a junior lesson. Tim works with kids of all skill levels, including several of Cayman’s young golfing stars. I was impressed with how he mixed fun with the fundamentals of the game. The lesson ended with a competition between the student and the coach. I think Tim managed to squeak out a victory.

The Bunker is a great option for someone looking to work on their game as it gives immediate data analysis. It's also ideal for enjoyable company outings.

“We can customise any event to meet the needs of our clients," Riding said. "Get in touch and we can let you know what is possible.”

Contact the Ritz-Carlton at 815-6500 for more information.

--------

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

READ MORE

You say barbecue, Coccoloba says barbacoa

With Grand Cayman residents unable to travel without risk and the requirement of quarantine when they return, there's a premium on finding new, interesting and fun things to do on island.
That is exactly what Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa is trying to provide with the launch of Barbacoa, a Saturday-night-only food, beverage and entertainment event launched last month at Coccoloba Bar & Grill.

"We wanted to continue to entertain locals with new events and at the same time we wanted to enhance the authentic, Mexican-inspired concept of Coccoloba," says Kimpton Seafire Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca.

Barbacoa is actually a traditional method of slow-cooking meat in Mexico, similar to the way jerk was traditionally slow-cooked in Jamaica. The English word "barbecue" derives from barbacoa. Although the Barbacoa event at Coccoloba doesn't prepare food in a fire pit covered with agave leaves the way traditional barbacoa was made in Mexico, it does prepare some of it over an open fire, similar to the way modern barbacoa is made.

In authentic barbacoa fashion, though, the process of preparing the meats is slow.

"We marinate and brine the meats for days beforehand," says De Francesca. "The brisket, for example, is brined for 48 hours, slow-roasted for six hours and smoked for one hour," he says, adding that the organic chicken that is cooked over an open flame is also marinated for more than a day.

Food

Barbacoa, however, is about much more than just meat.

The starters, which are all served family-style and can change from week to week, include items like nachos, tuna ceviche, mixed green salad and elote served on the cob instead of how it is served when ordered from Coccoloba's regular menu. Almost all of the items served for Barbacoa aren't on the regular Coccoloba menu and are designed to highlight authentic Mexican food.

Served along with the starters — even though they are really made to accompany the meats — is a quartet of sauces, including chimichurri, molcajete, aji amarilo and mole rojo.

"We put a lot of effort into making these very authentic Mexican sauces," says De Francesco.

When it's time for the grill course, guests walk down to the beach to the counter not far from where chickens are roasting over an open fire. Here, Coccoloba waiters offer portions of meats and fish like smoked beef brisket, roasted marinated chicken, swordfish steaks and an array of side dishes like charred roasted vegetables, ranchero beans and Mexican rice.

The brisket, which is likely to be a regular menu item, is a particular highlight — full of seasoning and smoke flavour with just the right amount of crispiness on the outside, while melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside.

Dessert includes items like "pizza con chocolate."

"It's a Mexican-inspired dessert pizza, with puff pastry and a hazelnut-chocolate topping and dried raspberries," says De Francesca.

Other desserts include items like churros served with a salted dulce de leche dipping sauce and watermelon wedges that incorporate agave syrup, lime, chili and mint.

Beverages

In addition to beer buckets of Mexican beers — priced at six for $30 — a selection of Coccolobo cocktail favourites are supplemented with cocktails created for Barbacoa. One of them, the "Batanga Country" cocktail created by Kimpton Seafire Beverage Manager Jim Wrigley, is a delicious sipper that blends Ilegal joven mezcal with smoked salt and "smoka-cola." If ever there was a cocktail made to pair with smoked beef brisket, this is it.

Entertainment

After it gets dark and most diners are onto their dessert course, Paul Abel — better knowns as "Paul the Fireman" — and his partner, Shorlet Johnson perform an entertaining series of fire dances to music. Alternating in a way so that when one solo dance ends, another begins, Abel and Johnson use various wooden and whip-like props to create amazing spectacles for the eyes, eliciting many oohs and aahs from the guests.

In addition, live musicians — aided by voice recordings — play Latin beats and after the fire show, Coccoloba hostess Kristina Fonjga Milanovic heads to the makeshift dance floor near the Coccoloba's covered dining area and leads all willing children — and some adults, too — in a variety of Latin dances.

Because it happens on Saturday night, has seating starting at 6 p.m. and offers entertainment and many child-friendly food options, Barbacoa is a family-friendly event that is offered at the very family-friendly price of CI$38 per person, excluding beverages.

For reservations, which are required, call 746-4111.

--------

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

READ MORE

Bitters make cocktails better

Chances are, if you’ve been into a bar that serves mixed drinks over the last decade, you will have encountered a small army of brown glass or cut crystal bottles, often with cryptic labels like “Tiki," “Wormwood” or “Hermes.” These bottles are filled with bitters, and they are much more important to your drink than most people think.

READ MORE

Ave going 'Simply Greek' on Thursdays

Ave restaurant and bar is embarking on a culinary voyage throughout the Mediterranean from which Ave’s cuisine takes its influence. Every Thursday evening starting 5 November, a different region of the Mediterranean will be featured in the menu, with each theme running for a number of weeks.

We’ll be making our first stop at one of the most ancient of Mediterranean cultures, to immerse diners in the wonderful aromatic world of Greek cuisine.

Widely regarded as the birthplace of Western culture, civilisation, politics, philosophy, science and modern thought, Greece has a long and fascinating history. It is a massively varied country, with a lengthy coastline along four seas with hundreds of islands in archipelagos, and yet 80% of its land is mountainous. This is reflected in the culture, the people and of course the food and drink.

It’s a quintessentially Mediterranean diet, with fresh fish meals popular among vast arrays of traditional dishes like moussaka, souvlaki, gyros and dolmades; dips such as taramasalata, tzatziki and fava; and sweet treats like baklava, galatoboureko (a custard pastry) and loukoumades (doughnut balls covered in honey, cinnamon and walnuts).

Olives and olive oil are universal in the cuisine. You’ll see more goat and lamb than beef, due in part to the terrain not being conducive to raising cattle. There is a prevalence of herbs like oregano, mint, dill, bay laurel leaves, basil, thyme and fennel, and while these can be said to be common throughout the region, the level of spicing in Greek dishes is uniquely recognisable. Sweet spices are also favoured — and not just in sweet or dessert foods, but also on meats and in stews.

The drinks are regionally unique, too, although you’ll find parallels locally, such as the sweet, sticky and often deceptively boozy anise-flavoured Ouzo or sipping sibling Raki, which you can find throughout their Dalmatian coastal and Balkan neighbours.

Another staple is retsina — a 2000-year-old form of wine, made by adding pine resin to amphorae to avoid oxidation in ancient times.

For our "Simply Greek" evenings, which is what we're calling the first themed stop on our culinary voyage through the Mediterranean, we’ll serve some typically Ave bar-intricate mixed drinks to pair with the delectable dishes. We’ve made our own retsina into a wine cooler. Another drink takes inspiration from the Greek Pantheon of deities in "Triton," a local Poseidon gin-based Hellenic-blue concoction. We also worked with cucumber, dill and vodka, and incorporated the fresh acidity of Greek yoghurt into our "Tzatzini" cocktail.

Lastly, we mixed up the aptly monikered "Nektar," which takes the smooth vanilla toasted oak and ripe fruit flavours of Metaxa 7 star brandy and stirs them with a rich honey and sesame syrup, inspired by the traditional Greek pasteli bars, which we use as a garnish in this delectable sipper. ... Opa!

Jim Wrigley is the beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.

--------

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

 

READ MORE