Friday, January 13, 2012

On the road again: Cayman Cookout,
Grand Cayman, day 3

This morning, the event began in earnest. Multiple tracks run simultaneously, so I can tell you only about those that I attended.

After an early wake-up and catching up on work, we headed out to a temporary pavilion (a large white tent) on the beach to watch Jose Andres. A few minutes after the scheduled start time, he came walking out of the water in full scuba gear. One of his young daughters had received her scuba certification yesterday and so they'd been on a morning dive. As he talked, he ditched his gear and changed his shirt. Then, he told us all to come out with him and stand on the beach.

So we did.

While we clustered on three sides of a rectangle around him, with the tent the final side, he directed a team of chefs from his restaurants and quite a few volunteers in the preparation of a sort of sangria and two dishes. I skipped the alcoholic drink, both because I don't drink and I am allergic to mint.

The first dish to finish was a simple grilled fresh oyster. Put the closed oyster on a grill over wood--everything was over wood--and wait for the shell to open. When it does, add butter, pepper, and salt, then grill a bit longer. I'm not an oyster fan, but wow, were these delicious!

The other dish was a variety of paella that uses pasta. It took most of the hour to prepare and contained fish sauce, pasta, pork ribs, lobster, salt, and some spices. It was also completely delicious.

The ads for this event note that Andres is the guy you'd most like to have a beer with. It's true. He is a whirlwind of energy, enthusiasm, and emotion, a man who could not talk if you bound his arms; his hands are as much a part of the way he speaks as his voice. I know it's part of his shtick--we saw moments of fierce focus and energy as he directed his team in whispers--but it also seems to be part of who he is.

This was the best session of the day, and it made me want to eat in every restaurant Andres owns.

By the time it ended, though, we were overheated from standing in the sun and had only a little of the planned thirty-minute break left to us before the next session. After cooling as much as possible poolside, we headed into the hotel's 7 Restaurant for a lunch Anthony Bourdain was hosting. In his opening remarks, he said the goal was to recreate the sort of French restaurant that still operated in spots in New York and had never changed, the old-school French places where beef was king and green beans came with the meat. The food was pretty good, though not exceptional, but the event failed to deliver on its promise of stories from Bourdain. He hung with the staff and ate a bit outside with other chefs, but otherwise was largely absent.

The kitchen fell a bit behind, so we left immediately after dessert and still were seven minutes late to the next demonstration, a session on desserts from Chris Hanmer, the recent winner of the Top Chef: Just Desserts TV show's second season. Hanmer was both incredibly likable and also extremely knowledgable. He made the dessert that was one of the dishes with which he won the final contest of that show and that also helped him to become the youngest American ever to win a World Pastry Team championship. The dish included both banana and passionfruit caramels and looked yummy. It proved to be just that, because they distributed pre-plated dishes to all the attendees.

After a brief break and more time dangling feet in the pool to cool off, we headed back to the beach pavilion to watch a "Chocolate Epiphany" session by the world-famous pastry chef, Francois Payard. Despite the heat in the tent, which he swore was a hundred degrees (but probably was not), he managed to create some beautiful chocolate cookies, tart, and cake. Again, we had the chance to sample small bits of pre-made versions, and, wow, were they good.

I particularly liked his answer to a question about why he used grams instead of ounces: "Precision. When I bake, I am a robot, doing exactly the right thing exactly the right way. Ounces are not precise enough."

After this session, I spent all the time before dinner sitting in the dark, cool (as cool as I could make it) room, catching up on work and cooling off.

Dinner required a ride in a bus down the island to Tiki Beach, where at about a dozen different stations chefs, including Bourdain (pork), Ripert (beef), and Andres (pork with jamon on top), were preparing food for all of us. A live band playing island music, tiki torches, great food, and perfect island weather made it a lovely, delicious experience. I could never turn off the voice in my head that constantly reminds me that I don't really belong here, but that voice says the same thing in almost every group gathering I attend, so I'm used to it.

Tomorrow is an even more crowded day that starts as early as today but runs later, with no real break in the middle.

I had at one level hoped that the Cayman Cookout would suck, so I would never want to come back, but it most assuredly does not.

No comments:


Blog Archive