Saturday, January 14, 2012

On the road again: Cayman Cookout,
Grand Cayman, day 4

Morning came entirely too early for me, as it is wont to do, because I have to work before I can leave for the ten o'clock first session. No whining, though; I'm on Grand Cayman at one of the world's premiere foodie events.

That first presentation was an hour of interesting fun: "Good vs. Evil: Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert." A single chair stood in the middle of the small stage. Bourdain made Ripert sit in it, and then proceeded to circle Ripert and pummel him with questions. The questions were fun but also had an edge, as in when Bourdain made Ripert admit that Ripert has been on the Martha Stewart show two dozen times. After about twenty minutes, they swapped roles, and Ripert interrogated Bourdain. They're clearly great friends, so nothing turned mean, and both men--and the audience--laughed a great deal. They then took questions from the audience until we were well past time and had to head off to Blue for lunch.

Before we ate the three-course meal on the patio in the perfect Caymanian day, Chef de Cuisine Luis Lujan, the man who really runs that kitchen, showed us how to prepare two of the dishes we then tasted as starters. Lujan has worked at Blue for some time, and previously he ran the fish station at El Bulli, so his knowledge was both what one would expect from someone of his background and quite impressive. The lunch itself was delicious and, true to the spirit of both Ripert's signature Le Bernardin and Blue, kept the fish front and center as the star. I would have an entirely different attitude toward seafood and would eat it daily if it were all this good.

Everything here runs on island time, so we were late heading to the next presentation, one on sustainable farming, fishing, and cooking. I learned a lot and came away more determined than ever to support local farmers practicing sustainable farming.

After an hour in a hot pavilion, I was glad for the break before the next session, because I was able to dangle my feet in the gorgeous pool to cool off.

Yeah, I know: tough duty here.

I positively loved the next presentation, in which Top Chef winner Richard Blais used a whole lot of liquid nitrogen to create some fun and very tasty dishes. He is a lively and entertaining character, and everyone laughed and learned for an hour.

From there we headed straight over to another beach pavilion to watch Eric Ripert create tartare, ceviche, and carpaccio from three different types of fish. The last, the carpaccio, was the tuna and foie dish I mentioned we had eaten at Blue a few nights ago, and we were lucky enough to sample it again after Ripert finished.

I then crammed a bunch of work into the time before the evening's festivities started. We rode buses to Camana bay, ate tasty snacks and drank on a lovely open square, and then headed to different restaurants for dinner. Ortanique was our destination, and I confess to having picked it with almost no research. I paid for that laziness with the weakest meal of the trip, one that was good but that suffered by comparison to all the great food of this trip.

As I said, tough duty.

After dinner, we wandered back to the square where a local chef whose name I did not get, the legendary Francois Payard, and Top Chef: Just Desserts winner Chris Hanmer were all serving multiple types of desserts. Hanmer had the fewest on offer--only three--so I tried them all. (Hey, these were small!) Payard amazed with a hot and cold pina colada (barely a drop of alcohol in it, so I tried it), a single shot that burst in your mouth with contrasting hot and cold temperatures and complementary flavors. The real stars, though, were his white truffle macaroon, which was a delicious fusion of truffle and white chocolate flavors, and its even more intense sibling, the dark truffle macaroon. Wow, were they good.

As we all boarded the buses back to the hotel, we all universally complained of how much we'd overeaten.

Yup, tough duty indeed.

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