Sunday, January 15, 2012

On the road again: Cayman Cookout,
Grand Cayman, day 5

Today began late, for which I was grateful, with a noon brunch and amateur chef cooking competition. The food tables filled a long hall and an equally long patio outside the massive ballroom, and every single dish I tasted was delicious.

The cooking competition was less successful than the food but still fun. The chef judges--Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, and Anthony Bourdain--were dramatically more kind than they would have been with professional chefs, which was appropriate and good to see. The commentator, Top Chef winner Richard Blais, was personable, funny, and also kind.

The two teams did their best, but after having watched shows with professional chefs competing, the gap between these amateurs and the pros was all too apparent. From knife skills to ingredient handling to plating, the chefs simply were not up to professional standards. Nor would I be, of course. I am not trying to mock them; rather, it is just remarkable how much difference there is between even a low-level professional chef and an amateur cook.

Their dishes looked generally tasty, and the judges deliberated quite a bit before tallying the scores. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and the audience enjoyed the show.

Next up was a small artisan market set up around the lesser of the two hotel pools. The books on offer were the most tempting items, but paying marked-up prices and then hauling books home simply isn't a good plan.

I passed the next few hours in a mix of work, writing, wading in the already cool sea waters, and sitting on a chair on the beach. I could happily spend multiple more weeks here, though my bank account would not be so happy.

Evening brought the grand finale, the Cayman Cookout Gala Dinner. The meal began with cocktails on the patio outside Blue, but the high winds quickly drove everyone inside. Once we were all seated, seven of the chefs--Ripert, Andrés, Blais, Bloomfield, Gras, Payard, and Rogalski--created a lovely seven-course meal for us. Here's the menu.

(Click on the image for a much larger version that will be easier to read.)

The folks at our table were entertaining, the TVs showing the action in the kitchen were fun to watch, and the food was...good--very good even, but not truly excellent. I don't regret at all being there, but I suspect that any tasting menu at any of the chefs' individual restaurants would be better.

The high points of the kitchen broadcast were the moments when Andres was shoving signs in front of the camera and generally being a goof. He worked the crowd with notes commanding us to cheer, and he summoned Bourdain to the kitchen. Later, he asked for single women to also come to the kitchen, and later still, he told us that two had in fact taken him up on his invitation. On and on he want, a bundle of humorous energy.

Now, to late-night work, and then to sleep. Tomorrow afternoon, I travel home.

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