Friday, January 18, 2013

On the road again: Cayman Cookout, day 2

Today was the best of Cayman Cookout and the worst of Cayman Cookout.

The opening session featured Jose Andres and his team in a beach-side lesson on cooking paella.  Last year, he entered from the ocean in full scuba gear.  This year, he came roaring out of the sea in a jet pack.  Yes, a jet pack.  It was awesome.  Bourdain and Ripert joined a lot of attendees on the sand to get iPhone videos of Andres' entrance.  Once on land, Andres changed clothes as he talked, and for the next hour and ten minutes he was the whirlwind of activity he always is, entertaining and educational and funny and always watching the food.  He prepared a hard-liquor cocktail to start, and servers passed them among the crowd--at 10:15 a.m.  Wine followed, and then the paella, which was delicious.  Even though I'd seen last year's version of this show, I was never bored, and I learned several useful tips.

Next, many of us headed to lunch at Blue by Eric Ripert, where Chef Daniel Humm, of Eleven Madison Park, joined with the Blue team to show us the best way to cook a lobster and then to serve us a lovely, delicious, four-course lunch.  Here's the final lobster dish.

As always, click on an image to view a larger version.

Yes, those are black truffle slices.  Damn, that was tasty. 

So, the first part of the day ended in grand style, Cayman Cookout at its best.

The next session for me was The Art of the Pie with Spike Mendelsohn.  Mendelsohn is a young chef who's been on a few Food Network shows, is talented, personable, and into classic American dishes.  The pie in the session's title is pizza, and he is known for making great pizza.  He showed us how to make a mushroom pizza that, when we tasted it--yes, I had two very small slices--was easily the best mushroom pizza I've ever had.  The one problem was that his session ran only 40 minutes, well short of its scheduled hour.  I would have preferred he fill the hour with information.

Next up was Daniel Humm's "beach picnic."  He explained how to prepare a strawberry gazpacho that was brilliant and that I very much want to make--but he finished in 18 minutes.  I was very glad I hadn't paid the full fee for just that session.

Two chefs new to the event, two short sessions, two groups of quietly disgruntled foodies:  Cayman Cookout at its worst.

The evening was a mixture of the two.  On the one hand, we had Anthony Bourdain

making Texas-style brisket on white bread with beans and macaroni and cheese, Eric Ripert

preparing swordfish, and Jose Andres

making Catalan bread with buttered uni and cheese.  So, the big three were working hard--and working the crowds.

On the other hand, the other chef guests were either eating off on their own, away from the crowd, or nowhere in sight; last year, they'd also cooked.  Many folks had come for the chance to interact with and watch the chefs as they worked, and that was possible only with the big three.

To be fair, five or six other stations had lesser-known chefs preparing tasty small dishes, and there was a dessert assembly that looked good.  Sadly, the dessert quality was well below that of the savory dishes, a waste of calories.

The weather also presented challenges today, with big waves in the morning turning into bigger waves in the afternoon, so big they occasionally came all the way into the tents and soaked the feet of the attendees (I loved that, actually, but many did not).  The evening brought rain, but only for a bit; most of the barbecue was rain-free.  

On balance, I enjoyed the day quite a bit, but it could have been better with just a few changes. 

For what it's worth, I have to note that I'm talking here about how to make something great into something insanely great; it's still an amazing event. 

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