Today the Cayman Cookout returned to form.
To attend my first event, Burgers in Paradise with Eric Ripert and Spike Mendelsohn, I had to get up at 7:45 a.m. On a Saturday. Anyone who knows me will understand that I do not get up early on Saturdays, but I did for this event. The reason is that the event was so deeply cool that I could not miss it.
First, we piled into buses and rode a short way to a dock, where we boarded large catamarans, roughly 72 of us to a ship. I rode up front, picking up a sunburned face along the way, out to Stingray City, a sandbar where stingrays have flocked for about thirty years because people come there and feed them squid. The boat's crew lowered a ladder in the middle of the bow of the ship, and down we walked, into the water. The waves were rougher than usual but still pleasant, and the deepest part of the water was only up to my neck. We stood and splashed around as stingrays swam all around us. The crew knew many of the rays on sight, with one woman having a particular favorite, Sophie, a roughly yard-wide female ray. With the woman's help, I held Sophie, an odd but cool and, to my surprise, touching experience. Staring into the ray's eyes, making sure to keep her eyes and gills under the water, gave me a sense of custodianship--of the sea, of the planet, of live--that sounds a bit grandiose and that I had not expected. I wish I had pictures to show you, but I had left my phone and camera back in the room so I wouldn't accidentally lose or kill them in the sea.
If you've read my first novel, One Jump Ahead, you may recall that one of its non-human characters was Bob the racing ray. I've always been partial to Bob, and after today I am more likely than ever to bring him back at some point in the Jon & Lobo series. Just sayin'; you heard it here first.
After a while in the water, we boarded the ship again, pulled up the ladder and the anchor, and sailed to Rum Point. On the shaded, beautiful beach there--if there's a beach in Grand Cayman that's not beautiful, I've yet to see it--chefs Spike Mendelsohn and Eric Ripert joined half a dozen others in serving us a wide variety of mini burgers. An equal number of bars provided any liquid refreshment you could want as two live bands played steel-drum music. At one point, Ripert and three of his cooks joined a bongo and guitar duo on the last two minutes of a long version of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." I sampled the lamb, beef, and all cheese burgers, ate a few bites of several desserts, and enjoyed a passion-fruit frozen drink.
It was wonderful. I cannot think of a person who would not have found the setting lovely and the food good; I truly wish I could have given this experience to every single friend I have. (No, that doesn't mean I'm buying you all tickets for next year's event; I'd need more jobs to be able to do that. Sorry.)
For those who know me well and would ask, yes, I was stupid and didn't wear sunscreen, and, yes, I burned my face.
At least I was wearing sunglasses, as you can tell.
I sat under an overhang on the ride home so I wouldn't burn more. I listened to the blend of the waves and rock music as I dozed off and on, my stomach full and my mind still processing everything.
Back at the hotel, I headed for Paul Bartolotta's "Fresh Catch" presentation on cooking whole fish Italian style. I was surprised by how passionate he was and came away wanting to try to cook a fish or two. I learned a lot and have a deeper respect for him and his cuisine than before.
After a short break, I caught a Cayman Cookout staple, the Eric and Tony show. This time, Ripert and Bourdain demonstrated how to cook omelets and scrambled eggs as they talked about some basic dishes they felt every American should learn to make correctly: those two egg dishes, a roasted chicken, a grilled steak, and pasta. To my embarrassment, because I should already have known better, I learned a lot of tips that I hope to put into use. Along the way, the two friends demonstrated the wit and passion and love of food and cooking that have helped make them famous.
After a couple of hours of work, I joined many others on the bus to the evening's entertainment: a book signing and dinner at your choice of three restaurants at Camana Bay. Based on some quick Googling, I had chosen Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, where the local staff worked with guest chef David Kinch, of Manresa, to create a four-course dinner. The food was good but not great, which was in keeping with my experience at last year's similar dinner. Of course, with all the great chefs at Cayman Cookout and with a dinner at Blue in my recent memory, I'm holding this dinner to a high standard.
Tomorrow, I get to sleep late, because the first event is the big lunch at noon. I am quite pleased about that.