Saturday, January 16, 2016

Food and celebrity

The Cayman Cookout exists because it carefully harnesses three different forces:  the drawing power of a beautiful Caribbean island during the heart of winter, the ever-larger group of people who follow celebrity chefs, and the even bigger group of people who to some degree consider themselves foodies.  Today's events contained examples of all of these.

The biggest traditional Saturday gathering at Cayman Cookout is the beach bash, an event that for most attendees includes a boat trip to Stingray Bay and then a visit to a distant (for this area) part of the island for various grilled foods from chef-staffed stalls on a gorgeous beach.  I've attended this session in each of my previous four years here, but this time I opted for variety--drawn by the power of a chef whose food I've long enjoyed.

My choice for lunch was "Blending Cultures and Flavors with Chef Hubert Keller," a wonderful meal that took place in Blue by Eric Ripert.  Hubert Keller, no relation to the even more famous celebrity chef Thomas Keller, runs multiple restaurants, including Fleur de Lys, the Las Vegas version of which was where I enjoyed some of my first serious forays into haute cuisine.

The menu for lunch was classic Hubert Keller, a blend of local ingredients and traditional high-end French dishes.

Click the image to see a larger version.

All of the dishes were absolutely delicious, but the last two stood out for completely different reasons.  The beef cheek with foie gras was an absolutely perfect version of a stunningly rich classic.

Every single bite of this plate was an exercise in luxury and decadence.

The dessert, by contrast, tasted light in every bite--and yet was amazingly delicious.

The cilantro granite and crystallized cilantro chips were revelations, two uses of the ingredient I've never seen before--and incredibly tasty in their own right.

Next up for me was "Sweet Secrets" with famous dessert chef Florian Bellanger.

Bellanger demonstrated how to make macarons and served us a couple of them, along with a raspberry sorbet.  He provided recipes and a great many useful tips, with almost all of his focus totally on the food.  Everything of his that I've tasted has been delightful, and these macarons were no exceptions.

My last session before the evening's dinner event was "The Adventures of Eric and Tony," a gathering that was almost entirely about celebrity and one that has been a Cayman Cookout staple for at least as long as I've been coming here.  Basically, chef and Cayman Cookout host Eric Ripert stands with his even more famous friend, chef, author, and TV personality, Anthony Bourdain, and the two of them tell stories and poke fun at each other.

While doing this, they also typically make some dish; today's was a delightful bouillabaisse.  The two genuinely care for each other but also have some areas of serious disagreement, so their banter is always interesting and enjoyable.

The Cayman Cookout folks have tried a lot of different approaches to Saturday night's dinner, and tonight's was another new one:  "Meat and Greet by Niman Ranch," which took place in the hotel's "culinary studio," basically a teaching kitchen and function space.  As you'd expect from the sponsor, the emphasis was on meat.

The main steak course was the star of this particular meal, with incredibly tender and delicious meat.

The final event of the day was a party featuring Hubert Keller as DJ.  I listened for a few songs and enjoyed a couple of them, but ultimately it wasn't my scene; no surprise there.

Overall, another good Cayman Cookout day with a great many wonderful flavors.

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