Saturday, January 19, 2013

On the road again: Cayman Cookout, day 3

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. 

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. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On the road again: Cayman Cookout, day 1

It really was, as many folks on islands say, another day in paradise here. The view out my window as I headed down to the beach to eat lunch while lounging on the sand by the ocean:

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

See those little chairs right by the water, the ones with the fold-up shades? I ate on one of those.

Meanwhile, snow warnings have popped up all day for Raleigh, which is, as anyone who's lived there knows, never really prepared to handle snow.

So, earlier tonight, after only a few minutes of snow, this was the view from my kitchen to my back deck.

Meanwhile, this was the view from my seat at dinner, where I ate under the stars with the ocean in view.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate.  I could also see this view of the bar on the water.

I'm sorry for everyone back home in Raleigh. 

Yeah, I could get used to this--if I could just find a way to be way, way wealthier than I am.

Ah, well.  All this typing has tuckered me out.  Time to go sit on my patio, drink Coke Zero, listen to the ocean, and think deep thoughts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On the road again: Cayman Cookout, day 0

I'm back in Grand Cayman in January for one of the greatest foodie events, the Cayman Cookout.  Check out all that's happening this weekend, and if you're at all a foodie, you'll wish you were here.

I don't want to kid you:  this trip is not rough duty.  I'm jealous of me, and I'm here.  Leaving a cold rainy Raleigh--a town that is facing a winter storm warning--after two and a half hours of sleep for the nearly eighty degrees of this beautiful island is a treat indeed.  It's not all party time; waking up was brutal, and I spent more of today working than doing anything else.  Still, it's almost impossible to complain when you're working under the slowly spinning ceiling fan and staring over your laptop at this view out the hotel room windows. 

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

Today is, according to weather forecasts here, the worst day of the event:  cloudy and only high seventies. 

I can live with that.

The same view near sunset was equally but differently wonderful.

I could definitely get used to this.  

Dinner tonight was at Blue by Eric Ripert, a restaurant here at the hotel that reflects the passion for and genius with seafood that Ripert possesses and showcases in his New York flagship, Le Bernardin.  I, of course, went for the larger of the two tasting menu options, and it was marvelous.  The star of the group was tuna - foie gras, which is a paper-thin layer of tuna over a thin slice of foie gras, the whole thing delicately spiced with olive oil, chive bits, and no doubt several other tasty ingredients. 

I could eat a giant cookie tray of this light but intense dish that manages to trigger many different umami flavors. 

The other eight courses in the meal, all of which except the desserts involved seafood, were delicious and lovely. 

Tomorrow, a few Cayman Cookout events start, and then from Friday morning through late Sunday night, I will be pleasantly slammed indeed. 

As I said, I'm jealous of me, and I'm here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Two bands on heavy rotation right now

Folks sometimes ask what I'm listening to, so every now and then I post a couple of new music referrals.

This song, for instance, from Imagine Dragons.

And this one, from local band Delta Rae.


Monday, January 14, 2013

How the Liars' Panel works

I've written in many past SF convention reports about the Liars' Panel that I frequently run.  This panel is both a humor event and a charity fundraiser.  A lot of folks have asked how it works, so I thought I'd explain that here.

The panel works best with three panelists, all of whom need to know how to tell a funny story quickly, ideally in a minute.  The panel can work with four people, but they have to be good at answering quickly. The panel also requires the help of one or more people who pick up money.

I open the panel by explaining the rules:

  • I’ll ask ten questions (time permitting).
  • The panelists have seen the questions in advance.
  • Each panelist will answer each question.  
  • Three of each panelist’s answers will be lies--though if we don't get to all ten questions, you may not hear three lies from each of us.  I have no way to know if you will.
  • No one else knows which answers are lies; even I don’t.  We have not shared our answers with each other.
  • After an answer, I’ll ask if there are any challenges.
  • Each person who wants to challenge may do so by holding up a hand with one dollar in it.  Panelists may challenge each other.
  • If the answer was a lie, the panelist puts $10 in one of the collection buckets.
  • If the answer was the truth, each person who challenged it must put $1 in the bucket.  
  • All proceeds go to a charity of the convention's choice.
Thus, this panel actually costs each of the panelists money, at least thirty bucks (ten dollars a line), and usually more (to challenge fellow panelists).

Once I finish the rules, I ask which person will volunteer to go first, take that role if no one does, ask the first question, and then we're off.

Here are the questions I asked at the Illogicon II Liars' Panel this past weekend:
  1. What’s the most outrageous place you’ve ever had sex?
  2. What secret talent do you possess that few would suspect?
  3. What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever been caught doing in public?
  4. What’s your weirdest possession?
  5. What is the most frustrating experience you’ve ever had on a date?  
  6. What is the most disturbing thing that ever happened to you while you were having sex?
  7. What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done to try to get a person of your sexual persuasion to notice you?
  8. Who is your most embarrassing celebrity crush?
  9. What guilty pleasure would others not expect you to have?
  10. What's the weirdest rash, bruise, or injury you've ever had?  
Sorry, but no, you don't get to hear the answers.  

For that, you have to come to a convention where I'm doing the panel.

To learn which of my answers are true and which are lies, you must, of course pay.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Illogicon, day 3

My 10:00 a.m. wake-up time (for an 11:00 a.m. panel) came way too quickly after a 6:15 a.m. bedtime.  Did I mention that I hate doing panels before noon?

The topic for the panel was very broad:  ebooks.  In the course of an hour, our group touched on all the major sub-topics, though, and the audience seemed happy, so it went well.

I stayed in the room for the next panel, one I'd found particularly interesting:  The Books That Changed Our Lives.  We panelists took turns discussing various books, the audience threw in a few questions, and it went well.  Here, courtesy of Gina, is a photo of our group just before the panel started.

As always, click on a photo for a larger version.

A group of us then dashed out for lunch at what looked like a promising Cuban place, The Havana Grill.  I'm sorry to have to report that the food was decidedly meh, just good enough that I ate most of it, but just bad enough that nothing was as good as I'd hoped.

I rested for a bit afterward and caught up on some work until it was time to head back for the 6:00 p.m. Closing Ceremonies, which were short and pleasant.  Final attendance was 350 people, so the con grew throughout the weekend. 

Before the Closing Ceremonies presentation was to start, Tim Powers commented that it was a shame that a nearby light saber wasn't more rugged.  The owner claimed it was and proved that assertion by banging it against the floor.  Tim said it was a shame they didn't have two, so they could fence.  I then learned that the other guy, whose name I did not catch, had learned to sword-fight SCA-style, and that Tim had fenced in college and continued fencing classes for 16 years afterward.

As soon as the panel ended, the other fellow dashed out of the room and returned a moment later with a second light saber.

Which is how we came to this picture, as Tim is deciding whether to have a short fencing match while wearing his leather jacket.

After a few experimental thrusts, Tim decided that the jacket was restricting his movement, so he took it off.

A short match to three points ensued.

Tim lost the first point by dropping his light saber.  He won the next two by striking the other guy's saber hand.  Here he is in mid attack.

So, the con closed on a bang, all in attendance had fun watching, and Tim showed that he still had a little of that old fencing magic.

More cons should end with fencing matches.


Blog Archive