Saturday, January 18, 2014

On the road again: Grand Cayman, Cayman Cookout, day 3

Today was supposed to begin early, with a catamaran ride to Stingray Island, some time in the water feeding and playing with the stingrays, and then a trip to Rum Point for Burgers in Paradise.  At the time the organizers had to make the final call on this trip, however, the weather was too dicey and the water too rough for the boats, so they moved the event to the hotel's beach.

The water was indeed rougher than usual, but not rough enough that we all wouldn't have been fine on it.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

By this point, though, they'd set up the huge tent on the hotel's beach, so we had to do the event here.  Poor us.

Seriously, it's impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you're walking on the beach here, the weather gorgeous, the ocean amazing, and fine chefs are serving you burgers of all sorts.  Just the beach alone makes self-pity impossible.

As you can probably tell from this picture, the folks at the event were indeed managing to have a good time.

The afternoon offered only two sessions.  My first was a presentation by "Mr. Chocolate," Jacques Torres, on techniques for making chocolate cups and chocolate mousse, as well as how to cook salmon with chocolate.  Joking and talking constantly as he expertly handled the chocolate in the windy, warm weather, Torres was an engaging speaker whom I'd watch again.

Next up was a Cayman Cookout standard, an hour-plus talk by Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain.  They told stories, showed video clips of a recent show they'd done together, and answered questions.  Both thoughtful and funny, with very different personalities and yet a common love of great food, the two friends are wonderful to watch in action.

The sky as the sun was setting suggested a storm might be coming in, but it was still lovely.  

The evening brought a cocktail time at Camana Bay,

and a presentation on how to cook lionfish, a fish that is invading the Caribbean and the Atlantic and killing off vast quantities of indigenous fish. 

For tonight's dinner, attendees had to sign up for one of four local restaurants, at each of which one of the guest chefs was working with the house chef and staff to prepare a multi-course meal.  I chose Mizu, because its guest chef was Daniel Boulud, a famous chef whose food I have never tried and whose session I could not catch this trip.  I've learned from my last two times here that you cannot judge a chef's food by the one meal he or she prepares in the kitchen of another restaurant, but this was at least a chance to taste some of Boulud's food.

The meal was good, but the dessert, which he called a Coupe Calamansi, was simply outstanding:  light and fruity and incredibly bright, yet also quite satisfying.  Imagine a sort of parfait in a wide glass, with many different types of fruit, a yuzu gelee, a few crunchy bits, some cream, and bits of some sort of cake, and you'll have the general picture.

I look forward one day to eating in his signature New York restaurant, Daniel.

Cool breezes stir my room's drapes, and the ocean soothes me with the sound of its waves.  It is lovely here.  Were I wealthier than I will ever be, I'd happily come here for a couple of winter months and write and swim and stare at the ocean.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

On the road again: Grand Cayman, Cayman Cookout, day 2

The weather today sucked, with strong winds and occasional rainfall all day long.  Despite that fact, the place remained beautiful.  The ocean in the morning was grand.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

It was similarly stunning, though slightly darker, later in the afternoon. 

To kick off the first session I attended, Jose Andres' presentation, Andres, Eric Ripert, and Anthony Bourdain each wore huge sombreros and rode horseback down the beach as music from The Three Amigos played.  Only Bourdain looked at all comfortable in the saddle.  As always with Andres, his entrance was a hoot. 

Andres doesn't give lectures; he runs about like a madman, talking and exhorting the crowd to try to reach his own energy level.  As he talked, his team prepared a gazpacho and huge pans of fideos, which is basically a paella with pasta. 

Yeah, he sweats--and he often spills things on himself, as he did today.  His joy, energy, and enthusiasm are contagious, and this session, like the others of his that I've attended, was big fun.

Next up, after a short break, was lunch at Blue by Eric Ripert.  Here, Ripert is introducing the chefs who then demonstrated how to make Ripert's signature tuna with foie gras dish. 

I next took in the session from Martin Picard of Au Pied du Cochon.  Picard, billed here as "The Wild Chef," is famous for cooking vast quantities of foie gras.  Today, he taught both how to cook foie on its own and how to make his restaurant's most famous dish, foie gras poutine.  As he was teaching, his son and daughter served us samples of the incredibly fatty and delicious dish.

As Picard said, "The idea behind this dish is simple:  fat plus fat plus fat plus fat equals very good."

In today's final session, celebrity chef Rick Bayless taught us a lot of tricks for making Mexican-inspired ceviches. 

His food was a lovely light counterpart to Picard's dish.  I haven't followed Bayless, but after today, his restaurants are now on my must-eat-at list. 

The evening dinner activity didn't start for a couple of hours, so I caught up on work before taking the bus a short ride down the beach to the Barefoot BBQ.  At multiple stations scattered around a private beach, chefs in tents prepared small plates of various types of barbecue.  The very best was Jose Andres' Iberico pork slider. 

Anthony Bourdain handed out plates of spicy skewered meat but did not seem to be involved in the cooking; he now does not appear to cook at this event. 

Eric Ripert's team's contribution was a lovely and delicate grilled tuna with a ginger soy vinaigrette.

Two local singers entertained the large crowd as we all milled around sampling the dishes and talking. 

Did I mention the room with a twelve-foot buffet of high-end cheeses?  The open bars?  The three dessert stations?

The all-you-can-eat buffet of Jacques Torres chocolates?

Yeah, it was a lovely array of food in a gorgeous setting on a warm but windy island night.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On the road again: Grand Cayman, Cayman Cookout, day 1

The mid-afternoon view from my room's balcony:

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Yeah, this place is that pretty, prettier, in fact, in person.  Amazing.  I love it.

Dinner was, oddly enough, at a wine auction, but the auction was really just a backdrop for a bunch of chefs from different Ritz-Carlton hotels to feed the attendees delicious small treats from multiple stations.  The standout dishes were beef with truffles and shrimp with tangy black beans. 

Tomorrow, the sessions start!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On the road again: Grand Cayman, Cayman Cookout, day 0

After 80 quality minutes in my bed, I climbed out, showered, and headed to the airport for a six-something flight.  The two airplane trips passed in a daze of dozing and reading and working, and then I walked out into a gray, rainy day in Grand Cayman.

Fortunately, this place is beautiful even when in rain, because the ocean can't help but be lovely.

I ate a light lunch staring at the ocean, worked a while and napped a little, and then it was time for dinner.  Celebrity chef Eric Ripert operates a restaurant, Blue by Eric Ripert, here at the Ritz Grand Cayman, the host hotel for the Cayman Cookout.  With a focus on fresh and light seafood, Blue continues the tradition of excellence of Ripert's signature restaurant, New York City's Le Bernardin.  From the paper-thin tuna over an equally thin layer of foie,

Click on an image to see a larger version.

to the wonderfully delicious warm lobster,

and on and on, each dish in the tasting menu was a delight.

I spent the rest of the evening doing a variety of work, and now I look forward to sleeping a long time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Does it make me a bad person

that I can completely relate to UFC heavyweight fighter Josh "the Warmaster" Barnett's plan for returning to dominance?

  1. Remove outside distractions
  2. Move training camp away from home
  3. Pre-camp harder!
  4. Increase flexibility
  5. Work more on weaknesses
  6. Spend more time on recovery
  7. Work on learning a new language
  8. Kill
  9. Kill
  10. Kill
  11. Kill
  12. Kill
It's a rare twelve-step plan that I find reasonable, but this one does seem to cover all the important bases for a fighter--and even includes a bit of mental work in item 7.

What's not to like?

You can find more on Barnett and the background behind his plan in this article.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A bit of pop fluff

Because sometimes The Hollies at their pop peak is just the right thing.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Spike Jonze finally put it all together in Her, a lovely, touching movie that also manages to be speculative SF at its core.  The film fuses a relentlessly stylized look, a melancholy score, and perfect performances into his best work by far to date.  Slow, but not dull, the movie takes us into the head and heart of one Theodore Twombly, a man whose job is to write heartfelt letters for others. 

Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Twombly.  His performance joins that of Christian Bale in American Hustle and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street on my personal Best-Actor list for the Oscars.  Amy Adams again surprised me with a wonderful supporting role, and Olivia Wilde made a potentially dull turn memorable with the best performance I've ever seen by her.  Rooney Mara's acting was also spot on, though I've come to expect that from her.

The greatest surprise, though, was the wonderful work of Scarlett Johannson.  Don't get me wrong:  I'm a huge fan of hers.  She is gorgeous and always fun to watch.  Up to now, though, her acting has largely been so-so, with her role in Don Jon a notable exception.  In Her, though, and with only her voice--she is the software lead character, Samantha--she delivers her best performance ever.

On the off chance you don't already know the plot or ending, I don't want to ruin it for you, but I will say that Jonze stays true not only to his emotional subject matter, but also to the core SF idea, with an ending that is completely logical and yet powerful. 

I highly recommend Her.  Check it out.


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