Saturday, January 17, 2015

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

Today was a very busy day indeed.  It began entirely too early for my taste, but in the service of a good cause:  a boat trip to Stingray City to play in the ocean with the stingrays.  The weather and the water could not have been better as a large group of us sailed on a catamaran.   

Click an image to see a larger version.

The boat captain used the engines part of the time and the sails for much of the trip.

The water was a bit brisk and perfectly clear.  I held a stingray, which was soft and silky on the underside.  

From there we sailed to the Beach Bash, where eight or so savory stations offered everything from pork belly sliders to lobster rolls.  Two dessert stations provided half a dozen sweets.  The whole time, a live band played instrumental variations of a strange assortment of songs that included "Folsom Prison" and "Freefalling." 

To my pleasant surprise, the band was quite good, and I enjoyed their music. 

After a boat ride back to the hotel and a quick shower, I caught the presentation by Norman Love on Artistry in Chocolate. 

I came away impressed with Love's dedication, artistry, and skill.

The final official session of the day was one at which I forgot to take pictures, The Adventures of Eric & Tony.  Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain chatted as Bourdain cooked a Portuguese octopus and assorted seafood stew (quite delicious), and they were, as always, fun and entertaining.  I was once again impressed by how very smart Bourdain is, though I never believe him when he says he has no agenda; his agenda is just a very subtle one. 

Cayman Cookout attendees were basically on their own for dinner tonight, though the event organizers helped set up meals at several local restaurants.  I opted for Upstairs at Kaibo, which required a boat taxi to reach in any reasonable time.  The water in the fading light was a shimmering, lovely gray. 

The setting sun over the water was once again lovely.

The five-course tasting menu at Upstairs at Kaibo was good, but predictably it suffered in comparison to the offerings of the many great chefs at the Cookout.

Tomorrow, the Cayman Cookout 2015 wraps up with three very different but fun events.

Friday, January 16, 2015

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

The Cayman Cookout events began in earnest today.

As always, the signature first event, and the one I attended, was Ole Jose with Jose Andres.  Each year, Andres makes an unusual--and sometimes spectacular--entrance.  This time, he followed a group of dancers and drummers.  In this shot, he is standing with the dancers and co-hosts Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Andres' presentation is basically the same each year:  He talks while his staff prepares some variation of fideua, a pasta-based dish that is otherwise basically paella.  This time around the fideua featured lobster and octopus.  The chefs cook it in huge pans over wood fires.  In this shot, the dish is nearly ready to come off the fire.

As Andres repeatedly (and correctly) reminded us, the star of this dish is the pasta, which soaks up the lovely juices of the seafood and the sauces with which the chefs began its preparation.  Each attendee received a small plate to sample--they served the fideua with aioli--and it was absolutely delicious. 

After a half hour break, the standard intermission between sessions, next up for me was a lunch at Blue featuring the food of hot young British chef Adam Handling.  Earnest and passionate, he came across as a talent to watch.  After eating four courses of his food, I resolved two things: 
  1. I will absolutely seek out Handling's food whenever the opportunity presents itself.
  2. I must prepare for huge portions. 
The menu promised four courses, already a lot for lunch at a cooking event.

As Handling warned us, however, four was not really the number of courses; it was more like seven.

We began with two "nibbles:"  a beet dish, and a donut stuffed with crab and dabbed with apricot jelly.

I do not generally care for the noble beet, but I loved this beet-filled tube.  The donut was a rich and savory treat with a hint of sweetness.

We also received bread and two spreads:  chicken butter and chicken liver mousse.

Forget how they sound or what you think you know about chicken liver; these were amazing.

The meal then began in earnest with a riff on the traditional English pub fare of fish and peas, this time with salmon and many variations on peas.

At a foodie event featuring some of the world's greatest chefs, it's no surprise that I will end up duplicating superlatives, so let me just say that this was some of the better salmon I've ever tasted, and the many takes on peas were fresh and delicious.

We moved then to the chicken and lobster course.

Note the two large chunks of lobster sitting in a rich sauce atop a layered chicken concoction.  This course was easily twice the size it would be in a high-end American restaurant, but that was not enough for Handling.  No, we also each received a small sandwich of crispy chicken skin.

If you think you don't like chicken skin, you need to try Handling's take.  Wow, was it great!

We finally hit the main course, which he called Piglet and Octopus.

The pork contribution was, of course, a massive chunk of pork belly.  Octopus appeared in two variations, and the raviolis were made of apples.  Delicious, all of it, and amazing.

At this point, everyone in Blue was crying surrender, but Handling was having none of it.  Dessert arrived.

A crispy chocolate shell covered a mixture of cake and mousse.  Rich, intense, and delicious, it was simply too large to consume after all the other food--and yet almost all of us managed to do just that.

Lunch ran late, so many of us had to scurry immediately to the next session, which in my case was Essential Acqua with Sven Elverfeld.  A German chef whose cuisine I did not know, Elverfeld proved to be a wonderful cook but a bit of a bashful, no-nonsense presenter.

(He's on the right in this shot, standing alone.)  He said that he knew himself and that his place was in the kitchen, not on television.  He nonetheless was an entertaining and informative teacher.  His dish

which looks like breakfast food, is actually called "Rice, different ways."  Four kinds of rice go into the sauce and the bit under the white sauce/foam blend.  What appears to be an egg yolk is actually an intense cheese that they turned into something with the consistency and behavior of a yolk.  The bit of "toast" to the side was a sort of chewy cracker formed entirely of intense cheese and black truffle.  The entire dish was amazing and delicious.

I filled my final time slot of the day with Daniel Boulud's DBGB on the Beach.  Boulud is back for a second year at Cayman Cookout, and the legendary French chef seems determined to become the fourth amigo (Ripert, Bourdain, and Andres being the original three). 

Boulud and his team demonstrated two dishes:  a tuna crudo, and a Thai sausage.  I managed to capture only a shot of the tuna.

After a few hours of break, I headed to the signature Friday evening event, the Barefoot BBQ.  After a short bus ride to nearby Tiki Beach, I spent a couple of hours wandering the many savory stations, where name chefs (including the three amigos) presented dishes that their hardworking staffs prepared.  I particularly loved the jamon slider with foie from Jose Andres and the jerk bacon from Marcus Samuelsson.

Samuelsson is as happy and fun in person as he is on TV.  (Next to Bourdain on The Taste, he always appears short, but he's actually somewhere around 5'll".)

Did I mention the three dessert stations, including all-you-can-eat truffles from Norman Love?

Another bus ride brought a load of Cayman Cookout attendees back to the hotel, but the live band and the party was still going at the Barefoot BBQ. 

Tomorrow morning, I board a catamaran.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

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

Life here is rough.

No, really, it's not at all rough.  It's the opposite of rough.  It's as easy as life can be.

After a ton of sleep, I finally meandered ocean-ward for a lunch on the beach.  (The moment you sit, someone wanders by to see if you want anything.)  After lunch, I played in the ocean, sat at a floating table, and enjoyed looking at the water from the comfort of the many seaside chairs the hotel maintains.

After a while, I moved to the pool.  Here I am, doing my best to remove my normal "I will kill you" expression.

Click an image to see a larger version.

You decide how much I succeeded. 

The ocean was slightly chilly and a great treat in the hot sun.  The pool water was warmer and perfect in the late afternoon.

Yes, for those who've wondered, I am occasionally capable of relaxing.

I never tire of the sunset over the water.

The image isn't as pink as the sky seemed, at least to my eyes.  Lovely.

The Cayman Cookout kicked off tonight with the annual wine auction dinner.  As a non-drinker, I find the wine auction part of the evening unappealing, but the six different savory food stations--all yummy--and the two dessert stations were interesting.  A small band entertained the crowd, and to my great pleasure, all three musicians were pretty good.  This shot, which I took from a corner of the room, gives you a sense of the size of the place, though not the number of people in attendance.

Tomorrow, the cooking sessions begin.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

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

I always like to arrive a day early for events, because should something go wrong with travel, I have room to deal with the problem(s) and still make the event.  Today's journey began with a 4:15 a.m. wake-up and a trip to the airport soon thereafter.  Both of my flights were delayed for various reasons, but in the early afternoon I finally arrived at Grand Cayman.

Wow, is it beautiful here!  It is lovely every year, but it's one of those places that manages to surpass my memory of it each time I visit it. 

The early afternoon view from my room's balcony is as lovely as ever.

Click an image to see a larger version.  

I slept less than two hours last night, so I devoted most of my afternoon to a bit of wandering and check-in stuff on the way to the room and then a nap with the ocean breeze blowing into the room and the ceiling fan cooling me.

Later in the day, the view changed as the sun slowly set, but everything remained lovely.  As it does here.

The sky's colors continued to evolve as the sun surrendered its last light.

Dinner was at Blue by Eric Ripert.  The meal was so remarkable that I'm going to give it an entry of its own later. 

After dinner, and after the quarter-mile walk back to the room, I sat on the balcony and listened to the ocean.  The view had changed again, but again it remained beautiful.

The waves roll in and soothe the world with their sound.  A lovely treat indeed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The next post you see here

will come from Grand Cayman, where I will once again be attending the wonderful Cayman Cookout event.  My shifting flight schedule has left me having to awaken at 4:15 a.m., however, and that is a problem, because I usually go to bed around then.  So, for tonight I will leave you with the trailer for the new Avengers movie, a trailer you've either already seen or need to see.

Back soon from a warm island.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Inherent Vice

managed a feat that few movies do:  When it ended, I wasn't at all sure what I thought about it. 

Its slow, almost meandering pace is exactly the sort of structure that usually leaves me checking the time and wondering why I bought a ticket, but instead I was completely absorbed, afraid to look away from the screen.  Most of that feeling came from the remarkable performance of Joaquin Phoenix, who is in every scene and always in character, always the stoner, but also always trying to be a good guy.  Phoenix turned in a phenomenal performance. 

Every single supporting actor also did a fine job, but there wasn't a single character in the movie whom I'd want to invite to dinner. 

The plot ultimately came to a sort of resolution, but in the way of Pynchon, not one you could trust to stick. 

Inherent Vice is a puzzle.  After a lot of thought, I have to say that I liked it and will watch it again on video, but I recommend it only cautiously, with the caveat that I can't even tell you what other films you should enjoy if you are likely to care for this one. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Taken 3

delivered pretty much what I expected:  a fun ride that made little sense.  Though the weakest of the trilogy, it still couldn't go but so wrong with Liam Neeson stalking through it and killing people right and left. 

I won't bother explaining the plot because, really, do you care?  The story introduces the characters, gives Neeson reason to go after some people, and then runs along.  It could have been tighter and faster--its pacing is the weakest of the lot--but if you enjoy this sort of film, you'll have a good, though not great, time with it.

We left the theater planning what the next few Taken films might be. 


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