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.

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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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

So much delicious food

No matter how much food you can handle, a full day at the Cayman Cookout will test your limits.  You have to take it slow and easy, sample but not finish every single dish, and even then, plan to miss some delicious offerings.

Today's sessions began with a Cayman Cookout perpetual favorite:  "Ole Jose!"  Each year, they find a new way for Jose Andres, one of the three amigos (with the event's host, Eric Ripert, and their mutual good friend, Anthony Bourdain) and earliest participants in the event, to make a dramatic entrance.  Today, a boat roared to shore and from it leapt several men and women in pirate outfits, who led Andres to the tent where we awaited his session.

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Andres was as entertaining as always, mixing drinks and telling stories while his team created two huge dishes of fideua, a dish that is basically paella but with small bits of pasta instead of rice.  For the first time in my five visits to this event, however, the team lost control of the dish and ultimately ended up burning the pasta.  It was still full of good flavors, but it was a far cry from the better versions they've cooked in the past.

Next up on my schedule--the Cayman Cookout folks run multiple sessions at the same time--was lunch at Blue by Eric Ripert, but with chef Tom Colicchio driving the menu.  (As it turned out, he and his team created the savories, but the Blue team did the dessert.)

The menu looked promising

and tasted better.  I particularly liked the squab, which was the most tender rendition of that bird that I've ever tasted.

From there I headed outside for "A Taste of Texas" with chef Dean Fearing.

Fearing, an affable fellow with a storytelling style a bit reminiscent of the late, great Bill Hicks, prepared three different types of tacos, all of which looked delicious.  The two that those of us in the audience had the chance to sample tasted even better than they appeared.

In the short break before the next session, I sat in the shade and dangled my feet in the pool; as I said yesterday, beach life is good.

The final cooking session of the day, "Craving Ludo Bites," featured chef and occasional TV personality (via The Taste), Ludo Lefebvre.  Ludo was fighting a cold and clearly in a bad mood, so he played the role of temperamental French chef to the max.

Despite tricky conditions and equipment that wasn't always working as he wanted, Ludo--all anyone seems to call him--created a lovely vegetable tart, a souffle, and, as a bonus, an absolutely perfect omelet in the classic French style.  Audience members were able to sample only a bit of crostini, but it was delicious.

After a couple of hours of time to read, relax, and do email back in the room, it was time for the day's final event, the evening Barefoot BBQ.  At this annual event, which takes place on a different beach on the island, groups of chefs at ten or so food stations prepare a wide variety of barbecued items.  In this shot, Anthony Bourdain is assembling and serving some delicious sliders.

An additional two dessert bars complement the savories.  At this one, guest chef and dessert specialist Florian Bellanger is side on to the camera behind a stunning display of macarons.

Even trying every dish and dessert at this event is basically impossible.  Nonetheless, I ate enough that I felt I had--even though I didn't touch half the savories and the vast majority of the sweets.

Fortunately, today's sessions are over, and tomorrow's do not begin until lunch.

On balance, a fine day at the 2016 Cayman Cookout.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Beach life is good

Life today was easy and good.  I slept until noon and awoke feeling a whole lot better than before.  I have long hoped to heal entirely before this trip was over, and at least today, that hope seems realistic.

I threw on a swim suit and a t-shirt and headed down to the ocean.  The way this hotel works, you walk to the entrance to the beach, and someone asks if you'd like a beach chair; the cost of the chair is part of what you buy when you get a room.  I responded, of course, in the only reasonable way:  Why, yes, a beach chair would be lovely.

A few minutes later, and I'm sipping a lemon-and-lime flavored glass of water in a chair facing the ocean, my face shaded by an umbrella built into the chair.

A waiter wanders by and asks if I'd like something to drink or some lunch.  Again, I respond in the only reasonable fashion.  Fifteen minutes later, I'm still in my chair, still facing the ocean, but now I'm sipping a virgin mango daquiri and chowing down on a Cuban sandwich with a side salad.

Lest you think everything is easy here, I was not in a chair directly in front of the ocean.  Those prime seats go to early risers.  I had three whole rows of chairs between me and the ocean.  Tough duty, but I persevered.

After lunch, I waded into the ocean and slowly walked in the water the width of the hotel's beachfront area.  The water felt cold at first, but I acclimated quickly and absolutely loved it.  I chatted with various folks as I walked and admired again the perfect clarity of the ocean.

After a little more time in my chair, I decided some shade was in order and traded the oceanfront chair for the poolside chair.  I later learned this was a good decision, because while in front of the ocean I had picked up a fair sunburn on my face--nothing painful, but definitely a lot of redness.

I swam in the pool and chilled out before returning to my room.

My initial room was fine, but the view from its balcony wasn't what I wanted.

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So, today I worked with the hotel to change rooms.

Much better.  Thus do I overcome the challenges of beach life.

Which admittedly are, as I noted, really no challenges at all.

I rested a bit and read on my balcony until the dying light made reading no longer feasible.  (Yes, I was reading a real, paper book; I prefer them, and I'm willing to tote them with me on most trips.)

The eighth Cayman Cookout kicked off tonight with the traditional wine auction and dinner.  A decent enough cover band played a wide range of modern rock classics while chefs at various stations prepared and served small plates of various sorts.

Wine was everywhere, but water was available, and the food was good--though nothing stood out as great.

Overall, I'd have to rate the cuisine down a bit from last year's offering, but I still had a good time, and the people watching was as fantastic as always.

Tomorrow morning, the chef sessions begin!  I will have to get up in the nines; ah, the challenges of beach life at the Cayman Cookout.

R.I.P., Alan Rickman

I loved Alan Rickman's work.  Like many Americans, I first became aware of him in Die Hard, but from then on if he was in a film, I would see it.  I've loved him in the roles everyone knew--the Harry Potter films spring to mind, in the roles in which his character was one of the few difficult ones (Love Actually), and in those pictures almost no one saw (e.g., Gambit and his wonderful turn in The January Man).  The world is poorer for his absence, and I am once again reminded of my increasing age and how many people near me in age have died.

Damn, another fine artist whose work I love has passed away.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Grand Cayman, I am in you!

After waking up in the sixes, spending most of the day flying, taking a nap, and enjoying a great dinner, I am about to crash.  I owe you a picture from my hotel room, but I may change rooms tomorrow (to get a better view of the water), so I am holding off on that photo.

It is stunning here, warm and beautiful, as it has been each time I've come.

Much more tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When next I write on this blog

I will be somewhere very different from here.  Getting there requires me to wake up very early, so for now I will sign off and leave you with the mystery of where I will next be.

Frequent readers, of course, will be able to figure out this mystery easily enough, but if you're not in the mood to do that, show up tomorrow, and I'll show you the view from my hotel room.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie

Well, shit.  For most of my life, Bowie has been out there, making music that constantly evolved to reflect the intersection of his own talent and various musical styles.  Now, with quiet class and right after debuting a new album, he's gone.  Damn.

We won't see his like again anytime soon.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Luther, season 4 is now available on DVD

I praised this show in a post a bit over two years ago.  At that time, season 3 was complete, and it looked like there might never be a season 4.  Fortunately for me and other fans of the show, star Idris Elba, writer Neil Cross, and the rest of the Luther gang decided they, too, wanted to know what happened next, so they created a fourth season.

A rather brief, two-episode fourth season, but a fourth season nonetheless.

A small group of us watched it tonight and very much enjoyed it.  Idris Elba was, as always, magnificent as detective John Luther, and all of the supporting cast members turned in strong performances.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, so if you are up to date on this show, go watch this new season.  If you don't know Luther, treat yourself and catch every episode from the first season onward.  You'll be glad you did.


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