UPDATE: For the full scoop on the weekend’s events, please read my dispatches from the Cayman Islands for editor Lesley Abravanel on Eater Miami. See the last paragraph of this post for links to these reports.
Piled tight in his rented cherry red Wrangler, chef Michael Schwartz rolled out into the windy island night carting chef de cuisine Thomas Tennant, Sommelier Eric Larkee, and I down West Bay road to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. Things got off to a sparkly, salty start on Thursday night at the Caribbean’s hottest food festival act, the annual Cayman Cookout hosted by Eric Ripert and the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. Toasting with Lanson bubbly, sponsors and talent gathered on the terrace of Blue by Eric Ripert to commence this indulgent weekend of food and wine under the sun with Belgian endive-cradled tuna tartare canapes and other savory passed bites. Jose Andres, Charlie Trotter, Susur Lee, Rachel Allen, Jennifer Carroll, and Anthony Bourdain joined Schwartz and the other familiar local faces of Cindy Hutson and Dean Max to suit up in their Cookout-commissioned whites.
This year Schwartz and Hutson return to the event with restaurants on Grand Cayman in the town center of Camana Bay. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink opened in June 2010, and Ortanique just down the harbor-facing Crescent, in November. Dean Max is the veteran of the bunch and made early connections with Cayman farmers for The Brasserie which he joined in 2006, an important fist step for Michael’s Genuine in building its own local supply chain. Following the reception, Food & Wine magazine’s Gail Simmons and Chris Grdovich, having dined at Ortanique earlier in the evening, made their way from the Ritz-Carlton with a crowd including chef Andres, executive pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith, and chef Michel Nischan to mingle to Jazz beats at the Michael’s Genuine bar.
Last night was the official welcome event for Cookout guests, Surf and Sandcastles on the Ritz-Carlton waterfront, stepping up its game from last year to boast the largest sandcastle in Grand Cayman history. Photo opp! More on this later when Eater Miami posts our photos and recollections (what we have the strength to summon despite heavy lids,) plus a behind the scenes look at the makings of tonight’s Guest Chef Dinner with Michel Nischan including foraging trip to Patrick Panton’s East End Garden and Gifts farm, and Michael’s fifth course of Pan Roasted Breast of Pheasant with braised leg, local calabaza, herb salad and black truffle for Sunday’s Gala Dinner at the Ritz-Carlton.