Chefs of the Caribbean
For the past 10 years, Le Bernardin stalwart Eric Ripert has jetted to the Caribbean in early January to host the Cayman Cookout, a toes-in-the-sand food festival — replete with superstar chefs and intimate events — presented by
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Eric Ripert is not used to second best. In more than 20 years at the helm of New York’s acclaimed Le Bernardin, the Antibes-born chef has never allowed his kitchen to lose its three Michelin stars or its four-star rating from The New York Times. The 52-year-old virtuoso of seafood has been a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur, seven James Beard Awards and even two Emmy Awards, for his PBS show “Avec Eric.”
Ripert has also hosted the Cayman Cookout, the high-profile annual food festival at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, for the past decade.
This January marks the 10-year anniversary of the Cayman Cookout, which gathers some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs for several days of cooking demonstrations, barbecues, wine tastings and general revelry.
Originally, Ripert and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman team created the event as a fun way to gain visibility for Blue by Eric Ripert, his fine-dining restaurant at the resort. But the Cookout has since become one of the most beloved events in the restaurant world.
What sets the Cookout apart is its intimacy and exclusivity.
“We’re going for quality, not quantity,” says Ripert. “After all, this is The Ritz-Carlton.” Wine tastings can comprise a cozy 20 guests; cooking demonstrations are limited to about 80 audience members; the end-of-festival gala dinner seats a maximum of 120; and the biggest event, the beach barbecue, tops out at about 600 people.
Culinary aficionados also love the fact that the festival is so small they can chat with the chefs without having to leap over barricades. For Ripert, keeping the festival a manageable size ensures a certain quality of experience for the chefs as well. “We don’t pay the chefs to come,” he explains. “So it’s important that they enjoy themselves and don’t feel overwhelmed.”
The lineup of guest chefs at the 2018 festival includes Daniel Boulud, Robert Irvine, Sean Brock, Alfred Portale, Dominique Crenn, Rick Bayless, Emeril Lagasse and Michael Mina.