Each January Cayman Islands’ Ritz Carlton hosts the Cayman Cookout.  Sponsored by Food and Wine Magazine this epicurean festival sees power chefs from across North America presenting cooking classes, and cooking up delights for attendees at various venues throughout Grand Cayman. The Cookout also celebrates the local chefs and the Island’s own unique cuisine; items such as conch fritters and roast suckling pig are devoured.

Over the four days festival attendees attend cooking lessons on the beach, wine grazing lunches, wine dinners and auctions all while rubbing shoulders with the chefs that usually just appear to fans through the television.  This year’s chefs included Eric Ripert, who leads the Cookout (he owns Blue, a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton), Anthony Bourdain, Jose Andres, Spike Mendleson and Canada’s very own Chef Dale Mackay also joined the festivities

The classes began on a Friday morning with guests, including myself, gathered under a tent on the beachfront eagerly awaiting Chef Jose Andres’ appearance. It seemed he was late, but then Andres suddenly launched from the bluest of oceans onto the shore via jet-pack while Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert cheered from the sidelines.  Changing into chef’s whites, he then thoroughly entertained onlookers while preparing the grandest of paellas over a fire pit on the sand.  Chef Mackay hosted an informative class on his amazing pulled pork, and Mendelsohn taught us a bit about the art of the pizza pie.

Saturday afternoon “Burgers in Paradise”, included a trip via catamaran including a midway stop to swim with the sting rays and an afternoon of mini-burger delights made by chefs Spike Mendelsohn, Eric Ripert, Bernard Guillas, Xavier Soloman and others.  There was no general agreement on best burger as they ranged from lamb to conch and even dessert versions and all were divine.  The tequila cocktails and local beers flowed far too easily if one was not careful.

An afternoon delving into the local cuisine came courtesy of Anthony Bourdain and his guided luncheon on the Ritz Carlton’s Great Lawn.  Local brewer, Caybrew, and distiller, Seven Fathoms Run, poured their wares and guests enjoyed suckling pig, conch cakes, chowder, and Cayman-style Jerk. There is no better way to spend an afternoon than grazing on the lawn listening to Bourdain’s take on Cayman cooking. 

For the grand finale we choose to dine at Abacus with the home team, Chef Dale Mackay.  We were treated to grapefruit-cured Hamachi, blue crab salad, black cod with pulled pork broth and gorgeous roast cannon of lamb.  Mackay managed to bring a taste of Canada to Cayman, and although I’d had some of the dishes in Vancouver, somehow here they just tasted better.

The farewell brunch was the grandest I’d ever seen.  Over 20 stations were set up with everything from endless caviar to omelette stations and a cheese table that would be next to impossible to repeat.  The cookout will be held in 2014 from January 16-19.  You’ll want to also book some extra time at the fantastic and hospitable Ritz Carlton Cayman, one of the most service-oriented, professional and friendly hotels I’ve encountered.