Cayman’s rising culinary talent revealed

The Cayman Cookout features a hotly-anticipated competition, the Cayman Cookoff, which brings together nonprofessional chefs seeking to showcase their culinary skills. 

 

The annual competition for Cayman’s culinary crown – 2012 Bon Vivant Cookoff Series – is as fierce and entertaining as any finale of Top Chef, according to the organisers. 

The contestants have been busy during November in a series of head-to-head contests to discover who’s the best cook on Grand Cayman. 

Initially, interested would-be chefs were asked to provide an idea for a dish and a photo thereof. A panel of chefs and restaurateurs then chose eight people to compete in events that took place on Monday, 21 November, and Monday, 28 November, at Bon Vivant and also in the kitchen of Blue at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, respectively. 

Judges were looking for a heady blend of skill, passion, taste and the usage of local ingredients and those who reached the quarterfinal stage were already among the best amateur cooks on Island.  

In the first quarterfinal cookoff on 21 November, Maureen Cubbon’s local roasted rack of lamb with a duo of sauces – fenugreek cream and mint mango chutney, served with okra, eggplant and sweet potato hot fry – was victorious over Shaun Green’s Caribbean Conch Cakes, served with Fried Plantain and Spicy Mayo. 

The knives were glinting and heat was high during a triple-header of cook-offs on 28 November. In the first one, Eric St. Cyr’s Canaman shrimps – so-named by blending the words Cayman with Canada – won a narrow victory over Cody Bush’s conch with a white wine mushroom sauce. 

In the next cook-off that featured two talented cheftestants, Marty Tammemagi’s towering mille feuille of herb-crusted pork tenderloin and pan-fried breadfruit won a split decision over Eric Vagniez’s well-executed duck magret with pan-fried mangoes and tempuru calaloo. 

The final cook-off of the evening saw Jaqueline Hastings win a close but unanimous decision with her pan fried Caribbean snapper and dirty mashed potatoes with vegetables and scotch bonnet coconut curry sauce against Alisa Bowen’s mermaid lionfish. Both dishes showed originality and wonderful presentation, but because the judging was weighted more heavily on taste, Hastings’ snapper edged Bowens’ lionfish. 

 

Judging panel 

The cook-off semifinals take place on 7-8 December and will determine the two finalists who will appear in front of a panel of celebrity judges at the 2012 Cayman Cookout Bon Vivant Champagne Brunch on Saturday, 15 January, from noon to 3pm. 

Their food will be judged by Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés, Dana Cowin and Governor Duncan Taylor. With Richard Blais as host, attendees will watch the cheftestants chop, sauté and sweat while sipping Möet et Chandon and enjoying an a lavish brunch. 

The rewards are fabulous – the winner receives a trip for two to the Food & Wine Best New Chef event in New York City, airfare provided by Cayman Airways, hotel by the Ritz-Carlton and lunch at Eric Ripert’s prestigious restaurant, Le Bernardin. 

In the past, a victory in this event has actually been something of a stepping stone in the career of the winners. Jolene Nelson, victorious in 2010, is employed by the Ritz-Carlton, for example, which is testament to the prestige and skill needed to get to that stage. Nelson served as a judge for two of quarterfinal cook-offs. 

But for now it’s all about the semifinals, which will take place in Bon Vivant’s new location at Camana Bay. Tammemagi will face Hastings in the first semifinal at 7pm on 7 December and St. Cyr will cook-off against Cubbon at 7pm on 8 December. 

As for the talented twosome who make the final, their families will be getting some inventive and excellent dishes to chomp on over the holidays as the chefs hone and refine their dishes. 

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