The final of the 2011/12 Bon Vivant Cook-off Series will takes place during the Cayman Cookout, with two Canadians facing-off in what promises to be an entertaining and tasty event. The delectable duel is set.
On Sunday 15 January at high noon in the Royal Ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, knives will be wielded, aprons will be donned and the 2011/12
Bon Vivant Cook-Off Series will come to a delicious conclusion.
At one end of the kitchen will be Eric St-Cyr, a financial industry executive from Quebec, Canada who says he’s more ‘Chopped’ than ‘Iron Chef’. At the other end of the kitchen will be Maureen Cubbon, a veteran Cook-Off series participant from Vancouver, Canada whose motto is ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
A full house is expected to witness an epic culinary battle as St-Cyr and Cubbon cook-off not only for bragging rights for the year, but also for a trip for two to attend the Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef event in New York City, with airfare provided by Cayman Airways, hotel by the Ritz-Carlton and lunch at Chef Eric Ripert’s iconic Manhattan restaurant, Le Bernardin.
As part of the Cayman Cookout schedule of events, the Cook-off final would not be complete without food and drink so the event takes place during a three-hour brunch that features free-flowing Moët & Chandon
Champagne and what the Ritz’s Executive Chef Frederic Morineau calls the “best of the best brunch delights from around the island”.
“The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman chefs will present traditional brunch offerings and in addition eight local chefs from some of Cayman’s favourite restaurants will have stations featuring some of their popular dishes,” he said. “Of course the dessert buffet is always impressive and will surely have guests coming back for more.”
Celebrity Chef Richard Blais will serve as co-host of the event, said Tami Corday, director of meetings and special events at the The Ritz.
“Richard Blais is a crowd favourite and will surely entertain our Sunday brunch audience with his lovely co-host Cynthia Hew,” she said. “Ultimately we expect Richard to really relate with our cheftestants, Maureen Cubbon and Eric St-Cyr, given his Top Chef background and time spent in a competitive, pressure-filled environment of world-class cookery.”
While guests drink and dine like rock stars, St-Cyr and Cubbon will do their epicurean best to woo a panel of tough judges with their culinary creations. Joining Governor Duncan Taylor on the panel of judges this year are Chefs Eric Ripert, José Andrés, Anthony Bourdain and Dana Cowin, said Corday.
“Dana is the newest addition to our group of judging alumni this year,” she said. “While we’ve had the audience participate in the judging process in the past, this year we are leaving the scoring to our esteemed judges.”
St-Cyr will pit his whimsical, ingredient-based cooking style against Cubbon’s rustic, bold flavoured, health-conscious dishes.
St-Cyr learned to cook just by doing it.
“I… never took any classes and I don’t use recipes,” he said. “I just try my ideas and learn from my errors.”
His prowess in the kitchen was a hit with the ladies.
“When I was young, it was a great way to impress my dates, so I got better at it,” he said. “My wife could tell you a few stories on that!”
The French Canadian does like to look at cookbooks and to watch cooking shows to learn which flavours go together.
“However, I suck at following a recipe,” he said. “It requires a discipline I just don’t have.”
When he cooks, St-Cyr looks at his ingredients and comes up with ways of putting them together. He likes bold flavours, especially spicy and salty cuisine. His favourite thing to cook at home is grilled marinated hanger steak with a arugula salad.
“For many years, I was a meat and seafood type of guy, focusing all my attention on the protein,” he said. “Over the years, Rosa, my wife, introduced me to vegetables and I am now a big fan of fresh local products, such as cassava, pumpkin or callaloo.”
St-Cyr gets his local ingredients either at the market at The Grounds, at farmers market at Camana Bay or from his own garden, where he grows tomatoes, basil and mint.
On his path to the final, St-Cyr defeated Cody Bush with his Canaman Shrimps, a cocount-curry dish. He then out-cooked Jacqueline Hastings with red snapper tartare over avocado and topped with red caviar, served with crispy cassava fries, his Caribbean take-off on the French classic, steak and frites. His choice of red snapper for the tartare was bold, but he says it’s a more refined fish than its reputation.
“I know that for most people a fish tartare equals salmon or tuna, so a tartare of snapper would be different,” he said.
“Then I incorporated mangos and blood oranges to accentuate the fish flavour and finished the preparation with cilantro, green onions and a hot pepper to create lasting flavours in the mouth,” he said. “The idea for the cassava fries came when we made the connection between our local tartare and the French equivalent, steak tartar and fries.
St-Cyr then looked for a vegetable that would bring everything together.
“My first thought was for a cucumber salad with lime and salt, however I discovered a vegetable I had never seen before, the wing bean at the Grounds market,” he said. “They worked perfectly with the lime and salt.”
For the final, St-Cyr will try to please one judge in particular.
“I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and have read his books,” he said. “I know he likes bold flavours and food that comes out of the ordinary. Therefore I would like to cook something original that he will remember.”
Although his wife Rosa, his sous chef in the competition, said she was nervous, St-Cyr was as cool as cucumber.
“I manage people’s money for a living and if you know how the stock market behaved recently, you understand that cooking is a piece of cake on my stress level,” he said. “At home, I cook to relax. When I started the competition, I told myself that the worst that could happen is that we lose and have to come back to compete again next year. Therefore, it is a win-win proposition to me.”
Being busy in the kitchen was normal for Cubbon when she was growing up, but it wasn’t until she entered the workforce after high school that she really took a liking to cooking.
“Once I started working in the food and beverage industry… I started to really love the world of food and it has stuck with me since,” she said.
Cubbon said she learns from reading cookbooks, but she’s also worked “front of the house” in some of the best restaurants in Vancouver and Cayman.
“So the combination of all these things keeps me inspired and wanting to learn new things,” she said.
She characterizes her cooking style as rustic, with a focus on fresh ingredients and lots of flavour.
“My mom is Fijian, so I try and throw in some of the spices and flavours I knew growing up,” she said.
Since her day job now focuses on health and wellness, Cubbon now also concentrates on foods that are good for people.
“My love for food has definitely focused me on projects that push the concept of knowing where your food comes from and understanding the importance of fuelling your body with the best things you can,” she said. “This concept will always inspire me in the kitchen… and I think it is really important for children to understand the farm-to-table approach to food.”
Cubbon uses local ingredients as much as she can, getting meats, greens, vegetables and fruits from farms, supermarkets, friends and from her own herb garden.
For her semi-final cook-off against the talented Marty Tammemagi, Cubbon had little time to prepare, having arrived back in Cayman from a visit to Vancouver the same day.
“I had only a few hours to shop and get ready,” she said. “I had to stay true to the things I wanted to create: bold flavours with well executed food I knew I would be able to present in a way that the judges would like.”
She prepared surf and turf with a duo of beef tenderloin – one Certified Angus Beef and one local beef – along with lobster over mashed potatoes and kale with onion and bacon.
Overall, she was happy with the dish.
“I felt pretty good about what I put out,” she said.
For Cubbon, this was her third try in the competition and she said she learned from her past shortfalls.
“I had to… just be confident in my ability to put out a dish that reflected my style and flavours,” she said. “I also have a great [sous chef] in Gina [Peck], which is really important to me.”
Heading into the final, Cubbon said she will do the same as she did in the first two rounds – keep the flavours real and work with Cayman and Caribbean foods.
“The fact that I can cook for the likes of these chefs is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I will do my best to keep my nerves in check,” she said. “Obviously it would be great to win the competition, but the biggest thing for me is getting this far and getting my food tasted by some of the best chefs in the world. I need to keep that in the forefront of my mind and enjoy the moment.”