It began with Culinary Month, a promotion every January and February that highlighted all aspects of epicurean offerings of Cayman. Cornerstone events Taste of Cayman – featuring local restaurants – and Cayman Cookout – with world-famous visiting chefs anchored the month, which also served to kick off the tourism high season in style. Following on that success, the destination is now calling itself the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.
Shomari Scott, director of tourism, explained why Cayman is now able to tag itself thus and revealed why Culinary Month was being expanded to a 12-monthly promotion.
“The Cayman Islands is successfully establishing itself as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, with over 200 restaurants and a yearlong calendar of food-themed events,” he said.
“In order to best promote these exciting offerings, the decision was taken amongst the organisers — the Cayman Islands Tourism Association with the Department of Tourism input — to focus on the breadth of culinary experiences our establishments provide throughout the year and discontinue the singular focus of a Culinary Month.”
Scott said that each Caribbean island delivered a specific flavour but it was the breadth of cuisine available through those restaurants could ‘satisfy any palate.’
“From the traditional fare of Miss Vivine’s, which allows you to experience a home-cooked meal in an oceanside setting, to the captivating cuisine of internationally renowned Chef Eric Ripert at his Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman restaurant Blue, all visitors can find a taste of paradise on all three islands.
“We also have a thriving Foodie community amongst residents who partake in a variety of epicurean focused events or groups. The local convivium of the global Slow Food movement is a prime example, hosting several events throughout the year members enjoy a different food and beverage pairing themed dinner each month such as farm-to-table, tequila dinners, and even cooking classes.
“There is also a Culinary Society which was established in 1989 and continues to be active in helping budding chefs learn about the trade by offering lectures and demonstrations at local schools and at the University College of the Cayman Islands,” explained the director.
Most cultural events taking place in Cayman, such as Batabano or Pirates Week, also enable the tourism department to promote the food of the islands, this time in a more Cayman-centric and historical nature.
“The popularity of the Heritage Days during our annual festival Pirates Week is one way in which local cuisine is featured during events of that nature. Each district has a unique flair with food that cannot be replicated in other districts — at least not without generating a huge debate about which district does it best.
“So enabling the local chefs to showcase their unique edible delights during these festivals allows residents to indulge and visitors to sample some of the best home cooked food our islands have on offer,” he said.
Jane van der Bol of the private sector Cayman Islands Tourism Association echoed the fact that Cayman’s culinary offering was superior to other islands.
“The Taste of Cayman event, the biggest fundraiser for the association, was the biggest in our history in 2012, with 5,000 people attending.
“If we say we are the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean we should deliver it with the events. There are numerous events which are incredible throughout the year and which are put on by different sectors. If you want to go our and eat here in Cayman there are incredible options, which is one of the messages we need to put out there.”
She added that Cayman Thanksgiving – an event which began in 2011 in order to celebrate the islands’ culture as well as giving thanks for the end of hurricane season – was a great new event and one with which restaurants were now getting involved.
“I feel this is a wonderful opportunity for the Cayman Islands to create its own celebration and am excited to see this develop,” said van der Bol.
Working on recognition
The perception of the Cayman Islands on the culinary scene, explained Shomari Scott, was something which his department was working on.
“[The Department of Tourism] is committed to getting the best recognition for our culinary scene and we are able to affect this by welcoming top tiered journalists who are influential in the epicurean realm. In 2012, we were able to facilitate specific culinary journalists and bloggers from Canada, the US, and our new markets of Brazil and Argentina, each resulting in widespread coverage in their respective regions.
“Posting pictures of their delicious meals, talking with the chefs who prepare the dishes, dining at a variety of establishments – these experiences showcase the diversity and quality of the exceptional offerings the Cayman Islands provides visitors and residents alike,” he noted.
Mr. Scott concluded that the tourism department understood the composition of visitors who come to the events mirrored the general target for that specific timeframe.’
“[T]his is to be expected given that this is where the majority of our emphasis – from a brand building and influencing of potential consumer’s standpoint – is placed.
“Additionally, we use the epicurean angle as an effective means to place ourselves into the consumer’s consideration set, as we understand that there is an over propensity for persons within our target market to actually be Foodies. Our interaction with guests has borne out the fact that they come from a variety of countries worldwide as well as from many places within the USA; particularly from our main markets which is to be expected.”