Cayman’s culinary scene about to get cooking

Cayman Culinary Month is no more, but the first 33 days of the year still offer a number of great culinary events starting with the Cayman Cookout on 17 January. In the weeks that follow, there are also two other annual culinary events – Taste of Cayman and Slow Food Day – that add to Grand Cayman’s mystique as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.

The beginning of the year is not a good time to diet on Grand Cayman. Even before the excesses of the holiday season are burned off through a New Year’s resolution work-out regime,along comes the Cayman Cookout and thousands of more irresistible calories. 

But the temptation doesn’t stop there; the last Saturday in January and the first Saturday of February offer two more good culinary experiences, Taste of Cayman and Slow Food Day. 

Taste of Cayman  

2013 will mark the 25th year for the Taste of Cayman Food & Wine Festival, which will take place on Saturday, 26 January. The event has grown from humble beginnings to be the largest culinary event of the year, with more than 5,000 residents and tourists attending. 

Many of Grand Cayman’s best restaurants participate in the Taste of Cayman, offering samples of their food. In addition, there’s live cooking demonstrations, music and variety of beverage vendors. 

The event has taken place in different parts of the year in the past – including in July and November – and at different venue, but it is now established on the fourth Saturday of January at Camana Bay. 

The location within Camana Bay, however, will change this year, moving from the glitz of the Crescent to a location more fitting to its roots, the Festival Green. As part of the ‘Back to our roots’ theme of this year’s event, there will be an ‘All things Cayman’ area set up in the heart of the festival. 

From an attendees’ perspective, the Taste of Cayman offers people a chance to sample the foods from restaurants they’ve never been to or to try wines they haven’t tried before. From the vendors’ perspective, Taste of Cayman gives them an opportunity to interact with a wide cross-section of the resident and visiting public and it gives chefs a chance to be seen out of the kitchen.  

Bragging rights are also on the line as attendees vote for their favourites, giving the event a competitive element.  

Taste of Cayman is organised by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and serves as that organisation’s biggest annual fundraiser, helping to cover its operational costs throughout the year. 

The Tourism Association has more than 250 tourism-related business members and promotes the continuing development of the tourism industry in the Cayman Islands. It also provides an important bridge between the private sector and government.  

Originally established more for Grand Cayman’s residents and restaurants, The Taste of Cayman now attracts many tourists, especially in its high-season January time slot. 

“Event tourism, especially culinary events, has proven to be successful for Cayman,” said Jane van der Bol, the Tourism Association’s executive director. “The Taste of Cayman raises the profile of our destination, attracting more tourists to our shores.” 

Slow Food Day  

Launched in 2011 as a Culinary Month event, Slow Food Day is a collaboration between Cayman’s Slow Food chapter, The Cayman Island Agricultural Society and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. 

The two-part event takes place Saturday, 2 February, and begins in the morning at the Market at the Grounds farmer’s market in Lower Valley. There from 9am until 11am, among the regular farmers and artisans who sell there products at the Market every Saturday morning, several of Cayman’s top chefs who support ‘farm-to-table’ dining philosophies give free tastes of foods prepared with local produce provided by the farmers. There is live Caribbean music and activities for children to add to the festive atmosphere. 

That evening, the event moves to Camana Bay, where Chef Michael Schwartz and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink host a whole dinner using fresh, local ingredients prepared by a celebrity guest chef. This year, Chef Hugh Acheson will bring his talents to Cayman for the event. 

The Canadian-born Acheson, who is well known for his appearances as a judge on the Top Chef television show, won two James Beard Foundation awards in 2012, one for best chef in the southeast and another for his cookbook, “A New Turn in the South”. 

The owner of three restaurants near Atlanta, Georgia, Acheson’s fresh approach is redefining Southern cooking. 

As an added twist in 2012, the event will take place on the Camana Bay Beach next to Royal Palms, making it a true ‘farm-to-beach’ dinner. 

The Miami-based Chef Schwartz, whose Camana Bay restaurant is now in its third year, is a big supporter of the Slow Food movement and also collaborates with Slow Food Miami on events. 

“We’re happy to see our home away from home become a leading culinary destination in the Caribbean, and to us that means not only having great restaurants on the Island, but also that its chefs understand the importance of sourcing local,” Schwartz said.

“We are doing our part to renew our commitment to the emerging homegrown food scene that we’ve been getting to know over the past couple of years with Slow Food Day. We’re really excited to be working again with the local chef community and share what Slow Food means on the island with Hugh. I’m sure he’s going to have a field day with the ingredients, both familiar and new to him.” 

Slow Food is an international culinary movement founded in 1989 in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Formed to counter the rise of the fast food culture and the disappearance of food local food traditions, the movement encourages people to care about the food they eat, where it comes from, how it was produced and how their food choices affect the rest of the world.

“It also espouses the notion that people should take pleasure in act of eating, preferably in the company of others. For this reason, it calls its chapters ‘convivia’, a word of Latin origin that is closely related to the English word ‘convivial’, which means ‘occupied with, or fond of feasting, drinking, and good company’. 

Slow Food now has more than 100,000 members worldwide in 1,500 convivia. Grand Cayman’s convivium, Slow Food South Sound, was established in 1996 and now has more than 100 members.