Okay first of all, yes, this post is very late so I apologize for that. It seems as if time sped up in the days leading up to Cayman Cookout and it still hasn’t slowed down to normal just yet, so here I am playing catch up.
In the early days of January, knowing that we wanted to highlight Saucha’s amazing kimchi in our collab dish for Cayman Cookout, we decided on Asian flavours to be the best vehicle and ultimately chose Malaysia as our representative country.
Strips of beet & turmeric dyed coconut wrappers, coconut pandan brown rice, kimchi (made with local carrot, bell peppers & onion), peanuts and the incredibly addictive mango, scotch bonnet hoisin glaze made from reduced Saucha kombucha vinegar. Yummm!
You can work out the flavour profiles in your head all day, until that first bite there’s still this tiny voice, whispering in your ear, nagging the daylights out of you. For me it sounds something like, “…this should work…right? of course it works, don’t be stupid….”, over and over and the nagging won’t stop until that first bite.
Needless to say, that first bite was everything we knew it would be and more. The clean tasting bowls can attest to our happiness with the dish. We approved the flavour combinations, and after contemplating the level of heat and and finalizing the details, we were Cayman Cookout ready!
Just in case you were wondering, the bubbles were totally necessary for this process to be successful.
And so it was that my 6th Cayman Cookout would find me on the other side of the fence so to speak, no longer a part of the planning and organizing for entire events, now I was a participating Chef! No, I did not sleep that Thursday night, who needs sleep the night before a lunch the next day for 300 people with Anthony Bourdain hosting & eating your food anyway?
As always, the event was a whirlwind from start to finish but once the guests started pouring in, we really didn’t have any opportunity to think much less worry about anything. Our booth got hit hard and our Malaysian Inspired Coconut Kimchi Cone with Spicy Peanut Glaze was getting very positive reviews!
Having only worked once a year with Bourdain for the last 5 years, I was still pleasantly surprised when the lightbulb of recognition went on over his head when he came to our booth.
Chatting with Bourdain [photo credit: Michiel Bush]
Bourdain: “Oh hey…Heeey! I know you guys! I recognize you!”
This exuberant greeting came with a huge ear to ear smile from him. I blinked in momentary shock. Wow.
In my head, I clapped and set off fireworks, this was monumental as it was pretty much the last thing I was expecting from a typically unemotional, dismissive and blase Tony. If you’ve ever watched one of his shows or heard him at any food festival then you know what I’m talking about. He’s special this one.
Anxious for his widely traveled, highly exposed palate to give his trademark, no holds barred & zero f*cks given perspective on our dish, we waited with baited breath as he took a bite.
He chewed, swallowed, looked up…and then… just walked away.
Ahhh yes…there’s the Tony I remembered!
Britta & I spent the next 15 minutes in quiet disbelief trying to figure out what just happened. We had no less than 30 local, international & celebrity chefs (not to mention the 300+ general guests) who had all tasted the dish and raved about it extensively. Many came back for seconds & thirds even!
Did Tony really just walk off? I told myself there was a solid chance he was still hungover so I really shouldn’t take it personally but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little curious (and ticked off) as to the lack of feedback.
By the time Tony moved on to the next booth we had a line again so thankfully we didn’t dedicate too much time to the odd experience.
Within the next hour we would be down to our last few portions of the cones
By the time the event was scheduled to end at 1:30 we were making “chefs plates” which were not so pretty, but still super tasty, deconstructed versions of our dish using the leftover scraps of product.
The verdict was officially in and everyone loved it, except for Tony apparently, but who’s paying attention to that.
Especially in light of a surprise visit from Eric Ripert.
While I’ve always been grateful for the friendship & mentoring from someone so talented and well known in the industry, this was even more significant for me because for only the second time in 6 years, Eric was tasting my food.
The first time had been during the Cook Off competition which launched my career with The Ritz-Carlton. Now things had come full circle and I was on my own.
This opinion mattered to me & I had been sure to tell him that I wanted brutal honesty.
“Yes dear, if I do not like it I will tell you, but only if you won’t hurt me”
Who do these people think I am? Gosh.
I guess he liked it (or he’s scared of me, whatever).
If you were able to make it, I truly hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. If you couldn’t this year, you were missed as it was truly an honour for us to serve you, our friends & colleagues & share a little piece of our heart on a plate.
This was such a meaningful event for me in so many ways; Cayman Cookout will forever be unlike any other food festival & unless you’ve experieced it personally, there really is no way to convey that through words or pictures, though I certainly do try. Thank you to everyone who came out & shared in our debut, this is just the start for us & we have some really exciting stuff on the horizon.