There’s a reason why the Cayman Islands are on so many foodies’ minds right now — Cayman Cookout is right around the corner. Every January, celebrity chef Eric Ripert and his band of culinary constituents head down to Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands, for a weekend of aromatic demonstrations and dinners. The next event is slated for January 14 through 17, which gives you just enough time to plan your trip. But even if you can’t get down to the ultra-laid-back Caribbean destination around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the place is loaded with so many amazing food options and awe-inspiring hotels that any 48-hour detour you have there is special.
Cayman Cookout is headquartered at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a stunning property with five restaurants and one enviable spot on beloved Seven Mile Beach. The place unquestionably has a buzz about it in mid-January. If you’re traveling any time before or after that, though, check out what The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa has cooking just down the road. A 343-room property that feels Caribbean without being overly kitschy, The Westin Grand Cayman pleases with its own stretch of gorgeous white sand, smartly appointed rooms, a full itinerary of watersports and six restaurants and bars overseen by charismatic executive chef Sandy Tuason.
While we have no objection with you stopping by Ferdinand’s for a jerk chicken quesadilla, we suggest you being at the Red Sail Sports counter by 12:45 p.m. for your Stingray Sandbar and Reef Sail. While the flattened fish have a notorious reputation in most parts, the animals you’ll encounter on this voyage to Stingray City are harmless. The spot actually became a haven for the rays decades ago when the creatures found out that’s where fisherman cleaned their catches. The food was so plentiful that, over time, the rays became less and less fearful of humans. Today, you can literally hold them and take all the pictures you want. With the piercing blue water backdrop, images almost pop off your smartphone screen.
When you head back to the Westin, if you see an oceanfront cabana that’s empty, snag it. You can catch up on some Kindle reading or score an epic nap — either way, just make sure you down one of The Beach Bar’s delightful mudslides first.
If you’re at the resort on a Friday night, you’ll see the Tortuga Beach Grill and Bar crew setting up for the beach barbecue. Spot chef Tuason around 7 p.m. and we can almost guarantee he’ll be all smiles. We’re guessing the grins are a result of the compliments he gets for his tender ribs and the stares from the sheer enormity of his dessert table. Now, if it’s a Saturday, you’re still in great hands for dinner because Beach House serves fantastic island-swayed dishes seven nights a week. The jumbo lump crab cakes and salt-crusted whole fish are tremendous, but it’s the tableside-prepared bananas Foster that will be the talk of the weekend.
Here’s hoping the rich treats don’t have any ill effects because you have a 10 a.m. service scheduled at the Hibiscus Spa. If you’re in a hurry to be on time, grab a breakfast burrito at Café Soleil before heading over. Once you get to the 7,000-square-foot sanctuary, someone from the team will lead you to one of the 13 treatment rooms for your organic aromatherapy session, ginger renewal or any of the other signature services. (The fact that the spa sits right next door to the governor’s residence gives the whole thing a serendipitous feel.)
Once you and your muscles have gotten themselves together, make the 10-minute walk down to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman for lunch. During Cayman Cookout, you’ll hear sizzles and plate clanking all over the place. On any other Sunday, things will be quieter but just as scrumptious. Andiamo (sensible Italian) and Bar Jack (sandwiches and tacos) have good menus and great views, but we’d suggest reserving a spot at Seven for its renowned brunch. Your own food festival of sorts, the restaurant delivers a serenade of flavors that range from lamb and lobster to ceviche and artisan cheeses. Add champagne, if you must, but we’d suggest pairing the dishes with what might be one of the smoothest piña coladas we’ve ever tried.
After putting down the glass and fork, you have a couple of options for your next move. You can make your way to The Gallery at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman for a showing of local pieces that rotate on a seasonal basis, or head back to The Westin Grand Cayman to catch a few of those lovely afternoon rays. By the time you finish with either, an hour or so of shut-eye on the Westin Heavenly Bed might be in order.
Freshen up and take a short cab ride to Camana Bay, a popular area bursting with shops, restaurants and residences. Though we can’t promise that you’ll see a band of giddy soccer fans like we did during our visit, we assure you that the dining experiences at Karoo and Ortanique will be memorable. The former is a more informal establishment for decorative drinks and tapas. Ortanique, on the other hand, is a tropical eatery that speaks to a slightly more proper clientele with candle-lit tables, couples-specific specials and a West Indian-style bouillabaisse. While we know the likes of Tom Colicchio and Dean Fearing will pull out all the stops at Cayman Cookout in a few weeks, we can’t say for sure that they’ll have a seafood dish quite as flavorful.