The first real day of the Cookout began at 10am. As Jose Andres put it, “Who puts a cooking class at 10am?! You start a cooking class at 3pm so you have the day sleep and then do your things…then cook!” But he didn’t seem to be slowed by the early start. As Dana Cowin was introducing him for demonstration, she was wondering where he was. As she was saying, “He has got to be here somewhere…” he came bounding on the stage straight out of the ocean in his scuba gear with his ten year old daughter. He is a character to say the least. We were all seated in a tent with the people who payed extra with their American Express Platinum Cards having the preferred seats in the front rows. He undid all that (hilariously) by getting everyone up and out into the blazing sun on the beach, around ENORMOUS paella pans over fires built in the sand. He immediately started hollering for volunteers: 2 people for each pan to stir and add ingredients, 4 people to help make the cocktails, 3 people to grill oysters…go go go!!!
The fires were hot. The sun was hot. His sous chefs were in jeans. I thought they were going to pass out but they have to be strong to work for this guy. The dish he was making was called Fideo. It’s like paella but made with pasta instead of rice. Much easier to control the outcome of when cooking for 100 people over open flames on a beach! Pork ribs, tomatoes, pasta (short angel hair), lobster, broth. Everyone was sweating like mad in the heat of the day and the fires but the cocktails started flowing. Fruit, mint, champagne…a beautiful, refreshing way to begin drinking at 10am!!
I stood next to Dana Cowin and shamelessly plugged my web site. All the while Jose is running around like a madman and then puts a song on the PA, passes around lyrics and has us all sing along. He is amazing and the food was phenomenal. He’s completely insane and a blast to see cook.
Our next ticket was for a Behind the Scenes tour of Blue by Eric Ripert. They don’t ever just call it “Blue”, it is always “Blue by Eric Ripert”. That was making me laugh.
Anyway, we arrived and grabbed a front row seat. Luis Lujan is the Executive Chef at Blue (by Eric Ripert) and walked us through the preparation of the dishes we’d be having for lunch. The first was wahoo. If you ever have a chance to eat wahoo, DO IT! This is an incredible fish. It looks like hamachi but it melts in your mouth. He cut it perfectly, seared in perfectly and dressed it perfectly. I would expect no less. Eric popped in to say hello and then we all got a brief tour of the kitchen. It’s not a huge kitchen and in 2 days time would be filled with the world’s best chefs making 164 plates each for the Gala Dinner. Incredible.
We then sat on the patio for our lovely lunch. The wine flows continuously at these events. I’m amazed I could walk but something happens on these sorts of adventures and what would result in me being horizontal at home is just par for the course as the weekend goes on. Probably not healthy but this is not an every day occurence.
The afternoon treated us to a demo by April Bloomfield of which I only got to catch the end. Then a beautiful green curry ceviche by Laurent Gras. I was so ridiculously full by this point, I was scared of what Laurent was going to present but it was so light and refreshing that it was more like a cocktail with some fish in it than a meal. It was almost a palate cleanser. He took the ingredients of a green curry but instead of making it a heavy dish full of coconut milk, he used coconut water and created a light ceviche. Something I will definitely try at home.
The first of the epic evening events was the Barefoot BBQ at Tiki Beach. They had a shuttle running from the hotel to the event but it was a whopping 2km away, on the beach, we decided to walk. Really for two reasons: one, we were already so full, we needed to work up an appetite and two, we had to pick up our son from his amazing camp at the hotel before the shuttles were going to be running at the end of the event and we needed to time the walk. What a beautiful way to get to the BBQ. I’m so glad we did that. We didn’t have to wait in line with anxious rich folks who complain if things aren’t exactly as they think they should be, we were walking along the white sandy beach of Grand Cayman at dusk. You can’t beat that.
We arrived at Tiki Beach and it was crazy-busy. Our first stop was Tony Bourdain’s station and some sumptuous pork. He’s still got it man. He may be more known for traveling and writing now but 28 years in the kitchen doesn’t just vanish. He makes a mean pig. We worked our way to the complete opposite end of the venue and found Jose Andres being loud and hilarious as usual as his chefs carved thin slices of Jamon Iberico. I will never be able to eat prosciutto again now that I’ve experienced Iberico. Dryer, saltier, damn it was good. It was atop some sliced beef. So now I’ve had pork, I’ve had beef with pork on top and we waltz over to Eric Ripert’s station where he’s serving beef tenderloin. Why not?! Pork, beef and pork, beef….so full. I thought I made a damn fine tenderloin but, as usual, Eric takes it beyond.
We found a table in the back near Jose Andres and relaxed with our plates for a bit. We got to visit with some fabulous people. I wasn’t sure how the attendees would be at this. There is a lot of money here obviously. And there are some people that have more money than I could ever imagine having and are real snots about it. They have their Gucci and Valentino clothes shipped to them to try on because they live an hour from the Galleria and that’s just too damn inconvenient for shopping. Just one example. But the people we visited with at the BBQ were all wonderful. One woman was a coordinator for the event. One couple had been before but brough his mom this year from Michigan. There were a lot of Canadians representing. Maybe because of Paul Rogalski being there or maybe becuase it’s usually 25 below this time of year and it’s a great escape.
After a few nibbles of dessert we headed back to the beach and walked back to the hotel under the stars….many more stars than we get to see in our neck of the woods. Mars was so bright it was reflecting off the ocean. Amazing.