Chefs Flock to the Cayman Cookout

Yesterday, while blissfully bathing in the warm water of the Caribbean, I watched as Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, and other chefs dipped their tanned toes into the water so they could get a group photo in the soothing orange light of the sunset.

This little photo op was just the beginning of this weekend’s fifth annual Cayman Cookout, which begins today at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman. Started by Ripert in 2009, the three-day, celebrity chef-packed even showcases the finer things in life: food, wine, and the white sands of a tropical resort.

Ripert started the event for the pure fact that he loves the island, and calls it his home away from home. He is not alone in his amour of the Cayman Islands; there are over 150 restaurants on them, and many owned by top chefs including Dean Max, who has Brasserie here, Vidyadhara Shetty, the president of the Cayman Culinary Society, and of course Ripert himself who has Blue by Eric Ripert.

As this morning kicked off the festival, along with chef Jose Andres jet-packed stunt on Seven-Mile Beach, there will also be wine tastings and classes with Food & Wine’s Ray Isle, the art of pie with Spike Mendelsohn, a beach picnic courtesy of Daniel Humm, and fresh fish with Paul Bartolotta.

It might already be Friday, but it’s not too late to jump on a plane and join this tasty beach party.

Chefs on Chefs on Chefs Cameo In Season Three of ‘Treme’

On HBO’s post-Katrina drama series Treme, creator David Simon highlights the struggles of many New Orleanians in the creative professions, among them novelists, DJs, musicians and chefs. And for the latter, especially, he’s done his homework, bringing on actual New Orleans chef Susan Spicer (Bayona, Mondo, Top Chef) to serve as a consultant on the show—the character of chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) is loosely based on her—and Anthony Bourdain is one of the show’s writers.

During Season 3, in which Janette tries her hand on the culinary scene in New York, a number of extra-extra Special Guest Stars drop by for an all-star benefit dinner that feels more Bravo than HBO, including David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Jonathan Waxman and Alfred Portale. It’ll be interesting to see how Janette and her kitchen-mates react, as that sounds like a fairly terrifying situation for even the most seasoned chefs. The show’s casting director, interviewed in the behind-the-scenes footage, agrees.

“The gathering of great chefs isn’t the kind of casting I normally do,” casting director Alexa Fogel says in the HBO video. “And it fills your heart with complete terror when you see one of their names on the script.”

The show’s production team had some help crafting the complex and prep-heavy classic French dishes for the dinner, including salmon coulbiac and hare a la royale, a stewed hare dish that requires insanely precise butchering and what Dufresne calls “an acquired taste.” Soa Davies, a former member of the menu development team at Ripert’s Le Bernadin restaurant, served as the food stylist for the episode. In the video, she recounts her experiences trying to get various pâtés and terrines through airport security, a rather Herculean task for even the most seasoned of culinary experts. 

Treme returns to HBO this Sunday, September 23, but in the meantime, you can watch the production team cook up some classic French dishes and share them with celebri-chefs below.

Millesime Chef Laurent Manrique on His Brasserie, Tuna Tartare, and Buddhism

Something is happening on the second floor of the Carlton Hotel. Hot is colliding with cold, Asian is merging with French, and tuna is appearing in dishes where steak once reigned. Welcome to Millesime, where ambition and simplicity emanate from chef Laurent Manrique’s lauded kitchen. With a career that began at the Waldorf Hotel’s Peacock Alley, and is dotted with Bon Appètit’s "Rising Star Chef Award" and Michelin stars (his cooking earned San Francisco’s Aqua three and a half stars), Manrique is back in New York and shaking up the French scene with his signature class and innovation.

How would you describe the cuisine at Millesime?
Seafood cuisine, simple preparation, focused on quality of the product. And French, of course.
 
Which dish are you proudest of?
The tuna tartare. It’s a tuna dish I did when I was running Aqua in 2003 in San Francisco. People really love it, so that’s one of the dishes we put back on the menu here. It’s not a classic dish; it’s usually a steak tartare, but this dish is one of the exceptions on the menu where we adjust.
 
Is that also the most popular?
That, and the grilled Caesar salad. It’s warm and cold.
 
Millesime is French for “Vintage.” I know that you own a vineyard and make your own wines. Did that have anything to do with it?
It actually doesn’t have anything to do with it. A lot of people think, “Okay, that’s going to be a restaurant oriented with wine,” but vintage is also something old, and when I look at the space inside the Carlton Hotel, I noticed the dome: it’s a Tiffany glass dome, a landmark in New York from 1904, when the Carlton was known as the Hotel Seville, so that was one of the first things I really liked.  The tile floor is original mosaic from 1904. I didn’t want to call the restaurant “vintage,” but we thought, hey, it can be Millesime.
 
How has your cooking style changed since you worked at the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley 10 years ago? It’s incredible you were the executive chef at 26 years old!
That was quite an experience for me. It was my first position in New York. I was young, aggressive, and I tried to impress a lot. So, my food was all over the map, whereas now, with my experience in California 10 years later, my food has really evolved. I’m still cooking French, I would never want to forget my roots, but I’ve been living in this country for 20 years, so I’m changing. I cook differently for my family, I eat differently, I’m more open to different flavors, and that indirectly transfers to my cuisine. For example, 20 years ago, the only spices I was using were black pepper and fresh thyme. I would have never dreamed of using ginger, or soy sauce, so that’s a big step. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question.
 
No, no, you have! Jumping off of that, how has the New York food scene changed since then?
Before, you just had upscale restaurants on the Upper East Side, and if you wanted a casual dining experience or a fun place, you had to go all the way downtown. Now, you can find a bit of both everywhere — in Hell’s Kitchen, Union Square, the Bronx. You can have an incredible food experience in a casual place at a wood table and no napkins, nothing.  Before, you had to go to a place categorized as “fine dining” to have the kind of great food experience. When I came back, that change was a big surprise to me and it made me very happy.
 
Is there a certain dish you cook for your family that they love?
I’m back and forth between New York and San Francisco—my family still lives in San Francisco—so whenever I go back, I cook a lot at home because I do enjoy cooking no matter what. Sundays are usually roasted chicken; it’s one of those traditional dishes. I do a lot of soup with my children. I’m not too much of a good baker. I don’t like baking too much. Our cooking also depends on the season: in the winter, we like to do stews; in the summer, we like to do barbecues outside.
 
I’d imagine, in comparison with cooking, baking must be so limiting for you since it’s more formulaic.
Yes, yes, exactly. For me, baking has too many restrictions. There’s a science, so you can’t just, you know, play around. If you put too much flour, the dish doesn’t come right­. You have to be very specific on the baking, whereas in cooking, you just let your mind go for it. If you’re a baker and you have a bad day and you bake a tart, that tart can’t be spicy, right? But if you’re a cook and you have a bad day, the dishes can be spicy because you’re angry, so you use up all the spice!
 
That’s a very good point. Cooking is so improvisational. It’s like the jazz of the culinary world.
Yeah! It’s like Miles Davis, right? You let the music go. Whereas you have some old, classic jazz players who just respect the notes, look at the music notes, and don’t move around from that. That would be a similar comparison.
 
What New York restaurants do you like to eat at, besides your own?
I’m very close to Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin. We’ve known each other a long time and are each other’s fans, so we eat together a few times when I’m here. I like to go to PruneBlue Ribbon is sometimes open very late; that’s where you see a lot of chefs hang out.
 
It’s like the chefs’ clubhouse.
Yeah, you should try it. Great seafood.
 
You practice Buddhism; how did you get involved with it, and how has it influenced your cooking?
I was looking for something different that fit my beliefs and my faith. I grew up in a typical Christian family, and at one point, I thought “Wait a minute. I’m not sure if I agree with what I’m reading here.” And I started to look somewhere else, and I saw that Buddhism fit my beliefs and I got involved with that. I started studying, going on some retreats.  Buddhism helps me remove the unnecessary things on the plate; if it’s not important, what’s the point? You go straight to the point. Don’t try to bake or mask by covering dishes with a sauce, a piece of fish with too much spice, because you remove the true nature of the product. It’s almost like if you have a beautiful diamond, right? Why would you want to put sapphire around it? If you do that, we’re not going to see all the diamond, and we’re not going to see all the sapphire. So, you’ve got to choose between one of them. Make them better, not hide them.
 
What are some recent culinary trends that excite or frustrate you?
One of the trends that frustrates me is that more and more now, you see young chefs that have beautiful execution of the design on the plate of the dishes, but they’re not actually sitting down and tasting the dishes. The dishes look like paintings, it’s very minimalist, and there’s nothing wrong with that, right? But at the end of the day, it’s still food, and you want to make sure you are able to eat and enjoy it. And I understand the way the world moves—design has become more and more minimalist and sleek—cars, clothes, restaurants, cuisine. Young chefs take themselves too seriously. It’s just food.
 
What motto do you live by?
Honesty. Honesty with yourself, with the people you work with, with your customers.

Openings: The Independent Hotel, Philadelphia

imageAs the list of reasons to be proud to be an American ever dwindles, perhaps only a visit to our roots could possibly offer comfort. Your author’s favorite American city, however, has been a little slow to embrace boutique hotel mania, leading us to carry on our rock & roll misbehavings in this most rock & roll of towns in rather extravagant locales like the Ritz-Carlton (though the stories are hair-curling). But already sporting a masterful double entendre, Philly’s new (as of July) Independent Hotel now beckons style-hounds to the home of our nascent liberties. In a (naturally) listed historic building in the invitingly artsy Center City neighborhood, the 24-room charmer features hardwood floors, exposed brick, cathedral ceilings, and flat panel HDTVs.

Complimentary evening wine and cheese receptions are planned for the hotel’s fireside lounge, reminding one that this is, indeed, the City of Brotherly Love. If that weren’t enough, Stephen Starr’s stylish new Frenchie bistro Parc is opening just up the street, chic steakhouse Table 31 debuts in Robert AM Stern’s futuristic new Comcast Center building, and a groovy new Mexican joint, Distrito, debuts in University City. Oh, and for those of you who just can’t resist the swank, Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert opens 10 Arts (i.e. 10 Avenue of the Arts) in that very same Ritz-Carlton. Don’t you just feel more patriotic already?