Spain’s culinary star, José Andrés, is making waves around the world — and at this year’s Cayman Cookout.
By Lane Nieset
When Hurricane Matthew wiped towns and villages off Haiti’s map last October, José Andrés flew over to help the one way he knows best — with food.
The Spanish-born chef known for bringing his whimsical tapas to the American culinary scene is not only behind an award-winning group of 25 restaurants (including The Bazaar by José Andrés), he’s also the founder of nonprofit World Central Kitchen. Launched in 2012, Andrés, along with his network of celeb chef friends like Mario Batali and Andrew Zimmern, have set out to help find solutions for hunger and poverty in communities around the globe.
Andrés first made his way to Haiti in 2010 following the devastating earthquake that killed over 220,000 people and left another 1.5 million homeless. Inspiration for his nonprofit grew from this first visit, and the chef has returned more than 20 times since, even hosting a one-hour documentary, Undiscovered: Haiti with José Andrés. With the help of World Central Kitchen, the chef was able to assist, teaching five communities across the country how to cook and use clean cooking fuels.
Now Andrés is back in Haiti working in communities like Les Cayes, Jérémie, cooking in a makeshift kitchen with a goal to provide 1,000 meals per day to Haitians affected by the storm.
With his humanitarian efforts and numerous other titles that include television personality, author and educator, it’s no surprise that the chef has received the “Outstanding Chef” award from the James Beard Foundation, in addition to being named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People.”
“I think José may be one of the most considerate men I've ever met,” says Texan chef Tim Love, known for Fort Worth restaurants like flagship Lonesome Dove Western Bistro. “I feel he is always looking to improve everyone around him by constantly smiling and complimenting, whilst also mentoring — a trait very few have.”
Chef Love is one of a handful of renowned chefs who will be joining José Andrés for the ninth annual Cayman Cookout, taking place January 12–15 at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
“The first Cayman Cookout was only local chefs and amateurs,” explains founder and host Eric Ripert of New York City’s Le Bernardin and Blue by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. “It was a success, so we decided to bring chefs from the US and all over the world for the festival.”
Ripert’s mind immediately went to two friends whose names are quite large ones in the culinary world. “When I asked José and Anthony Bourdain to come to the Cayman Cookout, both said, ‘Of course we are going to come, and we are going to have fun together.’”
When asked to describe their connection, Andrés told Cayman Airways Skies that he’s been friends with Ripert for years. “We know how to make each other laugh,” he says, “and we share a deep passion for discovering new cuisine and enacting change through the power of food.”
Straying From Tradition
The trio of star chefs continue to lead the show year after year, but what keeps each instalment of the Cayman Cookout fresh is the melting pot of new faces and cuisines brought together for the four-day foodie event. “Everyone has their own style of cooking and knows that they are in Cayman and that there’s a strong culture of the Caribbean,” Ripert explains. “They adapt to the festival, but the festival does not adapt to their style of cooking.”
Andrés, for example, brings his Spanish influence to the island, kicking off the weekend each year with the festival’s first event, his signature paella on the beach. Whilst the Cayman Cookout features more than 40 events this year ranging from Creole cooking demonstrations with New Orleans superstar Emeril Lagasse to New Zealand Craggy Range wine tastings on board a private jet to sister island Cayman Brac, one of the annual favourites continues to be Olé José. During this event, Chef Andrés — the “Master of Entertaining” — shares stories and puts on a show whilst whipping up his revamped version of paella, the Valencian rice dish with seafood or meat traditionally simmered over an open fire.
Whilst José Andrés made the term tapas a household one for Americans, he’s made a name for himself playing on traditional Spanish flavours and crafting his own take on these classics. At one of his restaurants, The Bazaar by José Andrés South Beach in Miami, the chef makes conch fritters his way with a liquid centre and serves up tacos stuffed with Iberico ham and Ossetra caviar. If you haven’t had the chance to try his iconic caviar cone, after one bite of the blend of caviar, capers and crème fraiche, you’ll immediately see what all the fuss is about.
It’s no different when he’s whipping up his paella at the Cookout, either. Last year he switched out rice for pasta — which he toasted — and added just a dash of Krug Champagne to the mix. “José brings a lot of Spanish influence, and every year he changes the style of his paella,” Ripert says. “Paella is obviously Spanish, but at the same time it can relate to Cayman.”
Just as they do in Spain, Andrés prepares this dish beachfront with a bonfire on the sand, meant to be enjoyed surrounded by family and friends. And not only does the chef know how to make a lasting impression with his cuisine, he also knows how to make quite the entrance, arriving in everything from scuba gear and a water-powered jetpack to a sombrero on horseback with his other two amigos, Ripert and Bourdain.
During the closing event, the “Seven to Savour” grand finale seven-course dinner, Andrés will also weave in elements of Cayman cuisine when crafting his dish for the gala, where he’s joined by the Cookout’s other star chefs like Love and Lagasse, as well as other newcomers like Momofuku Milk Bar owner Christina Tosi and Swiss chef Daniel Humm of New York City’s Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad.
But what should guests at the “Seven to Savour” dinner look forward to most? “Lots of flavour, fresh seafood and our spin on some Caribbean favourites,” he says. Mouthwatering is an understatement. Just as the chef was inspired by the history and cuisine of another country in the Caribbean, Haiti, he also strives to share some insight into the Cayman Islands’ culture through his cooking. “I love the colours and flavours in Cayman cuisine,” he explains when asked how the islands have played an influence on his cooking. “There is so much fresh seafood like oysters, sea urchins, razor clams, mussels and more that we prepare simply to showcase these amazing ingredients.”
Chef on a Mission
Andrés is not only the chef and owner behind ThinkFoodGroup — with eateries from Mexican Spanish fusion J by José Andrés at W Mexico City to vegetarian fast casual concept Beefsteak scattered across the northeast — he also serves as Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, in addition to his nonprofit work with World Central Kitchen. But don’t think the chef is all work and no play. Andrés still has a few plans in mind for ways to relax between cooking in Cayman. “I plan to enjoy the sunshine, catch up with my friends, spend time with my family (who love to join me during this event), take a nice long walk on Seven Mile Beach, and unwind like the Cayman Islanders who know best,” he says.
Compared to other culinary events Andrés participates in, he says this one stands out because, he admits, “There is such a festive, laid-back attitude in the Cayman Islands. It’s hard to beat the beautiful scenery and the fresh, amazing local ingredients.”
Of course, once the chef is off island time, it’s back in the kitchen adding another restaurant to his repertoire, Bazaar Mar in the new SLS Brickell Hotel & Residences, in downtown Miami. The menu will serve up “sea snacks” like ceviche, seaweed and tiradito, in addition to an extensive raw bar and whole fish prepared a number of ways. And like all of his other culinary creations, this restaurant is sure to be anything but typical.