Chef Niven sharpens his knives at The Brasserie and Market in George Town, Grand Cayman. His specialty, not surprisingly, is island-influenced cuisine, but his passion is freshness. Using the freshest ingredients, day boat fish caught by The Brasserie’s own fishing crew, fresh garden herbs, and locally sourced produce means that while Chef Niven’s food is indeed island flavored, at its core there is a philosophy that guides his hand.
A Cayman Island Cookout
That philosophy was on full display during our meal, a meal that was paired with wines off the list at The Brasserie. While our dinner wasn’t entirely island influenced, it was based on the freshest ingredients, illustrating the style of cooking one can expect at The Brasserie and throughout the Cayman Islands.
Called the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean,” the Cayman Islands feature over 150 restaurants with everything from down home beach shacks to the finest dining locals, where chefs such as Eric Ripert, Michael Schwartz, Cindy Hudson and of course Chef Niven ply their talents. One of the world’s greatest travel destinations, the Cayman Islands celebrate their culinary diversity every year in January during their Cayman Cookout. Our own Kate Statton attended last year and filed this report.
If pristine beaches, exquisite cuisine, a festive atmosphere and warm, friendly people sound like the antidote to your impending winter blues, consider a trip down south to the Cayman Cookout this year. Here’s a sneak peek of what you might expect!
We began our meal with a delicate fluke crudo served with crispy chickpeas and micro-greens in a seasoning pepper (Chef Niven shared that these were similar to Scotch bonnets yet without the heat) escabeche paired with the Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner 2011. The fresh, crisp flavors of the wine were a perfect match for the dish, bringing out the sweet, gently briny character of the fish and accenting the freshness of the greens. There’s a lovely underlying mineral quality that the wine shows on the finish, making this pairing light and refreshing. An ideal way to begin a meal.
1st Course - Seafood
Our first course, fresh from the Fulton Fish Market here in New York City, featured fresh clams prepared with smoked bacon and heirloom tomatoes, served over charred ciabatta bread. The combination of intense tomato and bacon flavors brought out the sweetness of the clams. When paired with Planeta’s 2010 Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a medium- to light-bodied red wine full of vibrant red berry fruit flavors, the interplay of that sweet fruit with the smoky bacon and charred ciabatta added real richness and depth of flavor to this pairing.
2nd Course - Salad
While salad can be a tough match for many wines, this combination of sweet organic beets, tangy goat cheese and robust red spinach in a very light Cayman citrus vinaigrette proved quite wine friendly.
Both the Planeta and the Loimer worked surprisingly well here, with the Loimer playing off the tangy goat cheese and the sweet, earthy nature of the beets serving as a firm counterpoint to the ripe fruits of the Planeta.
3rd Course - Fish
In true Cayman style, our fish course featured fresh from the sea, day boat striped bass over creamy gnocchi, tatsoi, and Romano beans in a rich yet silken Caribbean stone crab butter. Bucking convention, we paired this dish with Cloudy Bay’s 2010 Marlborough Pinot Noir.
The fish was seared skin side down, offering up crisp, smoky layers of flavor that melded with the bright red cherry and raspberry fruit of the Pinot Noir. This is a lighter-bodied Pinot, so it was perfectly suited for pairing with this intensely flavored yet elegant preparation.
4th Course - Beef
I’ve got to say that from the beginning of the meal, all eyes were on the giant slabs of thirty eight-day dry aged strip steak that Chef Niven had picked up early in the day. Perfectly grilled and then seared for extra flavor, the steaks were served with squash, wild greens, mushrooms and a spicy Scotch bonnet pepper jelly.
A powerful wine was in order here and Tenuta Sette Ponti’s 2008 Oreno was a perfect match. Traditionally a Sangiovese-based blend, the 2008 Oreno signaled a new direction for Sette Ponti, a switch to a Bordeaux blend featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The complex richness of the wine was an ideal complement to the rich flavor of the beef, and the nuanced pepper jelly flavors played off of the hints of herb buried deep within the masses of fresh fruit the wine brought to the table.
I love coconut and it happens to be a very wine-friendly flavor, particularly if that wine is deep, rich and honeyed like the 2009 Kracher Cuvee Beerenauslese. Based on Welsh Riesling and Chardonnay, this sweet, luscious wine offered up peach, grapefruit and caramel flavors that were the perfect way to end a meal, especially when paired with Chef Niven’s Jonagold apple and almond strudel. It was topped with a coconut ice cream that brought a taste of the Caribbean right to a rainy, midtown Manhattan evening. It was a great way to shine a little Caribbean sunlight and Cayman kindness on us all!