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Cayman Island: Come for the Beach. Stay for the Ceviche.

The Cayman Islands’ Gastronomy scene continues to thrive with award-winning chefs serving up innovative menu items, weekly and annual culinary events and hyper exclusive dining experiences.

With a record-breaking number of visits to the Cayman Islands in 2018—over 2.3 million guests last year, up 11 per cent from 2017—the tropical destination is becoming one of the most sought-after beach vacations in the Caribbean, if not the world. On the surface, it’s paradise. But while the endless sunshine and warm nights are immediate draws, the culinary scene that lies beneath that palm-tree-lined surface, with its five-star restaurants, comprehensive sea-to-table menus and innovative cocktail offerings, is the real reason to visit. For such a small country—the Cayman Islands are just 196 square kilometres compared to, say, neighbouring Jamaica, which is over 11,000 square kilometres—the gastronomy scene is truly remarkable. It’s no surprise then that Cayman has positioned itself as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.

“Cayman’s proximity to North and South America and its strong European influences contribute to its vast culinary range. As a result, there is a strong food culture, evident in the numerous restaurant options, from small beach huts serving delicious jerk chicken to award- winning fine dining restaurants,” says Toronto-born Massimo De Francesca, Executive Chef at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Chef De Francesca, who has held his current title for a decade, has worked in kitchens around the world, including Italy, Canada and the U.S. But for him, and likely many of his peers, the culinary industry in Cayman is just as exhilarating as it is in any big city. “I live and work where people vacation. Inspiration is everywhere— sunsets, gorgeous beaches and delicious Caribbean flavours never get old,” he says.

This inspiration fuels the country’s most celebrated gastronomic events. Each January, Chef Eric Ripert hosts Cayman Cookout at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a days-long celebration that honours top talent in the food and beverage industry with tastings, tours, demonstrations and special dinners. For Sunday brunch, which has become something of an institution, eateries offer special menus from dim sum to seafood, often accompanied by unlimited bubbly. Meanwhile, guests staying in villas or condos can indulge in a truly memorable fine- dining experience by hiring private chef services to bring in culinary talents to dream up a one-of-a-kind menu and prepare an intimate meal.

The concept of sea-to-table—think farm-to-table, but from an island perspective—is on the rise, too. Chefs work directly with local fishers to receive same-day catches of wahoo, conch, mahi mahi, tuna, lobster (in season) and more.

Chefs in Cayman are proudly promoting local ingredients, which have become increasingly diverse over the past decade,” says Chef De Francesca. “We now have steady markets to source from throughout the year, and I have the pleasure of developing personal relationships with farmers and fishers who drop off their fresh crops and catch to our kitchen.”

The islands have received countless accolades, including the Condé Nast Readers’ Choice AwardsSeven Mile Beach landed on its Top 20 Best Beaches in the World list—a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, USA Today’s 10 Best Awards, which named Seven Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman as one of the Best Restaurants in the Caribbean, as well as voting Avecita, one of the three restaurants at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, as Best New Restaurant in 2017.

If Cayman hasn’t been on your radar, put it there. Booking the trip will feel easy after researching its sun-kissed beaches. But boarding that return flight home after eating the most memorable meals of your life will be a challenge.

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