Chefs Converge on the Caymans

GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands ( TheStreet) -- Now that the snow is here, there should be something to keep you going until spring -- something warm and delicious to make you smile. There certainly is, and TravelsinTaste found it: It is time to take part in top gastronomic events as part of a dedicated Culinary Month for the Cayman Islands.

Top chefs have been flocking to the islands for a while now. First and foremost is Eric Ripert, executive chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York, who opened Blue by Eric Ripert at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman -- a taste of Le Bernardin with Caribbean influences -- in 2005. His famously delicious Tuna Foie Gras has made its way south accompanied by a Trio of Conch Ceviche in addition to the locally caught and responsibly fished bounties of the island's fishermen.

Chef Dean Max (of 3030 Ocean at the Marriott ( MAR) Harbor Beach in Fort Lauderdale) has also been a Cayman proponent for quite some time. Over the past six years, Max and Brasserie owners Clarence and Lisa Flowers have polished their Grand Cayman gem of a restaurant. The restaurant re-opened its doors early last year and introduced a garden, exhibition kitchen, walk-in wine room and their own fishing boat to ensure freshly caught seafood!

Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin is at home in the Caymans, cooking at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman and as serving as host of special island culinary events that start Thursday.

In June, Michael Schwartz opened an outpost of his Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Grand Cayman, continuing the Miami site's original focus on fresh, local ingredients paired with creative wine, beer and spirits, many of which are new to the island. While his menu sports such mainland fare as Wood Oven Pizza, it also includes Local Yellowfin Tuna Crudo and many more locally grown options.

Renowned chef Alain Ducasse opened miX on the Beach early last year at the W Retreat and Spa in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Although there are similarities to his miX at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay ( MGM) in Las Vegas, which is well known for its amazing Strip view, this miX features Latino Caribbean flavors with French influences in addition to an amazing view of the water. Even with a new type of menu, some of his classics remain, such as his miX of pork, shrimp cocktail and wildly popular miX candy bar.

In 2007 Bobby Flay also has made his way down to The Cove at Atlantis in Paradise Island for his first foray outside the United States. Unlike his New York and Vegas outposts, this one sports Crispy Squid and Cracked Conch Salad with Orange-Chipotle Vinaigrette and Bahamian Lobster Tail in addition to his popular Southwestern cuisine.

For those who don't have a permanent island outpost, and those who do this weekend, Thursday through Sunday marks the Cayman's premiere epicurean event, the Cayman Cookout. Ripert hosts the weekend of food and wine in the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman.

The week's festivities include such noted chefs as Ripert, Max, Suser Lee (recently seen judging Bravo's Top Chef), Charlie Trotter, Rachel Allen, Anthony Bourdain, Jose Andres, Michael Laiskonis, Michael Schwartz, Cindy Hutson and Jennifer Carroll. Sommeliers include Dennis Cakebread, Heidi Petterson Barrett, Fernando Remirez de Ganuza, Anthony Giglio and Ray Isle. Additionally, three very special guests will be joining the festivities: Gail Simmons of Food & Wine; Eliza Osborne, vice president of Sotheby's ( BID); and Gary Hayward, Bombay Sapphire's newest U.S. brand ambassador.

Special not-to-miss events throughout the weekend include Lee's demonstration of beach fusion; a recreation of Bravo TV's Top Chef: Just Desserts with host Gail Simmons and guest judge Le Bernardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis talking behind the scenes at the show; a culinary tour by Max, taking food direct from the Brasserie's new garden to his tables; a world-class champagne tasting headed by sommelier Isle; and Ripert's Starfish Point picnic -- the destination of which was highlighted in his show Avec Eric.

All in all, something to smile about in January. Even if you can't make it to the islands, you can try one of the chef's creations back home!

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