I was bestowed with the honor to be invited by Camana Bay of the Cayman Islands to experience what the island offers for both food and fun during their annual Slow Food Day with guest starring chefs from the American South Edward Lee and Mike Lata.
This British commonwealth consists of three islands — Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Camana Bay is the developed community on Grand Cayman. This contains a collection of local restaurants, boutiques and commercial offices. There is a central market area where it has a mix of farmers’ markets and small vendors that sell a mix of handmade goods like soaps, sturdy handwoven bags made of a certain tree bark, and even coconuts sold in many varieties (ranging from flaked to candied).
Visiting Clarence McLaughlin’s Farm
We visited Farmer Clarence McLaughlin’s small farm (his is considered the second largest farm on Grand Cayman Island) with the local chefs and guest chefs. I felt like I’ve learned some of the island’s native fruits and even about the cashew fruit and nut. I never knew mango trees could only be grown by grafting (if you grew if from the seed, it’s a different species of mango). Cashew fruit and the nut (the seed) are poisonous if eaten at the unripened state (Farmer Clarence mildly freaked out with Chef Lata’s toddler son picked up a raw cashew fruit on the farm’s grounds and feared the child would stick the fruit in his mouth.).
The best part of this little road trip out is the wonderfully refreshing and sweet coconut water from Clarence’s farm. Seeing someone wielding a machete to hack away the coconut’s shell looks pretty cool (even Chef Edward Lee picked up the machete during the photo-op for kicks).
Fun Things To Do… (That Isn’t About Food)
For the fun aspects of Grand Cayman, I always love about the Caribbean is the varying range of turquoise blue waters, beige-white sand, and it’s very sunny and warm during April unlike the depressingly chilly and oftentimes wet New York City. I just couldn’t help but want to be a beach bum — do nothing but be on a chair under the shade of the umbrella and nap, sunbathe or read.
But of course, we couldn’t just lounge during our free time. Since we’re here for only a few days, we’ve taken up on fun activities like parasailing. It’s a glorious view of the Cayman Islands and peaceful when you get up after the brief adrenaline rush of being whisked up in the air. While I do like the GoPro to film water activities, I don’t suggest trying to film the view there since the camera is fitted with an ultra-wide lens (it makes everything look smaller and further away).
The other water activity my group participated in was an awesome two-hour luxury yacht ride to Stingray City and Starfish Point with a brief jetski ride. It feels great to be on a boat to feel the wind in my hair (along with some natural salt spray) and the sun warming the skin while it’s speeding its way to the destination.
When we arrived to Stingray City, it was very cool to see the stingrays in person and actually interact with them. I’ve had my hesitations to get in the water with these fish after the Steve Irwin incident several years ago but our captain assured us that these stingrays are pretty harmless as long as you don’t step on or play with their tail and you don’t feed them (with calamari) with your thumb sticking out. (This particular activity is when a GoPro is handy to record, as you see on my YouTube video.)
If you do touch a stingray’s skin, it felt like a wet portobello mushroom cap (I had to go with a food analogy to best describe this to you).
At Starfish Point, you do have the opportunity to touch live starfish. It’s pretty funny that these starfish lined up when we arrived toward the shallow end of beach.
Where to Eat
For breakfast or a light lunch, my group and I really adored Jessie’s Juice Bar for the flavorful, gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly toasts and fresh juices. They even serve Panther Coffee, an excellent coffee roastery based in Miami, Florida for those who prefer to be caffeinated than having a morning juice to start the day.
Since our trip primarily focused on Camana Bay of Grand Cayman Island, one particular restaurant had flavors that resonated with the islands was Ortanique albeit refined in terms of plating and atmosphere. I really enjoyed the smoked grouper fritters served with ackee (an unusual fruit that tastes savory with a texture of scrambled eggs) and callaloo.
Other very good restaurants found on Camana Bay are Lola for bistro inflected food.
Mizu is the go-to spot for Asian fusion cuisine ranging from sushi and sashimi, outdoor teppanyaki and dim sum of assorted dumplings. The sushi was my favorite of the bunch since the fish was incredibly fresh. The teppanyaki was a fun experience and to dine outdoors was pretty neat.
If you seek excellent, modern Caribbean flavors but cooked primarily with French technique, Abacus is your best bet. Executive Chef Will O’Hara and his team served a delicious corn chowder that was sweet and not too creamy. The oxtail spring roll was a smart idea to combine a Caribbean standby of braised oxtail and make it interesting in the form of a deep fried spring roll. The grilled octopus was deliciously tender. The sticky toffee pudding was simply perfect. Oh, and their non-alcoholic cocktails were inventive and tasted great.
Waterfront Urban Diner is an upscale diner that nods to the Caribbean land it sits on. Their huge serving of fresh baked cinnamon bun with cream cheese frosting reminds me of decadent brunch in New York.
The last thing I’ve generally expect to have on any Caribbean island is to have amazing gelato. Gelato & Co. actually nails the true texture and flavors of authentic Italian gelato, especially when I had my cone of pistachio gelato. I was swooning and almost had a tear in my eye how intense the pistachio flavor was.
For about a 20-minute drive north of Camana Bay, I did get the opportunity to try local fare at Heritage Kitchen, right on West Bay Beach. It’s essentially a fish shack that serves four types of fish (snapper, mahi, wahoo, and grouper) and you would have five options of it cooked (Cayman style, curry, coconut, pineapple, and pan fried) and there is a stewed chicken and dumplings dish for those who prefer to have meat.
You will be dining with the locals and a few tourists who seek the hole-in-the-wall experience and the residing hens and a rooster called Johnny Depp because he has striking colors and his slightly off-kilter personality when you do observe this chicken.
We stayed at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort on Seven Mile Beach. The hotel went through a renovation and rebranding several years ago and I really loved the beautiful ground floor space to lounge and hang out for a drink. It feels like a comfy beach house and you do have a good view looking toward the beach.
The small details that really made the stay really enjoyable like letting hotel guests borrow a GoPro camera for free (there’s about a dozen out and it’s gone very quickly by 7:15am) and a firepit at the beach toasting marshmallows for s’mores during the evening.
To see the entire photo set of this visit, please CLICK HERE or see some of the photos below:[alpine-phototile-for-flickr src=”set” uid=”26389565@N00″ sid=”72157667385271845″ imgl=”flickr” shuffle=”1″ style=”gallery” row=”4″ grwidth=”1200″ grheight=”800″ size=”640″ num=”30″ shadow=”1″ border=”1″ align=”center” max=”100″]
Slow Food at Camana Bay