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Ritz-Carlton Chefs on the Cayman Islands

Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Cayman Cookout in Grand Cayman. Right now: chefs from the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman: Frederic Morineau (Executive Chef), Luis Lujan (Chef de Cuisine, Blue by Eric Ripert), Benjamin Kallenbach (Executive Pastry Chef), and Edgar Carrera (Chef de Cuisine at 7).


You guys must be really busy.
Frederic: As you can see! The operation is planned a year out before and then the staff steps up. It's a good feeling not to be stressed.

What kind of numbers does the hotel do?
Frederic: Well it's a $30 million food and beverage operation. Luis being the dining room chef does 100-150 a night. Edgar runs the premium restaurants, including the ones by the beach, and he does room service, and catering for the residences. We try to maximize his salary as much as we can. The only guy who produces something for every outlet is our pastry chef, he does everything for every single restaurant.

How many people do you have on staff?
Benjamin: I have 16 people on staff. We do 90% of the bread here — danishes, croissant, everything. The kitchen is a 24-hour operation.

Is it all one centralized kitchen?
Frederic: No, it's all separate. The pastry is all together, but everywhere else has their own kitchen. We're skinny, as you can see.

How does it work, organizing the event and doing the guest dinners?
Frederic: The magic of the event is the relationship between us and Eric Ripert's team. The festival is designed to bring friends. We're very professional, but we bring people we like. And then we all become friends. And they come before the festival and stay two days after. So there's fun for a bit and then the festival starts and we're very serious. And then, when it's over, it's fun. At last night's event there were 600 people — the events on the beach are 80-100. So you see Anthony Bourdain speaking, but then you have lunch with him as well. Most of the chefs are doing cooking demos with the ocean behind them. There are lots of different types of events.

So what's unique about the Cayman Islands in regards to food?
Luis: Well, for Eric Ripert's Blue, it's very sustainable. They use lots of local fishermen. In New York, you can't even get that. Here we have seasons of conch, seasons of lobster. So we respect that. In Blue, we use 75% local fish. You don't have this beach in New York [points] so it's very, very unique. We also have local producers who contract with the hotel. That makes the property unique. [With local produce] you have already 75% of your flavor. You don't have that much to do.

What about pastry? Are there local fruits?
Benjamin: When it's mango season, we'll have mangoes coming in by the crate. That's in May. Right now we don't have much.
Luis: The problem is that a lot of the local producers can't do the volume we need.
Benjamin: Yes, but we utilize what we can.
Luis: We get coconuts, local limes, lemongrass, and eggplants all year long.
Frederic: Something not everyone uses is the sea grape. They're big leaves, they're actual grapes. The fruit grows in September, and they make jam with it.
Luis: There are some things you can get here that you can't get other places, like the fresh conch. This is product we get the next day. We're very lucky.
Benjamin: The butcher shop is right next to the pastry shop and every day you see the fishermen bringing in huge carts of huge fish. It's like awesome!

How did you all end up in Grand Cayman?
Edgar: Before this i was in the states, in Texas. This is my first time working for Ritz-Carlton. I wanted a change, so I just applied online. Six years later, here I am. Living here is wonderful. No more pressure.
Benjamin: This is my thrid Ritz-Carlton. I was in the Middle East the past few years and I was lucky enough to have Jesus smile on me during my tastings.
Edgar: And chef, too!
Benjamin: Yes, chef liked my tastings. But I was in Bahrain before then.
Frederic: Wait, you told me you came to learn from me!
Benjamin: And to enhance my French.
Frederic: I've been with Ritz-Carlton for 15 years, Once you work for this company, you never leave. Or you go see if the grass is greener and you come back. We still believe in the same luxury as when I started. Same goal. All the gentlemen together are passionate about what they do, but also they appreciate the guest experience. They will always take the time to talk to the guests and speak to them.
Luis: I worked for the Ritz-Carlton in New York and then in Orlando and then over seas, but then worked on a project at home in Mexico, with family. But I got an email about this position. I gave it a try and vacationed here and didn't go back. It's really nice.

· All Cayman 2012 Interviews [-E-]

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