Once upon a time, there was a belief that if it was local, it was inferior. However, with people realising that produce that spends weeks in cold storage simply cannot match the just picked freshness of a tomato from your own garden, the tide has been turning.
Local restaurants have also been driving the trend, using ever more local produce in their cooking, and partnering with farmers to make the most of everything that can be grown in Cayman.
Nothing has focussed more attention on the virtually endless possibilities presented by local produce than farm to table dinners like those put on by The Brasserie (Harvest Dinner) or Michael’s Genuine (Farm to Table). The premise is simple – put together a menu using, as far as possible, only ingredients that can be sourced locally and is in season.
The results are often unexpected as chefs bring a new twist to a well-loved favourite or create something entirely new from ingredients you would never have thought to combine.
The Brasserie has been hosting its Harvest Dinner series for a couple of years, and according to Kyle Kennedy of the Brasserie it is a collaboration of ideas designed to promote a family-style atmosphere whilst showcasing the surprisingly wide variety of locally farmed produce available in Cayman.
The restaurant works closely with local farmers, and also has its own garden at the side of the restaurant. However, the garden has even spread out into the flower beds around the parking lot, which now boast herbs and various other plants.
“This is leaps and bounds ahead of the alternative; pesticide sprayed products imported from overseas. We strongly believe it can be tasted in the final product,” says Kyle.
The restaurant even has its own fishing boats to ensure that the catch is always fresh.
“Not only do we have garden produce and locally caught fish on the menu every day, we also design our cocktail menu around what’s fresh and in season. It makes for a very fun and creative drink-designing process we like to call a ‘Garden to Bar’ theme,” says Kyle.
Although the Farm to table dinners at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Camana Bay are a more recent addition to the local dining scene (as is the restaurant itself),the whole concept of the restaurant is serving ‘genuine’ food, and this means as much fresh local produce as possible. The restaurant uses what is fresh and in season, and when the season ends, the menu changes subtly to make use of whatever else is in season. It is an approach that has won the restaurant, and its chef Thomas Tennant, a very loyal following.
He works very closely with local farmers in order to see what they can grow and how they do it.
“It’s really about enjoying and taking pride in what is grown here,” says Thomas.
And the creations are limitless – at a recent Farm to Table event, Thomas’ menu included land crab ravioli, pumpkin crostini and a whole range of unique uses for local produce.
The restaurant works closely with a number of local farmers, including Patrick Panton, Paul Bodden, and Joel Walton.
What might surprise many enthusiastic amateur chefs is just what can be grown locally. In the past, much of what was grown was dictated by local demand, driven by local dishes. So cassava, seasoning peppers and onions were high on the list for any farmer, as these had a ready market.
According to Joel of Plantation House organic farm, Cayman manages to straddle the tropical and temperate zones, which actually allows a wide range of plants to be grown here. He also says that everything has come together perfectly for the growth of an interest in local produce, between the popularity of cooking shows by the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, increased awareness of and demand for local produce, and the rise in global food prices, which has decreased the gap between local produce and imported produce.
With local restaurants now keen on buying more local produce, many farmers have expanded their repertoire and found a ready market, not only among the restaurants but also among keen cooks who scour local farmers’ markets for fresh produce.
Joel says he has definitely seen farmer from across the spectrum become more adventurous in what they grow, which has shows in the produce they bring to market. And the greater the diversity at market, the more people come, so it is a win-win situation. WH