Eric Ripert does not just wear the white hat as Le Bernardin’s executive owner and chef; he is also the mastermind behind The Ritz-Carlton Cayman Cookout, an annual food festival in the Caribbean. The 8th annual Cayman Cookout will take place this year at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman hotel from January 14 through the 17. Ripert will enlist the culinary talents of local and internationally famous chefs like José Andrés and Anthony Bourdain to create spectacular dishes like seafood paella, which Andrés will be cooking over an open fire pit on the beach.
But for this three-Michelin-starred chef, besides preparing and sampling beachside gourmet cuisine made with local flair, a major highlight of the Caribbean trip is swimming with the stingrays, especially one ray in particular.
“Every year I take a small group and go swim with the stingrays,” he told The Daily Meal. “Did you know that stingrays have amazing memories? Well, there’s one stingray that recognizes me every year and she kisses me on the mouth every time I see her. It’s so crazy.”
Just call him the “Stingray Whisperer,” as you can tell from the above photographic proof.
When he’s not busy canoodling with aquatic wildlife, as host of Cayman Cookout, Chef Ripert will be making sure the events, dinners, and cooking demonstrations run smoothly. The events, many of which are already sold out, include the Rundown with Anthony Bourdain (“I like to embarrass Anthony with ridiculous questions. Did you know it’s very easy to embarrass him?”); Soulful Flavor with Ludo, a lunch prepared by TV personality and chef Ludo Lefebvre; and an afternoon at Blue, a lunchtime event catered by Top Chef Tom Colicchio.
Chef Ripert himself plans to make shrimp with local papaya salad for the Beach Bash at Rum Point on Saturday. The night before, at the Barefoot BBQ event, he will serve halibut with clams and black truffle under the stars with an ambience of live music and dishes from Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés, Cindy Hutson, and Dean Max.