By Alexander Britell
In 2008, world-renowned Chef Eric Ripert spearheaded the opening of the Blue restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. Ripert, whose Le Bernardin in New York City holds the highest-possible three Michelin stars as one of the world’s greatest restaurants, took home a AAA Five Diamond Award for Blue, the first Caribbean restaurant to do so. Caribbean Journal talked to Ripert about expanding his brand to the Caribbean, the state of regional cuisine and bringing Le Bernardin to the islands.
What motivated the decision to open in Grand Cayman?
I was approached by [developer] Michael Ryan, and, at the time, the president of the hotel, Jean Cohen, to do a restaurant, Blue, in the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. I quickly went to Cayman with them, and visited the island and the property, which was in construction, and loved the place. I had a great time, and I decided on the spot to open a restaurant. It was my first time in Grand Cayman.
What is the cuisine philosophy at Blue?
Well Blue is, as you know, a luxury restaurant, mainly seafood. So therefore, there has to be a strong connection with Le Bernardin in New York. It’s a resort, and we are in the Caribbean, so it’s a much more relaxed ambience than New York. The food follows the same mantra as in New York, which is that the fish is the star of the plate. If it’s another ingredient, like meat, obviously it applies to that — if it’s a chicken, I would say the chicken is the star of the plate. And then we always bring a Caribbean touch to the food — so the menu is changing all the time with that kind of Caribbean influence, which makes you understand where you are — you’re in the Cayman Islands.
What kind of impact has the restaurant had so far?
What I know is that we are getting a lot of support from the locals, and they have been fantastic by supporting us. So on that aspect, it’s definitely influencing people to come.
How would you describe the state of Caribbean cuisine?
Well, Caribbean cuisine is very diverse — depending on where you go in terms of the islands. For instance, Jamaica is very different than Haiti, which s very different than Puerto Rico, which is different than Cayman, and so on. But what we have done is like a mix of all which the cultures have in common — a strong African, West Indian influence. So you can see that in the spice, in the curries, in some of the vegetables which are common.
Are there any chefs you see as doing particularly good work in the region?
I think just in Cayman, we have to begin with chefs like Michael Schwartz, which are doing very well. In the Caribbean, there are lots of good chefs — like Wilo Benet in Puerto Rico [who himself was a former patissier at Le Bernardin], and Barbados has a lot of good restaurants, and so on. So you can see that all throughout the Caribbean.
Do you foresee further expansion in the Caribbean?
No, I do not.
Do you have any plans in New York?
I don’t have any more plans in New York. After 25 years, we decided to completely redo the restaurant, and be more contemporary and convivial, keeping the luxurious aspect that makes Le Bernardin, and so we just opened up, and my focus really is to create new dishes for the new menu right now, and be ready for the fall, which is in a couple of days.