World-renowned chef Eric Ripert is known throughout the food world as an avid traveler. Proprietor of Manhattan’s three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin restaurant, as well as Blue by Eric Ripert in Grand Cayman – the only Five Diamond AAA restaurant in the Caribbean – Ripert is particularly passionate about exploring the Caribbean islands’ robust and creative dining scene.
“Caribbean restaurants have changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” Ripert explains. “In the past, there was not very much going on in the islands in terms of a real food scene. In recent years, however, I’ve being seeing a lot of young Caribbean chefs who have trained in America and then have returned to the islands to share their creativity – and now they are cooking traditional food with a twist.”
At Blue by Eric Ripert you can find as inventive of a take on Caribbean cuisine as anywhere. The restaurant is known for its tasting menu featuring an abundance of local seafood and gourmet specialties.
“To me, [Blue] feels like Le Bernardin, but by the beach,” Ripert says. “But when we opened Blue, we did not want to duplicate Le Bernardin. The idea was to bring the philosophy of Le Bernadin to the Cayman Islands. We wanted to have the sense of place and embrace the culture of the Caribbean.”
When the chef is visiting the islands, here are some of his favorite restaurants and bars:
A popular farm-to-fork restaurant, Brasserie is known as a leader in sustainability. Owners King and Lisa Flowers have collaborated with chef Dean Max to create an inventive menu that changes with the seasons. Serious about serving fresh food, Brasserie has a backyard vegetable garden and has its own fishing boats to source seafood. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant attracts plenty of return customers with specialties like twice-cooked local eggplant with basil, parsley and charred lemon; local watermelon salad; and crispy fish cakes.
“The owners are very welcoming and they love to give guests a tour of the garden and what’s growing there,” Ripert says. “It’s considered high end, and the food is simply delicious – but the prices are fairly moderate and very affordable.”
Calico Jack’s bar and grill
An understated little beach bar with a big reputation for fun, Calico Jack’s is known as the island’s best place to party. With live music, the casual bar is a fun place to sip tropical cocktails with your toes in the sand, watch the sunset and munch on burgers and other classic beach fare.
“To me, this is the best dive bar in the entire galaxy,” Ripert says. “It’s right in the sand on Seven Mile Beach. The drinks are cold, the sunset is spectacular, and you have to be there for one of their monthly full moon parties…just trust me!”
Chef Jose Santaella trained at Le Bernadin in New York in his early career, along with other restaurants throughout the United States before returning to San Juan to open his namesake establishment that focuses on modern, inventive dishes served with a tropical flair – and brings in a chic crowd that loves to sip on the restaurant’s craft cocktails.
Along with meat and chicken specialties, guests can enjoy a selection of fresh-caught seafood, including octopus casserole, sea bass and red snapper. Tasty Puerto Rican staples like alcapurrias (crispy crab fritters) are also available.
“I love that Santaella treats traditional food with respect, sourcing local ingredients from the farmer’s market right next door, but adds their own modern twists,” Ripert says.
Mario Pagan Restaurant
Chef Mario Pagan creates culinary magic with offerings that feature a subtle balance of traditional elements of classical Caribbean heritage and a variety of international flavors. The restaurant’s beautifully appointed modern dining room is an ideal backdrop for a meal that showcases a multitude of local specialties, such as small bites of typical Puerto Rican fare, including alcapurrias, bacalaitos and tostones. Main courses include sautéed scallops, grilled steak and lamb with risotto.
“Chef Mario is adventurous in his way of creating a distinctive fusion between different cuisines in Puerto Rico,” Ripert says. “His food is truly innovative and delicious.”
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
As the only bar on the tiny, laid-back island of Mustique, Basil’s is a friendly neighborhood hangout that’s situated in the center of town. It’s a place where everybody knows your name – literally, as it is the prime gathering spot for thirsty residents (and vacationers) to relax and soak in the island vibes. Although known more as a bar than a restaurant, Basil’s also has a small menu – usually whatever the local fishermen catch that day or what’s sourced from purveyors, and often roasted pig.
“It’s an iconic place on the water,” Ripert says. “You usually go for the gorgeous sunset and stay very late. It’s always super fun, especially on ‘Jump Up’ night when there’s live music and everyone kicks off their shoes and dances to the local reggae band.”
Situated on the tiny, scenic Harbour Island, the low-key Sip Sip is a beloved restaurant known for its freshly made Caribbean and Bahamian delights. With a vibe of authenticity, this casual cafe is open only for lunch, and chef-owner Julie Lightbourn sources her wide variety of ingredients daily from local fisherman, farmers and purveyors. Everything here is cooked to order. A few of her house favorites include lobster quesadilla, spicy conch chili, grilled shrimp, seared tuna and traditional “boil fish” with Johnnycakes.
“It’s popular and you often have wait at least an hour for a table, but it’s worth it…the atmosphere is very relaxed; you can go in your bathing suit,” Ripert says. “The owner is famous for being a great baker – and she makes her own ice cream, which I always order.”
This extremely lively, hip cabaret restaurant is known throughout the Caribbean as a destination for an exciting evening of dinner and dancing. Among Le Ti’s many specialties are lobster in royal tartare style, mahi-mahi filet in a butter sauce and spaghetti with truffles.
“They have a legendary ribeye on the bone that is really good,” Ripert says. “For dinner, I always start with a salad with goat cheese and I always order the ribeye…Most of the time there is no room to have dessert, because people are dancing on your table!”
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Overlooking the sea, The Cliff is situated high above the waves, offering stunning views in a sophisticated atmosphere. For many, this fine dining restaurant is often considered a vacation highlight, and reservations are made well in advance. Notable dishes include roast duck breast with truffled onions, creamed potatoes and snap peas; Caribbean shrimp featuring coriander rice and coconut sauce; and veal rib chop with mustard and tarragon sauce.
“It’s delicious French food served in a gorgeous environment,” Ripert says. “For me, their baba rum is very special, because they use aged rum from Barbados.”