Friends, it’s been a while since I posted. The subject of my break isn’t the topic of this post, I’ll save that for another time. It’s been a long, hard, and in some ways, rewarding year filled with personal growth and introspection.
But at a certain point, once the drama of this last year began to fade into my rearview mirror, I felt that it was time to start working on food + travel projects again. The nice thing about my work on the internet is that my community is always here, waiting with open arms to invite me back into discussions about pork shoulder and piña coladas.
Speaking of which (the piña coladas, extra rum please) I had the immense pleasure of finding myself en route to the Cayman Islands last week. Surrounded by a group of women who would make me laugh until my belly hurt. I’d traveled with two of them before, Laura and Emily, so I knew that my time away would be filled with great conversation and plenty of rosé champagne. Two more women, Gillie and Carly were new friends, and people that I’ll lock & load into my cell phone for future adventures, of which I’m sure there will be many.
We touched down in Grand Cayman on Thursday afternoon, chilled to the bone from our frigidly cold air-conditioned flight to warmer climes. And though rain had kissed the area for several days before our visit and gave us a quick greeting as we unpacked our bags, sprinkling the beach with golden dewdrops, we’d have 4 straight days of sunshine ahead of us.
Our hosts at the Westin Grand Cayman at Seven Mile beach had reserved us a double decker cabana on the beach, and there we parked our hungry behinds while the final bits of darkened sky cleared up. We placed an order for some shared appetizers of creamy clam dip, smooth sesame-intense hummus, and conch fritters, along with a few cocktails to wash it down.
I shared with the group that I was just getting over a shingles infection (eek, not pretty, sorry friends for the mention) and would be wearing a set of matronly back-covering bathing suits that I’d scrambled to buy the day before my trip. I’m sure that I was overthinking things given that at that point, one side of my back was almost imperceptibly covered with a fading splotch of blush pink rash, but still. Not something that I wanted to showcase on our Caribbean adventure. And it was clearly essential to explain away my choice in high-backed 1950s swimwear, something June would have worn if she’d left Ward, Wally and Beaver for a swoony trip to the tropics with her girlies.
If you’ve read my blog posts over the years, you’ll know that this was my second visit to Grand Cayman, but my first to Seven Mile Beach. I’d heard that the Westin was situated on prime beach, but when my toes first dug into the fine white sand which stretched for miles on either side, I felt my heart skip a beat. Not to mention the illustrious turquoise water, pink skies and complete lack of seaweed, something that seems to be ever more rare in these days of climate change.
While the pool scene remains quiet in the earlier portions of the day, by sunset it transforms into a place of refined revelry with music and the occasional beach BBQ. And during these 4 days, my lord did we feast. Our nightly dinners, overseen by chef Sandy Tuason whose resume reads like a who’s who of Food Network and James Beard award-winning alumni from Jonathan Waxman to Michael Symon, Tyler Florence, Ming Tsai, David Boulud and David Burke. The man even worked at Le Cirque, ‘nuf said.
As you can imagine, the food was spectacular. Resort destinations don’t always get the best rap when it comes to food, but as I’ve so pleasantly discovered on recent trips to The Montage Kapalua, and last week’s visit to The Westin Grand Cayman, resort food can be every bit as sexy and innovative as your garden variety Michelin-starred foodie paradise.
With meal after meal, Sandy blew us away with his – and his pastry team’s – artistry.
Truffle focaccia, sea scallops w sunny quail eggs, crab cake lumped together without any of those pesky bready fillers….butter-poached lobster with fresh tagliatelle, seared yellowfin tuna plucked daily from coastal waters, chorizo crusted black grouper, jerk chicken quesadillas, lobster tacos, a grouper ceviche covered in perfectly sliced avocado and topped with pearlescent roe….wahoo chowder, red snapper in banana leaf, West Indian curry, a sushi spread worthy of a Tokyo’s homiest Izakaya.
It’s possible that this encyclopedic list of dishes may have all been served during our final beach dinner. All kidding aside, this was our highlight reel from the week, but for our last supper (cheeky reference intentional!), Chef Tuason and friends prepared so many dishes that we all cried uncle and begged for no more, prompting the kitchen team to remove several (meaning 3 or 4!) dishes from the final menu. It was a feast. So good that I could barely feel the burn mark lodged in my scalp from the tiki torch that got in the way as I photographed the illustrious spread. (Spoiler alert, despite the lingering scent of burnt hair emanating from my right temple, I kept the lion’s share of my summer balayage. My hair dresser Elle would be so relieved.)
We left our visit feeling satiated – mentally, spiritually, bellies warmed by the liveliest of farm-fresh food. Upon returning home to New York, my massage therapist remarked that dammit I looked alive! For the first time in months, boundless energy and enthusiasm was etched into my face, a stark contrast from the winter months when I slogged through ice and snow to get to her tiny Manhattan office with the intention of rearranging my back fascia. A rearrangement that she’d once again have to undertake with great fervor given my admission of a 5-seconds-inflight jet ski rear ejection while on vacation in the Caymans. The turquoise waters were beckoning, what can I say. I was just trying to “get some air” like the kids do. Our fearless leader Emily who was chaperoning our trip, left Grand Cayman with only a mild heart attack after watching me gun the jet ski engine like I was prepping for Indy-on-water. Good times all around…
But as I said in one of my Instagram posts from Grand Cayman, you’re not vacationing hard enough if you’re coming home without some minor injuries.
So to the Westin Grand Cayman, to my friends who taught me how to saber a bottle of champagne on the beach, and to the Caribbean skies who cooperated to give us some blisteringly beautiful sunsets, thank you. I had a year away from work, but man, this was a great re-entry point.
Note: This delightful trip was sponsored by The Westin Grand Cayman, all opinions are my own.