Today the Cayman Islands loom large as a holiday destination. Long beaches of white sand, glorious accommodations, and an impressive array of restaurants cater to a broad cross section of travelers seeking out relaxation and a slower pace of life, if only for a few days. Not surprisingly, many people make the move to these island destination with that same thought in mind, a slower life and a place to enjoy while living. The truth of the matter is that doing a great job and what one does requires a devotion that often interferes with these best intentions, case in point Chef Keith Griffin .
With over 30 years in the Hospitality Industry, Executive Chef Keith Griffin is one of Cayman’s most renowned chefs. As the Past President of Cayman Culinary Society and Director of the Caribbean Culinary Federation, Keith is the Manager of the Cayman Islands National Culinary Team. He is certified as a Culinary Judge for International Competition and Vice Consular Culinaire of the Chaine des Rotisseures (Cayman). After ten successful years as a popular local Restaurateur, Keith is now focusing on teaching, cooking demonstrations and Personal Chef Services.
After being introduced to Chef Keith at Snooth’s People Voice Awards Grand Tasting, where he worked in tandem with Chef Vidyadhara Shetty preparing a lovely seared salmon in coconut foam topped with a mango slaw to the appreciation of all in attendance, I recently was able to catch up with Chef to ask him a few questions about life on the islands, and the people he currently is cooking for. With a successful professional Chef service, Chef Keith is now catering to regular customer and returning visitors to the islands, though his services are not reserved for the rich and famous. next time you are sitting back on island time somewhere, say somewhere like the Cayman islands for example, ask yourself if another restaurant meal is really what you want. You just might find that your answer is no, and you might be even more surprised to find out that having a professional chef come to you is often only a little more than the complete night out, and you don’t even have to put on your shoes, though the Chef would appreciate it if you could find your pants!
An Interview with Chef Keith Griffin
GDP – What brought you to become a private chef in the Caribbean?
Chef Keith – I’ve been living and cooking in the Caribbean for over 30 years, 27 of which have been in Cayman so, as you can imagine, I have worked my way through most of Grand Cayman’s kitchens. I had my own Restaurant here in George Town for 10 years, which I closed two years ago having decided that it was time to cut back from the 12-14 hours a day routine. Private dining was just a very logical step, I found that I had a good client base from my time in the restaurant and I really wanted to get back into the kitchen and work directly with food which is something that gets away from you when running a restaurant. Now I have the freedom to organize my schedule according to my own plans, enjoy time with my family and focus on food rather than business matters.
GDP – Who are your typical clients?
Chef Keith – Many of my clients are people I have known for years through the restaurant industry as well as returning vacationers, which makes for a very social, almost friendly atmosphere when I go into their homes to cook. Recently I have been working with a couple of condo resorts, designing meals for families and small groups, most of whom want to experience very local produce and have somebody cook for them who can tell them a little about the background and evolution of Caribbean cuisine.
GDP – What types of dishes are most requested by your clients?
Chef Keith – It can vary, many of my local clients are big wine connoisseurs who want me to design menu’s around their wines, in that instance we are usually talking about big flavors; red meats, cheeses and quite European style menus. With vacationers it’s completely different, we are surrounded by the oceans and have an abundance of the freshest fish so its fairly easy to build a great menu around our seafood and local produce, people are always amazed at our range of produce and the incredible flavor in our natural foods.
GDP – Do you have any local dishes that you try to turn your clients on to?
Chef Keith – A lot of traditional Caribbean foods are a little ‘rustic’ for todays market, I’m talking about things like Cow Foot, Stewed Salted Pig Tail, Chicken Foot soup, these are the kind of ‘building blocks’ of Caribbean food culture and go way back to the days of the slave trade, but, if you can bring yourself to try them, they have amazing flavors and are incredibly nourishing.
Sometimes you have to use these ideas in new ways to get people interested. Take oxtail for example, one of my favorites, it’s incredibly rich and flavorful but is loaded with bone and gristle, however, if you take the time to pick through and separate the meat you can turn it into ravioli, Asian style dumplings or the most fantastic, rich, meaty risotto imaginable. Our produce is always an easy sell, we have a wonderful variety of sweet potatoes and yams which people always enjoy, calaloo (similar to collard greens) can be paired with most things and who can say no to a big sweet mango or pineapple.
GDP – What has been the weirdest or most outlandish request?
Chef Keith – I guess you can say I’ve been pretty lucky through my career and have not run into too many real shockers, I can recall one or two surprising instances, for example, the gentleman who sent his steak tartar back to the kitchen to have it cooked or the one time in Bermuda when a guest stormed into the kitchen and demanded the chef replace his lobster because the one he had been served was a male and wanted a female. I think, for the most part, people have become very educated about food and know enough about the industry that those instances are a thing of the past.
GDP – Where do you go out when you’re dining out? Our readers would love a few tips.
There’s so much choice in Cayman, and we really do have something to offer every palate. My personal favorite at the moment is Blue Cilantro, the chef has a great feel for marrying flavors and his food always seems to be that little bit more creative than most places. For sushi (I’m a big fan) I like Karma, Chef Arron is a real talent and serves some interesting twists. Any body who wants to stroll and ‘graze’ should go to Cayman Bay, it’s a pedestrian area in a marina type setting with half a dozen or so great eateries no more than 30 yards apart so you can have an appetizer here, a glass of wine there and just spend an evening soaking up the atmosphere. For fine dining “Big City” style ‘Blue’ at the Ritz Carlton is a must, Eric (Le Bernadine) Rippert’s signature restaurant showcases all that is good about fresh caribbean seafood and great cooking.
GDP – What are the raw ingredients you source locally in the Cayman Islands and which three could you not do without?
Chef Keith – Luckily we have a huge variety of produce, from tomatoes, eggplants, onion, garlic, peppers (especially the hot ones!), lettuce, greens, squashes, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, pretty much whatever you need is available. Our farmers produce great pork and chicken, and of course, there’s all the wonderful Caribbean fruit. The only small drawback can be that there is only a limited supply of many items but since I’m no longer cooking in great volume, I can generally get enough for my needs.
One item I could not cook without would have to be eggs, they are in so many recipes from appetizers through main dishes, sauces and desserts, not to mention pasta, pastries and breads, the list is endless. Olive oil is another ‘must have’ for me, I use it in most of my cooking whether for sauteing, salad dressings, marinades, or just a light drizzle on pasta and rice dishes, I could not imagine what I would use instead. And don’t get me started on Mangoes…I could not even live without those!
GDP – What’s your typical day like?
Chef Keith – I’ll spend an hour or so in the morning answering e-mails and following up on bookings or dinner requests, then a couple of hours preparing food items for the evenings dinner party. In the afternoon I hit the supermarket for any last minute supplies or next day shopping, I like to do this in the afternoons since my drive takes me past the local fish market and most days the fishermen are there with their catch around 2.00pm. that way I can get the pick of the days fish. Then it’s back to home to finish prepping, pack everything up, gather plates, linens and equipment and usually by around 5.00 or 6.00pm I’m on my way to the location.
Roasted Corn and Crab Cake
Prep Time: 20 minutes plus 30-40 refrigeration
Servings: 6 (2 patties per serving)
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup ripe plantain
1/2 cup cilantro
1 lb fresh snow crab meat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup roasted fresh corn kernels pinch Old Bay seasoning
1 tbsp bread crumbs
salt and black pepper to taste
In a food processor, roughly chop the bell peppers, onion, ripe plantain and cilantro. In a bowl mix
the crabmeat with the chopped ingredients, mayonnaise, corn, Old Bay seasoning, bread crumbs and season the mix with salt & pepper.
Portion the mix into 2 oz patties and store in the refrigerator. Allow the patties to sit in the refrigerator for 30-40 minutes to properly chill and ‘firm up’. (The patties can be made up to 2-3 days in advance if stored well chilled.)
When ready to serve, sear the crab cakes in a little clarified butter or olive oil over high heat until golden brown and then bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 325 degrees.
Serve with Tamarind Chutney
Prep Time: 10 minutes
1 cup tamarind paste
2 tbsp Caribbean pick-a-pepper sauce
1 tsp Asian chili-garlic paste
Place all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a simmer. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, remove from heat and allow to cool.
Prep Time: 10 minutes to combine the ingredients and boil, plus 40-45 minutes cooling down prior to adding the tomatoes
1/2 cup grape tomatoes 1 cup rice wine vinegar 1/2 cup water
1 tsp Thai chili
1/2 cup sugar
Cut the tomatoes in half, and set aside. Combine all liquids, Thai chili and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
Add tomatoes to the cold liquid and marinate for two days.
Cumin Scented Wahoo
Prep Time: 10 minutes
4 x 6oz wahoo steaks (or tuna, swordfish or halibut)
2 tbsp olive oil
Spice Rub Ingredients
2 tbsp fresh coriander seeds, roasted & ground
2 tbsp dill seeds
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 tsp dry chili flakes 1 tsp salt
Combine all of the spices in a small bowl. Rub the wahoo steaks with the spice rub and set aside for 30 minutes for the flavor to infuse. Brush the fish with olive oil and sear in a smoking hot pan for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side.
Serve with Pickled Cucumber
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp pink peppercorns 1 bay leaf
Bring the vinegar, sugar, peppercorns and bay leaf to a boil in a deep pan then remove from heat and allow to cool. Peel and seed the cucumbers and cut lengthways into thin ribbons. Place the cucumber ribbons in the vinegar and allow to steep for 2 hours before serving.
Note: Do not leave cucumber in the brine too long to prevent it from breaking down.