After a dramatic entrance, the chef cooked paella and talked hurricane relief at this year's Cayman Cookout.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated January 21, 2020
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Credit: Rebecca Davidson Photography

This weekend at the 12th annual Cayman Cookout—Eric Ripert's food festival at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman—guests gathered en masse on the beach as they waited for José Andrés’ grand entrance.

Every year, the chef and humanitarian arrives to his cooking demo in increasingly elaborate stunts, and guesses were rolling in about what he’d pull off next. Would it involve a jet ski? A parasail? In 2019, he pulled up to the shore in a yellow submarine, so expectations were high. Shortly after 10 a.m., an ATV started coming down the beach—but it wasn’t actually driven by Andrés. The figure, who had his face hidden and wore a World Central Kitchen hat, approached the demo tent flanked by a masked entourage. But once everyone got into the tent, it was revealed that it was a decoy, and Andrés himself walked in moments later.

“I thought, there’s too many babies on the beach,” he joked. “It’s too many babies, and I’ve never drove one of those before. That was my shirt, did I fool my wife?”

Credit: Rebecca Davidson Photography

Andrés proceeded to prepare a seafood paella, made with beef cheek, onions, oyster mushrooms, green beans, garlic, tomatoes, broth, and rice. Two chefs from Jaleo, Ramon Martinez and Aaron Helfand, cooked it in giant paella pans while he talked to the crowd, at one point demonstrating how to properly drink Champagne from a porrón.

The chef shared that the pans they were using to cook the paella were the same ones they'd used to prepare food in the Bahamas only hours after Hurricane Dorian hit the islands. He said that this week his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, will reach over three million meals served since they arrived on the island. “We love to see that we are there for each other, and in Bahamas we did 45 medical evacuations, 25,000 solar lights, water in the 13ks, and three big islands,” he said.

“I may cook in my restaurant, I may cook with you, I may cook with my friends and family, or I may cook in places that people need it,” he continued.

This year’s demo was originally planned to be a cook-off between Ripert and Andrés, with Ripert preparing bouillabaise and Andrés making his famous paella. However, Ripert was unable to attend this year "due to unforeseen circumstances," so the chef Facetimed Ripert for a bit, and even brought a cardboard cutout of the French chef to the tent. As is tradition, the two friends shot good-natured jabs at each other before Ripert signed off.

“I’m sorry I’m not with you guys to protect you from José Andrés,” Ripert said. Andrés shot back that “the real reason he isn’t here is because we were doing a cooking competition and he was afraid. He was afraid that he couldn’t beat my paella with his bouillabaisse.”