Camana Bay in Grand Cayman: Miami Connections, Local Flavors

Just about an hour's flight from Miami lies Grand Cayman, the largest of three islands that make up the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman is best known for two things -- beautiful beaches and international banking. The island, filled with pristine hotels and condos lining the sugar sands of Seven Mile Beach, is filled with wealthy Americans and Brits, who come for a bit of refined island time.

What's most intriguing about Grand Cayman is its commitment to serving fresh, local foods -- and the strong Miami connection that helps sustain that commitment.

On a recent weekend jaunt, I realized how close Miami is to Cayman on a first-hand basis... down to where to purchase a beach read (Books & Books).

See also: Slow Food Miami Snail of Approval Tasting Party: Clean Bites on the Beach

A stop into Jessie's, a small juice bar specializing in local fruits and vegetables gave me a frisson of deja vu.There, among the house made beet chips and salad-in-a-jar was a sign proclaiming that they proudly serve Panther coffee. Lachie Hewitt, who co-owns the little shop that serves as a hub for Caymanians stopping by for a latte on the way to work or a post-yoga juice, with his wife Jessie, explains that the coffee, shipped in from Miami, is still fresher than anything else available on the island. He explains that it's a favorite with chef Michael Schwartz, who stops in for a caffeine fix or a juice when he's on the island. Of course, Panther Coffee is served at the chef's Grand Cayman restaurant, as well.

Schwartz, who opened an outpost of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Camana Bay, the island's multi-use living/shopping/dining/work space, in June 2010, is one of the strongest Miami food connections on the island, and a boon to local farmers who saw an increasing need for their fresh produce when several restaurants, MGFD included, demanded the best local fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

As expected, Michael's Genuine's Cayman menu reflects the island's particular bounty. In addition to Miami favorites, items include wood roasted breadfruit salad, local wahoo, braised callaloo, and (if you're lucky) lionfish. This poisonous pest is abundant in the waters around Grand Cayman, with local residents educated on how to safely catch (and eat) these pesky predators. Once the toxic barbs are removed, the fish is light, flaky, and an amazing treat.

Cindy Hutson also has a branch of her Coral Gables Ortanique in the same center, where the chef also uses local vegetables and seafood. Items specific to the Cayman menu include boniato and a fisherman's catch.

At Grand Cayman's recent Slow Foods Day, Camana Bay was turned into a Farmers Market, complete with free chef's demos and tastings. There, people flocked to meet the local farmers who lovingly described their eggs, honey, and tomatoes like they were describing favorite children, and sample cuisine from some of the island's best restaurants.

The free event (Miami, take note on the free part) was a teaser for the evening's gala dinner, which featured Michael Schwartz and chef Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina sharing co-hosting duties, while fans of locavore cuisine drank guava mojitos and feasted on lionfish ceviche, roasted local goat, and jerked local pork belly. Although there are many Miami influences, this island manages to maintain its own identity through local flavors.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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