A Superb Wine Dinner at The Cliff’s Gourmet Getaway
Chef Dean James Max (right) serves educator Steve Cole fresh-caught snapper ceviche redolent with coconut milk, lime, scallion and Scotch bonnet peppers. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

After two nights of feasting, guests participating in The Cliff Hotel’s inaugural Gourmet Getaway would continue to have their taste buds somersault. On the third night, Saturday, May 14, celebrated chefs Cindy Hutson and Dean James Max collaborated on a five-course, wine-paired dinner. Supporting Hutson and Max, of course, were The Cliff’s Executive Chef Johnoi Reid, his team, and wine consultant and certified sommelier Rimple Nayyar.

As memorable ones do, the evening began with cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres. For the first bites of the evening, guests had “fresh catch ceviche”, stuffed mushroom caps, and curried crab cakes. Chef Max enrobed fresh-caught snapper in a coconut milk, lime, scallion and Scotch bonnet-laced marinade that was a carnival of flavour. Having one portion proved impossible. Chef Hutson stuffed mushroom caps with New Zealand cheddar-topped callaloo souffle and topped fresh Caribbean Sea crab cakes with a lobster salsa studded with in-season fruit.

Nayyar poured a delightful South African sparkling wine — Graham Beck Brut. Fun fact: this was the sparkling wine served at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and on the night of President Obama’s win. The outstanding lime and fresh fruit notes made this complex sparkling a perfect pairing with the trio of hors d’oeuvres.

Once nestled in seats under lights strung between sea grape trees, Gourmet Getaway guests readied for the first course, courtesy of Chef Max. Inspired by his Caymanian restaurants, he served guests local conch crudo with scallions, Scotch bonnet and passion fruit. Combined with a splash of sour orange, hand-torn mint leaves and succulent cubes of Julie mango, this dish was an ode to Caribbean cuisine. For this course, Nayyar chose an Albariño — a white wine beloved for its high acidity, refreshing citrus flavours, dry taste, and subtle saltiness. The salinity and the forward notes of lime and lemon in the Mar de Frades Albariño (Spain) complemented the piquant flavours of the crudo.

We reckon Chef Max wants to be the prince of Caribbean-inspired seafood dishes as, for the second course, he opted for fresh-caught grouper. The honey-allspice-glazed grouper, redolent with thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper and fresh coconut milk, was served with pumpkin and breadfruit. It was a beautifully composed dish. The flavours, especially the local honey, allspice and Scotch bonnet, transported each guest somewhere familiar. Each bite unlocked a core food memory — who would have thought a piece of fish had so much power? The grouper was paired with a William Fevre Chablis (France) chosen by restaurateur Delius Shirley (the son of the late great Norma Shirley). Its subtle notes of green mango and butterscotch were excellent supporting castmates to the limestone and citrus top notes. On its own, not a remarkable Chablis, but with this pairing, pure magic.

Chef Hutson provided the final three courses, and each was a testament to the tutelage of Norma Shirley.

For the third course, guests were delighted with smoked naseberry-glazed barbecue pork belly served alongside a salsa made from roasted ripe plantains. My word! At first glance, this dish reads sweet, but with Hutson’s understanding of flavours and the importance of restraint, the dish was, in a word, perfect. And, the Oregon Pinot Noir from Erath Winery sure did its part in making the third course a home run. The wine had lovely red fruit notes. But it was the notes of tobacco and oak and hints of mushroom and rich soil that made it sing. With the pork belly, it was a memorable duet. Bravo!

The answer to “where’s the beef?” was provided by the fourth course — strip steak from certified Angus prime beef. Served alongside an umami-rich farro ‘risotto’ with truffles and Parmesan and a generous helping of unctuous blackcurrant Demi-glace, it was a very good dish. The Catena Malbec (Argentina) had its work cut out with such an expertly prepared piece of top-quality beef. The medium tannins and notes of cocoa, blackberry, black cherry and blackcurrant had a remarkable intensity and an alluring finish.

We actually had room for dessert, especially when learning it was a warm key lime bread pudding. Yum! Not your typical bread pudding, Chef Hutson’s had a palate-delighting key lime curd, white chocolate whipped cream and a Graham cracker-like crumble that offset the cumulus cloud of a pudding in the most pleasing way. The Italian moscato — Marchesi di Barolo Zagara Moscato d’Asti — that Nayyar chose was perfect. Low acidity, excellent orange notes, a bit of cantaloupe, minerals and peach on the back end made this a choice pairing.

We are not starved for gastronomic events here on the island. However, many overwhelm guests with menus that aren’t progressive and leave attendees with palate fatigue. The Cliff’s Gourmet Getaway was far from the aforementioned. Each element, menu, dish, wine pairing, and day’s events was thoughtfully planned and carefully executed. And, the service — par excellence! We can’t sing enough praises for the servers and bartenders at The Cliff. Thursday Food can hardly wait for the second staging of Gourmet Getaway next spring.

mushroom caps stuffed with New Zealand cheddar-topped callaloo soufflé (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Caribbean Sea crab cakes created by Chef Hutson and topped with lobster salsa, studded with in-season fruit. The trio of hors d’oeuvres was paired with a delightful South African sparkling wine: Graham Beck Brut. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Chef Dean James Max finishes the first course — local conch crudo — with pieces of hand-torn mint. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Combined with a splash of sour orange, hand-torn mint leaves, and succulent cubes of Julie mango, the local conch crudo with scallions, Scotch bonnet and passion fruit was an ode to Caribbean cuisine. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
For the third course, Chef Hutson delighted guests with smoked naseberry-glazed barbecue pork belly served with a salsa made from roasted ripe plantains. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
The second course, from Chef Max, was honey-allspice-glazed grouper with thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper and fresh coconut milk. It was served with pumpkin and breadfruit. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Chef Hutson maintained laser focus as she seared certified Angus prime strip steaks for the fourth course. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Participants at the inaugural Gourmet Getaway at The Cliff Hotel in Negril enjoyed three nights of memorable meals. Sharing the frame (from left) restaurateur Delius Shirley, Sugared and Iced principal Meagan Massad, agricultural entrepreneur June Conghi, horticulturist Linda Dinizo, and wine consultant and certified sommelier Rimple Nayyar. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
The Catena Malbec (Argentina) had its work cut out with such an expertly prepared piece of top-quality beef. The medium tannins and notes of cocoa, blackberry, black cherry and blackcurrant had a remarkable intensity and an alluring finish.(Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Nearing the end of Saturday evening’s meal, Gourmet Getaway guests had room for dessert, especially when they saw it was Chef Hutson’s warm key lime bread pudding with white chocolate whipped cream. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
The wines served on the third night, Saturday, May 14, of The Cliff’s Gourmet Getaway. From left: Graham Beck Brut (South Africa), Mar de Frades Albariño (Spain), William Fevre Chablis (France), Erath Pinot Noir (Oregon), Catena Malbec (Argentina), and Marchesi di Barolo Zagara Moscato d’Asti (Italy). (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
The Cliff’s Executive Chef Johnoi Reid (centre) and his sous-chefs Sheldon Wood (left) and Odane Drummond were congratulated. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
After a weekend of memorable meals, a commemorative photo was warranted. Flanking Chef Cindy Hutson (centre) were (from left) The Cliff Hotel General Manager Vernon J Johnson; Front of House Manager Taji Reid; Chef Dean James Max; and wine consultant and certified sommelier Rimple Nayyar. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Thursday Food can’t sing enough praises for the servers and bartenders at The Cliff. Celebrating a weekend of superb food and service with Food and Beverage Manager Hitbal Bennett (second left) were (from left) Sophia Spence, Tamara Griffiths, mixologist Adrian Johnson, Leighton Taylor, and Ramona Reid. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Certified Angus prime strip steak was served alongside an umami-rich farro ‘risotto’ with truffles and Parmesan and a generous serving of unctuous blackcurrant Demi-glace. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

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