Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
“I know more about Ali than I do about my wife,” Ken said as our group sat down to lunch.
I stare at him, my expression blank and hold back the urge to say, “Do I know you?” It’s the first day of our press tour of Grand Cayman, and we had just been seated for one of many meals that would be had at linen-covered tables overlooking the Caribbean sea in late afternoon when the sun hits it in such a way that makes it glitter like a million diamonds.
I still have no idea how I got here, especially considering the luxury I’ve been afforded has well exceeded my expectations in the last 12 hours. I’d been the first to arrive the night before and so I did not have to hide my reaction when I let myself in to the three-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot oceanfront suite at The Caribbean Club, with the full-size gourmet kitchen and marble floors and a patio that’s better furnished than my apartment.
I stake my claim on the master suite, a massively huge room with a king-size four-poster bed that has me so in the mood that I decide to surf the Internet for free porn just because I’m alone and that seems like such a waste not to. There’s also a massive bathtub with jets, a steam shower and a separate room for the toilet. So the first thing I do is put bubbles in the jet tub, hop in, and laugh hysterically as the bubbles start to rise up to the ceiling. That’s when I realize I’m fully enjoying my own company.
I sleep like a baby and have the morning to do with what I please, so I start at the cafe across the street.
“That’ll be four dollars and 80 cents,” the barrista chick says when I order a double soy latte. She’s got that harmonious Caymanian accent that sounds sort of Jamaica meets Scotland. I hand her the money.
“No, that’s four-eighty C.I.,” she says, referring to the Caymanian Island currency, that I’m about to find out, is worth about 80 cents on the dollar. “That’ll be six-fifty U.S.”
That’s when it hits me that there’s no way in hell I could ever afford to come to a place like this or stay in a hotel like that or go to an event that will make my top five list of “It Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This” of things I’ve experienced in my life. I definitely feel like I haven’t earned it and I certainly think I don’t deserve it when Ken chimes in with a story for the whole table at lunch about how I’m this columnist from Aspen.
It turns out Ken is from Aspen too. He insists we’d met once before at a press luncheon at Cloud 9. I guess I’m not very good at hiding my response when he goes, “Obviously I didn’t make a very big impression on you,” when I can’t feign recognition.
I sort of shrug and act interested in everything he says from that point on. It’ll be at least two days before I remember who he is and also remember that he has a super big important job in media that makes my little writing career look like a joke.
Needless to say he does a fine job to even the score, but he and his wife are a total blast to be around and they know a lot about food and wine. So it’s kind of funny when it turns out he’s sort of the famous one with the big important job and I’m the one with my head up my ass.
The next five days are a magical menagerie of food and wine tasting and a superior tour of the island that can only be afforded to the media. The tourism people go above and beyond to make sure we’ve scoured everything there is to do on this tiny, 20-by-8-mile island, including holding baby sea turtles and petting a rare breed of indigenous blue iguana. We go to the botanical gardens and attend an art opening at the national gallery. We attend grand tastings under a tent at the Ritz and cooking demonstrations on the beach and are taken by boat to Rum Point to a Cuban-themed cookout where top chefs prepare regional dishes accompanied by live music and colored lights strewn in palm trees. We sit at benches and drink mojitos made with sour sop, a local tropical fruit, and eat roast pig and paella and buffalo tacos. I let myself indulge in desserts like cassava spring rolls with white chocolate passion fruit sauce and banana tempura drizzled in Tortuga rum chocolate.
There next day there’s a champagne brunch at the Ritz with entire stations devoted to things like caviar, charcutrie, carpaccio sushi, dim-sum and fresh-made pasta. After that we’re taken by bus to Pedro St. James National Historic site for A Cook’s Tour of Cayman where those who are brave enough try local dishes like turtle stew and curried goat and barbecued rabbit. On the way back, we ride the bus with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who tells us all about how he nearly blacked out when he made his first appearance on Oprah.
The whole time I’m trying to figure out who Ken is, he downplays it, pretending that the only thing he does is write a wine column for The Aspen Times.
“That’s it?” I ask. To which he combats my reply with a tirade about the merits of our little small-town paper.
That’s when I see the irony ” he’s the one with the big important job and I’m the one he knows everything about. I’ve always thought humility is the finest quality, but then again, whatever it is that we do, we’re there together, on this Caribbean island, sipping our mojitos on someone else’s tab.
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