Eric Ripert used to be the culinary equivalent of the most desirable bachelor. Suitors, aka investors, wooed him for years, hoping to convince Ripert to open a follow-up to Le Bernardin, the Midtown Manhattan seafood stronghold that he has presided over since 1994. Ripert’s allure derives in part from his being one of only five chefs to earn a four-star rating from the New York Times, and he is one of the two who maintain a single establishment—though that list soon will be pared to one. Earlier this year, Ripert announced that at last he will venture beyond Le Bernardin and far beyond Manhattan when he opens two seafood restaurants, Blue and Periwinkle, at the new Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, a 144-acre, $440 million resort that is scheduled to open in late fall. Blue will provide fine dining, Periwinkle will be casual, and both will feature seafood dishes that celebrate the tropical flavors of mango, papaya, and passion fruit.
Ripert agreed to the Ritz-Carlton venture, he says, because its backers convinced him that they could maintain the standards he would require of a restaurant associated with his name. “I had talked with a lot of [investors] before, and had no confidence that they understood the product the way that I would like to see it,” says Ripert. “Ritz-Carlton understood right away, and [Grand Cayman] is a great property on top of that, a great destination.”
Ripert will be in good company at the resort. Greg Norman will design the nine-hole golf course, Nick Bollettieri will create the tennis center, and Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late Jacques Cousteau, will contribute a children’s program that emphasizes marine biology. The resort also will contain three other restaurants, 365 guest rooms, 69 residences, and a 20,000-square-foot La Prairie spa.
Blue and Periwinkle promise to enhance the Caribbean’s dining scene significantly, but more restaurants from other leading chefs are opening as well. Jean-Georges Vongerichten debuted his second Caribbean restaurant in midsummer at Marina Village, a 65,000-square-foot addition to the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Titled Café Martinique, it is a re-creation of a restaurant that appeared in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball. Nobu Matsuhisu will open a restaurant at the resort in December, and Bobby Flay is expected to unveil a Mesa Grill in December 2006 as part of Atlantis’ new all-suite tower.
Ripert will ensure that Blue and Periwinkle hew to his standards by dispatching Richard Brower, Le Bernardin’s sous chef for the past five years, to serve as chef de cuisine for both restaurants. “We also plan to fly there very often,” Ripert says. “Not just myself, but a whole team, probably once a month, but at least once every two months.” As ambitious as his plans sound, in the dead of a Manhattan winter, Ripert and his team may find that their monthly visits to this Caribbean paradise are too infrequent.
Atlantis, Paradise Island, 242.363.3000, www.atlantis.com
Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, 800.241.3333, www.ritzcarlton.com