Farm-to-table dining focused on locally sourced ingredients has been one of biggest North American culinary trends over the last decade, but when it comes to cocktails, using local ingredients is often an afterthought.
That’s not the case for John Stanton, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. Prior to coming to Grand Cayman for the opening of Seafire in 2016, Stanton managed the bar programme in the Sable Kitchen & Bar at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Chicago. That hotel opened in 2010, about the same time the craft cocktail trend was reborn in the United States.
Sable featured more than 1,000 different spirits — which Stanton helped curate — and was particularly known for its large variety of aged Bourbon and Scotch whisky. Even though Sable offered a high-end craft cocktail programme of which he was proud, after six years there, Stanton felt he needed a change.
“I was looking for a change not only in city, but also with what I could do with a bar,” he says. “One of the things that attracted me to Cayman was I wanted a challenge and to work with new ingredients. I wanted a bar that showed a sense of what was unique to its place and I wanted to showcase what was available fresh at the moment.”
Soon after arriving on Grand Cayman, Stanton started visiting the local farmers’ markets, where he discovered many different ingredients — mostly fruits — that he’d never heard of before and wanted to incorporate into the offerings at Kimpton Seafire’s bars.
Stanton bought various ingredients from the farmers’ markets and then he and his team experimented with them in cocktails. They didn’t try just the well-known fruits like mangoes, guavas or coconuts; they also experimented with fruits like naseberries, black sapote, eggfruit, June plums, starfruit, mamey sapote and others.
After some trial and error, Stanton and his team developed dozens of cocktail recipes they can make using local ingredients for weekly events like “Taco y Tequila” on Tuesdays at the Coccoloba beach bar and restaurant or for the “Island Fest” that takes place on Monday nights at the recently opened Beach Deck at Seafire.
“Our farmers’ market cocktails at Taco y Tequila and the Island Fest change each week depending on what produce is available at the market,” says Stanton. “We’ve probably made 60 to 70 unique cocktails for the taco Tuesday format alone over the last year.”
The cocktails based on local ingredients can’t go on the permanent cocktail menu for two simple reasons: fruits are seasonal and availability can be limited, even in season. For that reason, the bar team serves these cocktails only for the weekly events presented at Kimpton Seafire.
“With the Island Fest in particular, which focuses on Caribbean flavours, it just makes a ton of sense to make cocktails with the fruits that are available,” Stanton says.
Prior to Island Fest, Stanton or bartender Sinclair Palavecino — who Stanton calls “the creative talent behind the bar at Island Fest” — will go to one of the farmers’ markets to buy the ingredients for the special cocktails they will serve.
“We make as many cocktails as we can with the produce that is available and when they’re gone, they’re gone,” he says, noting that visitors enjoy the chance to try something new in their cocktails.
“People love to taste the flavours of a place,” he says. “Here at the Kimpton Seafire, we’ve taken the fundamental tenets of the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Chicago cocktail programme and applied it here using local ingredients. The result is something that is both new and unique.”
Along with a commitment to use local ingredients in the Kimpton Seafire’s cocktails, Stanton said another more recent focus is on the creation of shared cocktails. It is in this effort that bartenders Patricio Rio and Cristian Petrosino, who serve both Ave and Avecita restaurants, play a big role.
“They are both creative forces who love coming up with stunning menu cocktails and off-the-cuff bespoke cocktails alike,” says Stanton.
In addition to imaginative cocktails-for-one — like the complex, smokey and spicy “Wagwan” created by Petrosino and available nightly in both restaurants — Avecita serves three different shared cocktails created exclusively for the Wednesday night “Pintxos and Paella” event. These cocktails are meant to be shared between two to four people, which promotes a fun and lively experience.
One of those shared cocktails, called “Birds of a Feather,” is a gin-based creation of Rio’s that is a take on the famous “Aviation” cocktail. It’s served in a porthole infuser that’s filled with lemon and orange wheels, rooibos tea, raspberries, mint and other ingredients.
“The longer the cocktail infuses, the more flavour the fruits and botanicals provide, and guests can taste the evolution as it progresses,” says Stanton.
The two other shared cocktails on the menu include the “Sun Scape,” which is made with vodka, fino sherry, Prosecco and local seasoning peppers, along with other ingredients, and the Regalo de Huerto — or Gift of the Orchard — which is served from a traditional Spanish pitcher called a “porron.” The cocktail’s ingredients include Spanish brandy, hard cider, rosemary and lemon.
“It has a great array of citrus, herbs and sweet apple that work really well with a variety of different foods, which is why it pairs so nicely with our pintxos,” Stanton says.