When Agua Restaurant & Lounge reopened after moving to Camana Bay this past summer, owners Walter Fajette and Cristiano Vincentini were undecided whether the restaurant would offer Sunday brunch at its new location. It wasn’t that they didn’t want business around lunchtime on Sunday; they just thought the typical brunch idea was stale.
“Putting out a buffet and then having people get up from the table to get their food several times during the course of the meal just didn’t appeal to us,” says Fajette. “With the reopening at our new location at Camana Bay, we thought it was a good opportunity to offer a fresh alternative to the way most restaurants on Grand Cayman serve brunch.
”Starting in January last year, Agua started working with Chef Ken Vedrinski from Charleston, South Carolina. Vedrinksi, who has been a three-time James Beard Foundation award semi-finalist, is well known for his restaurant Trattoria Lucca, which has received many accolades over the years, including being named one of “The Ten Best Italian Restaurants Outside of Italy” and one of “The Best Italian Restaurants in the U.S.” by “Travel + Leisure” magazine.
Vedrinski says he’s “very anti-buffet” for brunches. He recognises that buffet brunches typically offer a lot of food and a lot of choices, but he doesn’t think they offer good experiences. Instead, he drew on his childhood for a better Sunday lunch option for Agua.
When he was a child, Vedrinski’s family — which had ties to the Abruzzo region of Italy — prepared big Sunday lunches after second mass at church.
“As a kid, I didn’t want to go to any mass, first or second, but I fondly remember the meals with the family afterwards,” he says. “I thought I would offer that at Lucca, but with more elaborate dishes, and serve it family style. It was wildly successful.”
Although Lucca’s family-style meals are served for dinner on Monday nights, Vedrinski pitched the idea of doing a family-style meal for Sunday lunch to Fajette and Vincentini. They immediately took to the idea.
“Walter and I are both from Italy and we grew up with these kinds of Sunday lunches,” says Vincentini. “When we saw what Ken was doing with his family-style meals at Lucca, we both felt this was the perfect way to move away from the typical brunch offering.”
After a couple of test runs, Agua officially launched “Pranzo della Nonna” — Grandmother’s Lunch — on Dec. 2, with Vedrinski cooking with Agua’s Executive Chef R.J. Dye and Agua’s Chef de Cuisine Joe Hughes.
Each Sunday, Pranzo della Nonna features a fixed menu with different foods that are all served family style. When guests are finished with a course, the dishes are taken away and another course is served. If the guests want more of a particular dish, then can get it — just like Italians can do at grandmother’s house.
“It’s a different kind of concept,” says Fajette. “The food is freshly made and doesn’t sit under a heat lamp at a brunch station. Guests can remain seated while we bring them the food and they can still eat as much as they’d like.”
The lunch starts with a bread basket and various light antipasto like olives, giardiniera and Tuscan white beans. Then comes a course of appetisers, followed by a pasta course, then a course of entrees and finally desserts. An optional selection of Prosecco, white, red or rosé wines can be included.
Chef Dye loves the idea, too, because the Sunday lunch menu changes weekly.
“It’s a fun opportunity to use different ingredients and show off our kitchen’s versatility,” he says. “After a farmers market visit Saturday and a stocking up on local seafood, we craft a menu using the best products available.” Just because Pranzo della Nonna isn’t called brunch doesn’t mean people are going to leave hungry, Dye says.
“In the spirit of an afternoon lunch at your grandmother’s, we want you to leave a little uncomfortably full and very happy.”
CHEF KEN VEDRINSKI
Grand Cayman is not new to Vedrinski; in the late 1980s, he worked in the kitchen at the Hyatt Regency. He marvels at the changes in the island’s culinary scene.
“Remembering what it was like then and seeing what it is now is amazing,” he says, adding that one of the biggest changes in Grand Cayman’s culinary world is the availability of high-quality, fresh produce. “Back then, there was nothing.”
As the consultant chef for Agua and its sister restaurant, Catch, Vedrinski comes back to Cayman periodically. His culinary values closely mirror those of Fajette, Vincentini and Dye. Core to those values is Vedrinski’s belief that good food starts with good ingredients. For example, to make his fresh pastas, Vedrinski uses flour only from the Central Milling Co. in Utah. Other brands would be less expensive, but the quality wouldn’t be as good. And instead of using tap water to make his pasta, he uses only San Benedetto bottled water.
“Some people might say, ‘water is water,’ but it’s not,” Vedrinski says, adding that by using the same water every time, he knows it will be clean and consistent in taste and texture.
Vedrinski believes restaurants have a responsibility to the consumer when serving food, and using clean, quality ingredients eases his mind.
“When I go home at night, I can feel good about the day.”