From the beginnings of cooking over open flame a million years ago to the grand picnics of the Victorian era as described in Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 “Book of Household Management,” eating outdoors has been de rigueur for many throughout history.
Nowadays, even with upscale kitchens in our homes, we still feel the call of the open air to prepare our food. But things have progressed since constructing sandwiches on a grassy park knoll in the 19th century. In fact, if introduced to the al fresco cooking options of this century, Mrs. Beeton may have swooned.
Cooking and food preparation are now an intrinsic part of entertaining, even outdoors, and as such additional amenities are sought after. The chef wants to be where the people are. With more open plan indoor designs allowing sight lines from kitchen to living space, modern outdoor cooking areas also allow for this level of intimacy by featuring all the requirements for a cooked meal in situ.
“Gone are the days when dad was sent to wheel out the barbecue and fire up the coals on the side of the house (with the mosquitoes) as the rest of the family sat patiently waiting for the Sunday night burgers,” says architect John Doak. “Most recently designed homes incorporate a built-in barbecue with lay-off serving space and a small sink. Some homeowners also incorporate a sit-up bar area with mini-fridge and built-in stainless-steel drawers and storage cupboards.”
Granite countertops, bar areas, islands, wine coolers, warming drawers, ovens, deep fryers and – today’s trendiest outdoor appliance – the pizza oven take this space to another level. Most also allow usage no matter what the weather or circumstances.
“The outdoor kitchen has become a place for relaxation and pre-dinner enjoyment… Many patio areas are fly screened to fend off those pesky mosquitoes at sun down so the family can fully enjoy the outdoor dining experience,” says John.
Indeed, the existence of a fully functioning outdoor kitchen in a home may provide that extra appeal for those looking to buy or rent, and may increase the value of the home.
“Yes, real estate is about location, bricks and mortar; however, the quality of the lifestyle at the property itself will drive the investment to new levels,” says Mike Joseph of Property Cayman. “An appealing and inviting outdoor patio or garden zone will transform the property’s rent-ability and sell-abilty. Therefore, no matter where the property, if you can create a phenomenal lifestyle aspect then the investment will grow.”
If you can incorporate an outdoor cooking area into your planned or existing home, think about your needs and desires, and take some advice from the professionals. How much space is available? What appliances will make sense for your needs? The placement of the kitchen also requires some thought.
“A close relationship to the main kitchen of the house is ideal to allow condiments, plates and utensils to be easily shared, particularly for serving – many people have a simple pass through window or doorway arrangement,” says John.
“Try and orientate the barbecue so the breeze carries smoke and smells away from the interior of your house. Make sure the countertops and splashbacks are easily cleaned, and use hygienic finishes.”
Also consider our island environment. “For under counter storage space I prefer open shelves, as cupboards and drawers provide ideal habitats for undesirable wildlife, and when exposed to the weather, become increasingly difficult to maintain,” John points out.
For those just starting their al fresco cooking adventure, or anyone whose outdoor space is too small to accommodate a built-in kitchen, high quality standalone products are available, such as barbecues using charcoal, propane or electricity.
A 2015 poll of “Barbecue Lifestyle, Usage & Attitude” by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association found that 75 percent of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker. The top three reasons for cooking outdoors? To improve flavor, for personal enjoyment, or for entertaining family and friends. Local retailers such as A. L. Thompson’s, Kirk Home Centre, Cox Lumber, Uncle Bill’s, BrandSource and Bon Vivant have a variety to choose from year-round.
These stores also provide for more grand scale plans. A. L. Thompson’s has a variety of outdoor cooking lines including Bull, which offers individual elements, such as refrigerators, coolers, sinks and grills, as well as the islands in which those products sit. The Appliance Gallery at A. L. Thompson’s showcases elements for outdoor kitchens by lines such as Wolf, Sub-Zero, and Alfresco. The in-house team can help with design, too.
Bon Vivant also assists with designing outdoor spaces, and supplies a range of appliance and cabinet options from lines (Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens, Fire Magic Grills, AOG, Alfresco, Coyote, Big Green Egg and U-line) along with custom grill island covers.
It’s not only homeowners and renters who are getting their al fresco grill on – Cayman’s luxury hotel developments and restaurants are also recognizing the popularity of outdoor cooking.
Eating outside has always been a Cayman favorite, with most restaurants offering outdoor terraces to take advantage of our climate. Now, more restaurants are bringing the chef out of the kitchen and closer to diners with the help of portable kitchen appliances – just look at Mizu’s Teppanyaki nights, Karoo’s BBQ Brunch, and local eateries cooking outdoors such as Big Tree BBQ in East End and Chef John at Public Beach.
Outdoor grill events are also popping up at hotels. The Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa makes use of its outdoor venue spaces, from landscaped lawns to the pristine Seven Mile Beach. “There is something magical about dining outside,” says Massimo De Francesca, executive chef at Seafire. “The energy of the ocean offers peaceful entertainment.” The hotel allows for outdoor grilling dinners alongside their private bungalows, and features pop-up beach dinners throughout the year.
“We are always working towards making outdoor dining more exciting and accommodating to our guests,” says Massimo. “We have introduced custom stainless-steel grilling kits for our chefs to provide exceptional outdoor wood-fired grilled cooking selections. We also have a large stainless-steel custom-made Seafire grill cooker/smoker and that can be used for any custom event.”
Some of the newer resorts are adding more permanent, grand scale al fresco cooking areas to their properties. The Kimpton Seafire’s Presidential Suite boasts an outdoor kitchen and grill on its oceanfront terrace, as do several of the rental homes in Luxury Cayman Villas’ collection.
The line beside inside and outside is blurring. And while the trend is a global one, nowhere does it make more sense then here in Cayman, with such inviting views and weather to tempt us outdoors.