Get to Know the Island Epicurean

Chelsea Tennant in her element with a full food spread at a beachfront restaurant
by Toni Keesee

The Island Epicurean, Chelsea Tennant, is your go-to source for the latest and greatest happening in the Cayman food scene. Covering the island known as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean makes this project no small task! But Chelsea is always up for it, bringing her bright energy, fresh new insights and brilliant personality to the table. We recently had the chance to do a Q&A with Chelsea, and wanted to introduce you to this allstar Caymanian.

(Pssst. Fun fact! Some of the photos you see on our very own Instagram & Facebook pages come from Chelsea herself. She is a great advocate for Grand Cayman!)

Now let’s dive in to get to know her!

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a born and raised Caymanian whose family comes from the peaceful district of North Side. I ended up going abroad for 8 years of schooling after graduating from Cayman Prep & High School. I lived in Canada to complete my “A-levels” (final years of high school) at Trinity College School and then stayed in the province to get my Kinesiology degree from the University of Western Ontario. I eventually moved to Glasgow, Scotland to get my MSc Physiotherapy and then I came back home to work as a full time physiotherapist and have done this for the past 11 years.

When did you start Island Epicurean, and what inspired you to get started?

I started Island Epicurean as a website with Facebook and Instagram accounts in October 2016. At the time I had started dating my now husband who’s a chef, so whenever we travelled we would typically choose foodie destinations and take photos of all of the incredible meals that we had. I had originally planned that I would be featuring restaurants on my travels and particularly hoped to cover the Caribbean as a whole, but reality set in that I wasn’t travelling enough to continuously flood my social media pages with content. Also, for those of you who are unaware, it is very difficult to travel across the region and you’ll pay almost as much to fly to the UK. That’s when it hit that it would be better for me to showcase my own island’s culinary scene, especially since we had been branding ourselves as a culinary capital of the Caribbean.

What do you look for in the perfect meal?

I’m definitely the person who looks at the menu online before going to the restaurant and is ready to order on the spot. As much as I love a home cooked meal, when I’m out I want to order something that I can’t make at home. I want to eat food that pushes the boundaries in its creativity, sounds delicious just from reading it off the menu and is plated well when it’s presented to the table. I’m not afraid to try new things, so diving into a tasting menu and trusting the chef’s expertise is definitely one of my favourite dining experiences.

Favorite local dish?

Depending on my mood I’d say that Cayman Style Beef and Oxtail are two of my favourites, but for specialty events like Easter or Christmas I very much look forward to my mom’s Stewed Turtle.

Top recommendations for visitors?

You definitely need to experience some authentic Caymanian cuisine and hospitality. Some of my top recommendations are found in the Eastern districts, so it is a bit of a drive away (30-45 minutes depending where you’re located). I’m a huge fan of Grape Tree Cafe in Bodden Town and Captain Herman’s in East End for their range of Caribbean dishes and their fried fish and fritters on the weekends. Two other local gems that you can’t miss are Miss Vivine’s Kitchen and Big Tree BBQ in East End. Both feature Caymanian cuisine and they both serves guests out of their home, where Miss Vivine’s offers seaside seating on her back patio and Big Tree BBQ has shaded tables under a big tree in their front yard. If you don’t have enough time to head to the Eastern districts, you can get a variety of Caribbean food from Island Taste or Cayman Cabana in George Town, where the former is more of a takeout spot and the latter is open daily but is renowned for hosting a weekly Thursday farm-to-table dinner. If you want a chance to try Caribbean / Caymanian food on a menu, be on the lookout for Fried Fish, Jerk Chicken/Pork, Cayman Style Beef, Stewed Conch, Conch Fritters, Oxtail and Curry Goat.

grape tree cafe to-go plate
One of Chelsea's lunch plates at Grape Tree Cafe.

It’s no surprise that the majority of restaurants on Grand Cayman are on or near the Seven Mile Strip, so keeping this in mind for our visitors here are a few of my personal favourites. Bacaro for its Italian tapas concept, Macabuca for it’s laid back diver’s bar and restaurant, Mario’s for it’s revolving tasting menus, Brasserie for it’s farm- & sea-to-table concept, Lloyd’s Smokehouse for it’s classic BBQ & smoked meats, Island Naturals for its health conscious concept, Seven Mile Burger for it’s reasonably priced burgers and Pepper’s for their Jerk and Caribbean sides. This is just a glance into the restaurants I really enjoy, but visitors can learn more on my website under my “District Guides” and my “Cayman’s Best…” lists too.

Macabuca bar and eats
You'll love the island vibes at Macabuca. Photos courtesy Island Epicurean.

What do you enjoy most about being the Island Epicurean?

I really started it to showcase the best restaurants that Cayman has to offer, and I’ve continued that on social media as well as on my website. I enjoy when visitors in particular reach out to ask for recommendations or to give them an honest opinion about visiting a restaurant or bar on island. I want them to have an amazing experience when visiting Cayman and I would hate it if a bad meal could ruin their trip. I also love working with other people in the F&B industry and in the past I have been able to judge mixology and food competitions, as well as interview celebrity chefs for events like Cayman Cookout.

Are you recognized when you eat out now?

I am recognised by people for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m one of the few who actually shows themself on camera, such as in my stories or on my posts. Second, I’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s hard to get away with being anonymous when I walk into a restaurant or bar. Lastly, my husband, Chef Thomas Tennant, is well known on the island, so I get that recognition by other people who work in the industry and have known him for a number of years.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ve used my platform to expand into new side businesses, one of which is Cayman Pantry. It is an online retail store where we deliver Cayman’s best locally made products to your door. It primarily has locally made food items featured and ranges in mini to regular sized items and curated boxes making it the perfect souvenir for visitors.

I also work alongside my husband in our Cayman Peppa Sauce brand to continue his passion for hot sauce making using Caribbean flavours and highlighting Cayman’s heritage. And as a private chef, you can find me helping out with our catering company and chef services at our Chef On Call Cayman. Ultimately we like to keep food as a family business and we’re excited to expand these new ventures over the coming years.