Open Palm Kitchen 2023: Tillie's Dinner Party
Palm Heights, a boutique hotel nestled on the stunning white sands of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach, is a site for connection. Drawing on her previous experience in the gallery world, founder and creative director Gabriella Khalil has outfitted the property with vintage statement pieces to evoke a bygone golden era of Caribbean glamor, at the same time cultivating a decidedly avant-garde artistic community through a growing residency program. Starting in 2020, when the Caymans were effectively closed to short-term tourism, the hotel hosted a cooking-inclined crew of artists in quarantine, taking care of the local community and each other. More recent participants include dancer and choreographer Gabe Stone Shayer, a soloist at the American Ballet Theater in New York, the multidisciplinary artist Kenturah Davis, as well as experimental musicians like Kelsey Lu and Okay Kaya. With international travel finally bouncing back to pre-pandemic rates, the property is debuting new facilities including a dedicated residency kitchen, and a sprawling open-air spa created in collaboration with environmental design studio Food New York.
In January of 2023, they hosted Open Palm Kitchen, a long weekend of dynamic culinary blurring the boundaries between food and beverage, the visual arts, and music. The festivities kicked off with Tillie’s Dinner Party, a recurring supper club at the hotel’s all-day restaurant. The weekend’s collaborators mixed and mingled with invited guests and artists in residence under the spell of Davide Spadia, the charismatic Neapolitan GM who ensured everyone in the room felt like a regular. Chef Jake Brodsky’s menu elegantly wove together fine dining classics - caviar service, oysters on the half shell, lobster thermidor - with Caymanian-inspired fare - coconut and scotch bonnet ceviche, shrimp sambusas, and conch milanese - all served family style, with wines selected by sommelier Thomas Pastuszak. To finish, diners enjoyed an abundance of tropically-inflected sweets by Claire Ptak of London’s the Violet Bakery, including a delightfully retro yet remarkably fresh pineapple upside down cake, and a guava and passionfruit baked Alaska, ignited tableside.
As guests tucked into glasses of fresh mint tea, theatrically poured from above server’s heads, much like one might see at La Mamounia, it became readily apparent that Palm Heights aspires to a different kind of service culture - one in which the warm and welcoming team, with their diverse backgrounds, passions, and skills, is foundational to this uniquely cosmopolitan paradise in the Caribbean Sea. A couple nights earlier, Mohammed regaled my colleague over a nightcap at Tillie’s with his essential Morocco itinerary, effortlessly sketching a map with notes onto a cocktail napkin; Rosemary, a Cuban native who took care of us on the beach, encouraged us to join the salsa class she taught on-site, and offered recs for where else on the island the more rhythmically inclined among us might cut a rug; or Kim, the charming bartender behind the daily aperitivo, who offered me a zingy Moscow mule with sinus-clearing fresh ginger juice in lieu of her batched passionfruit bellinis, having sense the waning end of a cold in my voice. Perhaps even more than the incredible food and highly Instagrammable nooks (and believe me, there are many), it’s exchanges like these that left me itching to return.