(Published in the Cayman Compass Weekender, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015)
A few months ago I decided to make more of an effort to leave meat off the menu. My decision was based not only on animal welfare issues, but environmental and health issues too.
Still learning the ropes as to how to make tasty vegetarian fare at home (note, mostly disastrous attempts), I have started exploring Cayman’s growing band of dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants. I was therefore delighted to be invited to try out the island’s latest offering, VIVO Cafe.
Located at the Lighthouse Point Resort, West Bay – Cayman’s first eco-resort – this charming oceanfront cafe opened last month and offers a strictly vegetarian and vegan menu, including gluten-free and raw options too. All ingredients are strictly organic and locally sourced, if possible, offering diners a selection of deliciously healthy options that are good for mind, body, and soul.
The restaurant is owned and managed by award-winning chef Gilbert Cavallaro (also head chef at Cracked Conch restaurant) and Michele Zama, both dedicated vegans who are keen to pass on their passion for healthy eating to their customers.
Cavallaro says his family chose to eat organic when his wife was expecting their first child in 2004, later becoming vegan in 2012, noting that food choices can either hinder or help health. Since then, Cavallaro and his family have immersed themselves in a clean-eating lifestyle, which extends even to his dogs (yes, really) who eat only the finest organic, veggie fare, cooked by Cavallaro himself.
Zama says he became vegan in 2012 after watching a documentary about animal farming practices and realized it was something he no longer wished to support.
Sustainability is key for the clean-living business partners, and that means sourcing local ingredients wherever possible.
Eggs, coconut water, spinach and moringa are sourced from local farmer Clarence McLaughlin. Herbs, avocados, acerola cherries, and seasonal fruits and vegetables come from Joel Walton’s Bodden Town nursery, Plantation House Organic Gardens, while Garnett Shaw supplies VIVO Cafe with homegrown pumpkins and seasoning peppers.
Indeed, the sustainability concept even extends to the tableware. Cutlery is made from sustainably sourced bamboo; plates are made from acacia wood; and the napkins from wheat straw. The aim, Zama and Cavallaro explain, is to create the smallest carbon footprint possible, all while serving up tasty, good-for-you nutritious fare.
The primarily plant-based menu has been devised by chef Cavallaro, who has more than 30 years of culinary experience. Specials are added regularly, while menu options may change depending on the availability of ingredients.
“We love to experiment, and you never know what you’ll find us cooking, baking or creating,” Zama says.
As VIVO Cafe is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I decided to head up there one morning for breakfast. After all, what could be a better way to kick-start a busy day than with a healthy, flavor-packed breakfast, coupled with a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea?
The all-day breakfast menu includes a selection of breakfast classics, (minus the meat, of course), as well as freshly squeezed juices, coffees and teas. I opted for the “Big Breakfast Plate” – seared falafel, local eggs, coconut bacon (dehydrated coconut seasoned with fresh herbs and peppers), sauteed potatoes with moringa, homebaked trio of beans, sautéed mushrooms, and toasted homemade bread.
Zama also suggested the “Cocochino,” cappuccino with fresh coconut milk, as well as a cold-pressed green juice for an extra dose of goodness.
I’ve long been a fan of a classic British fry-up, so could a veggie one really live up to this great classic? A definite yes! This delicious meal was so tasty I had to restrain myself from licking the plate clean.
If you decide to visit VIVO Cafe for lunch or dinner, then there is plenty to tempt your taste buds too. How about the “Sun Day Roast,” (lentil, herbs, and mushroom loaf, chili garlic wilted greens, moringa potatoes, mushroom gravy, and cranberry chutney), or the “Aglio, Olie e Peproncino,” (pasta with olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, wilted greens, seasoning peppers and chili, Parmigiano and raw Manchego cheese)? If that doesn’t tempt you, then try the “Coconut Ceviche,” (coconut, cucumber, chili, onions, coconut bacon, and spicy nuts, with a coconut-lime dressing), or the “Sprouted Spelt Flatbread Burrito,” (trio of beans, tomato chili sauce, avocado, raw Manchego cheese, coconut and cashew cream, hot sauce). Mouth watering yet?
Lionfish are an exception
Despite being a strictly vegetarian restaurant, there is one non-veggie item allowed on the menu: lionfish.
“Lionfish is an invasive species and is becoming a major issue in the Caribbean Sea and in our waters,” Zama says. “We are just doing our part in an attempt to try and reduce the lionfish population as we believe that it is another way to be sustainable. We also support local fishermen and divers that are bringing fresh lionfish to the restaurant daily. Besides that, it tastes delicious.”
Indeed, VIVO Cafe offers a number of lionfish dishes. Zama says the Indian lionfish curry is one of the most popular dishes. Others include a seared lionfish sandwich served on a homemade Dutch-crust bun with cashew cream, tomato, and a caper chili vinaigrette, as well as the classic pan-seared lionfish, served with a choice of fresh market greens and homemade seasonal sauce.
“Many of our customers are drawn to our eco-friendly choices,” Cavallaro says. “They know that the food is both healthy and tasty, or they want to eat more vegetarian meals. We couldn’t be happier with the response of our customers. So many are now regulars and come back with friends.”
Zama adds: “Surprisingly, some of the best feedback is coming from the non-vegetarian crowd that has found in VIVO a great healthy alternative without taking anything away from the pleasure of their taste buds.” A ringing endorsement indeed.
Visit vivo.ky for more details, or call 749-8486. Open 7 days a week, 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.