Passenger Pick of the Month
Tukka Restaurant and Bar
Tukka native fusion Restaurant is coming on strong, celebrating its third birthday named by many passengers as one of the best restaurants on the island. Recently Passenger Picks caught up with the creator of Tukka, owner and head chef Ron Hargrave, a native Aussie and long-time Cayman Islands resident.
PP: Ron, November starts off with Cayman’s Pirates Week celebration. You really go all out for it. Tell us what you have going on at Tukka.
RH: Pirates Week on Cayman is such a blast. At Tukka, we all dress up in Pirates week costumes. Arrrr! To celebrate, we’re offering a Pirates Week Promo - Order one of Chef Ron's favorite entrees during Pirates Week and receive a free glass of house wine, or any one of Tukka’s 4 Caybrew varieties.
PP: Sounds great. Last year we remember seeing a bunch of Pirates visit your restaurant on East End Heritage Day.
RH: Yeah, it’s been a tradition for that bunch. Ben “Blackbeard” Cherry and his First Mate, Dee Gee will be back dining at Tukka on Friday November 15th. For 20 years strong they have been coming to Cayman's Pirate Week and dining in East End on Heritage Day.
PP: They obviously love your food, as we do! Ron, Tukka is known for local seafood that’s just outstanding! Tell us about “Fresh Fish Friday”.
RH: Every Friday local fisherman drop off their catches for the Tukka Chef’s to filet, prepare and cook right in front of your eyes. It’s the only way to try a variety of Cayman’s freshest fish like Wahoo, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, Snapper & our unwanted but very tasty Lion-Fish. These feisty little critters that threaten the marine ecosystem often make it to the plate, so when you order lionfish you’re getting a tasty dish and you’re helping the environment.
PP: As divers ourselves, we’re really glad you’re having so much so much success thinning out the Lion-Fish.
RH: Actually Tukka just hit 5,000 lbs of lion-fish bought in 3 years! Not bad for a little Aussie Restaurant on the East side. We are doing everything we can to educate people on the devastation these poisonous and voracious eating machines are capable of! Good thing they taste delicious! We work closely with the local East End divers to bring us in as many as they can catch.
PP: We love the delicious way you prepare the Lion-Fish.
RH: And we’ve got new recipes…including the very popular and extremely tasty Lion-Fish Tacos and whole deep-fried Lion-Fish (minus the dangerous spines of course!) And folks can check out a few of these little critters on display in our aquarium. Live Lion-Fish are nothing to play with, so if folks recognize one in the water, they’ll know to stay away from them.
PP: We love that you not only display the Lion-Fish, but in your larger aquarium you have live Caribbean Lobster.
RH: Yeah, Caribbean Lobster season is December 1 - February 28th. You cannot miss this Cayman delicacy. And if you’re game, you can don the catching gloves and fish out your own dinner!
PP: Tell us about your signature style of cuisine.
RH: I’m a true blue Queensland born Aussie so I guess it should be Barby cooking, but I’ve always has a passion for Thai cooking. I love to create dishes that are interactive with the guests and don't just come out on a plate! The Tukka brochette is the #1 main course for that very reason. I’m very excited to see this when it comes out onto the ocean deck.
PP: Tell us about the concept behind the creation of Tukka.
RH: The concept of Tukka is native Caribbean and Australian fusion. It’s Caribbean food with an Australian blend, so you may get a jerk kangaroo; you’ll have an Aussie burger, which is probably one of the biggest burgers you’re going to eat. We’ve got a steak and mushroom pie, which is sort of the equivalent of a Jamaican beef patty.
PP: So creative! Your Sunday brunch has really taken off. To us, it’s a great place to begin the week.
RH: Our Sunday Brunch has cemented its place as the #1 Oceanfront, sandy beach Brunch on island. Sit on the verandah overlooking the waves while you tuck into a hot and cold buffet of awesome dishes, some of them straight off the Barbie. If you fancy some bubbly, choose the bottomless bubbles option to complement your brunch. You’ll be as content as a koala up a gum tree by the time you’re done.
PP: How are Walkabout Wednesday’s going?
RH: Walkabout Wednesday’s are going strong. For a reasonable price you’ll enjoy a fantastic Walkabout themed 4 Course Dinner with culinary delights from around the globe with a free glass of house wine or beer of your choice. It’s a great way to sample everything from Barramundi to Crocodile in a relaxed atmosphere.
PP: Well, how about dessert? So many passengers rave about your wonderful dessert creation: Date and Walnut Pudding.
RH: Yeah, I created this dish due to the amount of restaurants that had sticky date pudding on their menus and I wanted my own original recipe! It’s a lot lighter and moister than others with that great date flavor.
PP: Last time we were here, we watched you feed scraps to the birds.
RH: Yeah, I think we’ve got those Frigate birds trained. Every day at 5 pm, and Sunday during Brunch at 1 pm, we feed them. Everyone seems to love this unique occasion for some great photos.
PP: Ron, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the opening of your newest venture, Eagle Rays!
RH: Eagle Rays is our new Dive Bar & Grill at Compass Point Dive Resort. We opened its non-existent doors in July. It’s a beautiful location at 40 ft. above sea level with spectacular 180-degree views of the water, the waves, and the dive boats coming and going from the dock.
PP:So a Dive Bar & Grill for divers?
RH: We don’t discriminate between divers and landlubbers. All are welcome to pull up a chair, marvel at the view, and sample a delicious range of international light fare.
PP: Which of the fare has created the biggest buzz so far?
RH: The Lion-Fish Taco's! Everyone is raving about them and the word is spreading like a bush fire with a tail wind. These light, delicate filets taste amazing when they’re hot off the barbecue. Mike K, Cayman’s regional manager for PADI International, described them as “the best he had ever tasted.” We are killing those little buggers as quick as we can. In addition, other favorites that have emerged are BBQ bourbon ribs, Cuban parmesan bread, and bread and butter pudding. Each day lunch and dinner are served outdoors, so bring the appetite of a whale shark with you. We have the Lion-fish BBQ every Monday night, and the Divers Buffet Dinner every Tuesday night when hungry frogmen and women take a seat for a hearty meal after a long day. And, all prices are in US Dollars at Eagle Rays.
PP: Sounds affordable and delicious! How far is it from Tukka?
RH: Not too far, just ½ mile down the road from Tukka towards East End. When on the road look for the Big Yellow Submarine! You can’t miss us...
PP: Tell us what made you choose cooking as a career, and how your career progressed.
RH: As a little bugger, I enjoyed helping my mum in the kitchen. I became known as “the family's chef” at 12 when I presented my sister with a homemade birthday cake. At 14 I started working in restaurant kitchens until I graduated high school, then enrolled in Professional Catering School. I did a four-year apprenticeship with Ambassador Hotels, which took me to several Australian cities. From there I went on to chef for several prestigious hotels.
PP: Well, how did you get from Australia to Cayman?
RH: One afternoon in August ‘98 I saw a small advertisement in the paper, "Cayman Islands need chefs.” After a telephone interview with Executive Chef Patrick Maloir of the Westin Casuarina Resort, I moved here in February ’99, sight unseen. I started at the Westin as a line cook and worked my way to a Sous Chef. Then I had stints as Executive Chef at several outstanding Cayman restaurants, the best one being the last one because that’s where I met my beautiful wife, Lana. Then three years ago, we finally realized our dream, and opened Tukka!
PP: So did you get any time for a break with such a busy year?
RH: Busy?! That’s an understatement. Two restaurants and 2 babies in three years! We did get to take a few days and visit Lana's home town of Bowser on Vancouver Island this summer and had an amazing time with the family. Our son Ledger is turning 3 during Pirates week. He was born just 5 weeks after we opened Tukka! We will always know how old the restaurant is! And we have a beautiful daughter Kinsley who is 1½. It is a beautiful thing to discover the world again through the eyes of your children. They keep us busy, but also remind us daily what is important in life…Love, Laughter and patience!
PP: Great reminders. You’ve got such a beautiful spot out here in East End.
RH: From the ocean deck you have the sparkling views of the famous Wreck of the Ten Sails by day. Then, when you have a full moon that comes up over here, it comes up right over that (outdoor) balcony at seven, eight, nine o’clock at night. Check our FaceBook page for dates and moonrise times. There are 3 evenings every month when you can witness this unique East End experience. It’s one of the most beautiful things you’re ever going to see in your life... listen to the waves gently lap against the shore while you see the gorgeous moonrise.
PP: Tell us about the name Tukka.
RH: The word Tukka comes from the Native Australian Aborigines. It means native food, or food from the land. It’s Tukka time!
PP: What’s the story with the canoe on the wall? We see so many photo's of it.
RH: During the renovations to transform Portofino into Tukka back in Sept 2010 I was stuck with what to do with this blue canoe on the wall. After thinking of taking it down, I stumbled across a coffee table book of Hurricane Ivan called "Paradise Interrupted". On page 78 you can see the roof was missing and the restaurant was all but destroyed and the canoe was still on the wall! My wife Lana told me, “the best thing you can do is paint it and show some respect". So with the help of some friends it got a make-over and to date has had over 10,000 photo's of Tukka guests under it.
PP: Passengers consistently comment about how fun it is to dine at Tukka …great food, great fun!
RH: Fun certainly is a goal of ours. So November 1st we start our Happy Hour promo. Choose items from lobster & shrimp spring-rolls, coconut shrimp and Crocodile & conch fritters for as low as $1.25 per. It runs from 3-6 pm each week day with beers at $3 and cocktails and wine at $6 bucks. The earlier you get there the cheaper it is!
RH: I want everyone who comes to Tukka to have an awesome experience and enjoy greatfood with friendly service. When I hear that our guests have had a fun night out and had a great meal! I’ve done my job as a chef!
PP: Folks, I think you can see why this is one of our favorite places to dine. Don’t miss this opportunity.