Christian Reiter, born and raised in the mountains of Styria, Austria, is Executive Chef at The Wharf, Grand Cayman’s most famous waterfront dining experience.
The Wharf has a few years to go before it catches up with its venerable sister restaurant Grand Old House, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But since opening in 1988 The Wharf has established itself as one of the best restaurants in the Cayman Islands, with celebrated fine dining, a first-class wine cellar, and the best sunset view.
The man in charge of The Wharf's gourmet reputation is Christian Reiter, a 30-year veteran of award-winning kitchens who apprenticed in his native Austria under the strict supervision of French-trained chefs to whom "discipline was key".
Over the years, he learned his trade working under various head chefs, all with different backgrounds, specialties, and styles, eventually taking this education to sea on the Sea Goddess cruise liner, absorbing many other cultures and styles along the way.
On his arrival in Grand Cayman, he used this wide and varied experience to his advantage, developing The Wharf’s menu with international influences while still maintaining the famous Caribbean flavor and aesthetic that guests expect when they dine in the Cayman Islands.
Reiter’s arrival in the Cayman Islands was not a planned strategy. Around 1995, after leaving the cruise ship and having been declined a US work visa, Reiter was not overwhelmed with work offers. Using a manual typewriter and fax machine he sent out more than 50 applications, vowing he would accept the first offer that came his way. "Sure enough,' he says, "I got a positive and quick respond from Clemens Guettler [The Wharf's previous owner] and it all started from there."
Reiter describes his cooking style as "fresh, simple, sometimes with a twist of 'oomph'". His essential condiments are "garlic, mustard, any type of spicy chilli, and fresh herbs."
Having built a stellar reputation for The Wharf with quality seafood, traditional Caribbean dishes, and flavors, often with an innovative nod towards other regions and cultures, he cannot admit to having just one favorite style or region: "There are so many," he insists. "Every single one has a hint or inspiration for something new or different." But he does admit "I like the Caribbean, Asian and, of course, good old Austrian."
Chef Reiter’s modern and refined menu has embraced current seasonal produce to deliver the best culinary options in the Cayman Islands. Local dishes on the menu include fresh lobster, Cayman turtle steak and The Wharf’s signature dish, Basil and Pistachio Nut-Crusted Sea Bass.
"My Basil and Pistachio Crusted Chilean Seabass goes back years -- almost decades -- and is still a best-seller," he says with pride.
He admits to a guilty food pleasure of "sweets, especially chocolate", so it's only natural to expect desserts would feature prominently on any menu designed by Christian Reiter. Popular desserts on The Wharf’s dinner menu include a rich and romantic shared dish like a vanilla crème brûlée, with fresh berries and almond crisp. or Cayman lime pie topped with meringue.
With one of the most extensive Cayman Islands wine lists at his disposal, what would he choose to relax with after a long day in a hot kitchen? The answer comes straight back: "A good heavy red, like Barossa Shiraz, a Cabernet Sauvignon or a well-chilled bottle of Champagne."
The articulate Austrian appears slightly puzzled when asked how he likes to relax, what his hobbies and interests are: “Not working does not exist. I do go to the beach occasionally. Watch tv… Scuba diving, some gardening, travel,” he admits. But the impression he gives is that being Executive Chef at The Wharf is where he is happiest.
Does he have any advice for aspiring chefs? “Food means something to me,” he says. “Source wisely and use accordingly.”
Make a date for dinner at The Wharf for the best food in the Cayman Islands prepared by Chef Reiter and his team. The Wharf is open for dinner every night, from 5 pm to 10 pm. For reservations call +1 (345)-949-2231 or email firstname.lastname@example.org