Norman Van Aken Up Close and Personal

New World Cuisine’s founding father, Norman Van Aken, is bringing a new project to Miami’s Coral Gables area in February 2010 called Norman’s 180, and with it comes a whole new set of innovative dishes Van Aken notes are based on a “more rustic food theme.”

 Chef Van Aken says that he was cooking for a living for about nine years before he “realized he was falling in love with what he was doing.” Somewhat surprisingly, the chef famous for elegantly thought out dishes says that his fondest food-related memory stems from when he was hitchhiking with his wife from Florida to Chicago when the couple was 18 years old, and they stopped at a grocery store and bought ham, and cheese and made sandwiches in a nearby park.

 Norman’s 180 is set to open in the next few months and Coral Gables and Miami residents both are most likely in for a very pleasant experience. This chef has come a long way since roadside sandwiches and he’s bringing his talents to the Magic City to expand his already impressive reputation. Van Aken describes Miami’s dining scene as “ever-adolescent” and adds, “It’s like a child that’s around 16 years, it’s got all that promise, and all that anguish of a teenager. It’s a coming-of-age diversity thing.”

 One of Van Aken’s favorite dishes is conch chowder, or more specifically, a Brazilian-style conch chowder he originally made for a festival in Vegas and happens to be one of his mother’s favorites too. One of the most popular items on the menu among patrons, however, is the pan-cooked filet of Key West yellowtail with a “belly of mashed potatoes” which Van Aken learned to make when he was a breakfast chef in Key West. Van Aken says that Norman’s 180 will feature a whole new roster of dishes because he’s leaving his already famous dishes in Orlando to make room for new items.

 During a recent interview, Van Aken divulged a few “at home” secrets and advise including his top five ingredients and utensils that every home kitchen should have, including sugar, fat, acid, meat, starch, wooden spoons, sharp knives, an old-fashioned vegetable peeler, a black-iron skillet, and a corkscrew. So what does he like to cook at home with these essential items? Well, Van Aken says pizza, from scratch. “Thin crust, Neapolitan-style pizza,” he adds.

Via: NBC Miami