Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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EatBeat: SoBe Wine and Food Fest – A Chef’s Perspective

February 25th, 2012 · No Comments

Ed’s note: Chef Norman Van Aken and I go way back – to the ’80s when I wrote a review of his first cookbook, Feast of Sunlight. I’ve followed him and his career ever since. He’s cooked at most of the South Beach Wine and Food Festivals¬† – probably every one of them, and has seen the changes as it’s grown. In this post I lifted from his blog, he shares his thoughts on why it’s different for him this year.

SOUTH BEACH WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL…THIS YEAR IT’S DIFFERENT.

By Norman Van Aken, Sept. 25, 2012

Van Aken

As I wake get coffee and look out of our Midtown Condo across Biscayne Bay, I ponder the mass of humanity on the Island of Miami Beach in the throes of the 11th Annual South Beach Wine & Food Celebration. I think Emeril has distilled its essence about best when he called it “Spring break for Chefs.”

It is true that the spirit of spring break has become one now like spring break in some town where the sponsors have figured out how turn a buck. And I don’t watch much TV. So I dodge a lot of it. When you cut your chops in a town like Key West and you have to live and go to work everyday the SOBE Fest can damage your functionality!

So do the events that make sense and are personal for us. After all, during Hemingway Days I don’t go to every arm wrestling or “Papa” look-alike contest.

What is giving me a great deal of satisfaction in this year’s SOBE is our doing our prep at Miami Dade College’s newest creation: the Miami Culinary Institute. I have been invited by my dear friend Charlie Trotter to cook at the “Tribute Dinner” that this year is for him.

Charlie Trotter

I will join Nathan Myhrvold of “Modernist Cuisine”, Wylie Dufresne of “wd-50”, Michelle Gayer, (Charlie’s long-time pastry Chef), Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington, a chap named Emeril, and of course, Charlie. But we get to do it through a lens of uniting our students to the chefs (and winemakers) known round the world.

That is unique for me and I’m very grateful to participate in this new and expanded way. I have cooked through the medium of our restaurant, Norman’s, for most of the years and that was great…yet to see the wonder and excitement of the students who entered MCI to get a degree in this field get a glimpse of what we have been a part of in this transforming world of cuisine adds new perspective.

I have commented in the press interviews about how it is great to be “involved with a school in my fourth decade of cooking”. These past few days have put that commentary into action.

The young man in the picture below spooning the batter into flex-mold cooking mats is named Al. He was a student at MCI when I arrived here to take on this new life. I am Director of Restaurants at MCI. I am not actually a cooking instructor for the school. That could come.

For now my primary responsibility is to run Tuyo. Tuyo is the fine dining restaurant that sits atop MCI. Al was making sandwiches and salads in the Cafe at the ground floor level when I got here. In the short space of three months young Al has received a whirlwind education working alongside our professional chefs at Tuyo. Now he spends equal time between going to school here, working the Cafe and working the line with us at Tuyo.

He has the ability to go very far in cuisine. He is calm and he keeps his eyes open as to what needs to get done next and he jumps in. I love to foster that mentality and mind-set in young chefs in training. At MCI we are doing more and more of that each day.

We are doing one course for the Charlie Trotter Tribute Dinner. We will serve over 500 guests. There are another half-dozen young students from MCI who were also involved in the prep for this dinner we will serve tonight. I know it can light a candle for them.

That’s why I’m loving SOBE more than ever this year.

 (Photos by Norman Van Aken)

Tags: Commentary · Food and wine festivals · Today in the World of Food · What's Happening Here

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