BEST CHEF Norman Van Aken With this new item comes a new rule that applies to it alone: no repeats. Therefore, this being something of an informal Hall of Fame, who could we possibly choose as initial inductee other than Mr. Van Aken? If he weren't the best chef, we'd feel pretty silly for having crowned his fine-dining emporium with a record ten consecutive Best Restaurant in Coral Gables awards. And who are we to second-guess the James Beard Foundation, The New York Times, and all the others who have cited Van Aken as Miami's master modern mango man? Other great veteran chefs from the area -- Mark Militello, Allen Susser, Jonathan Eismann, Douglas Rodriguez, Robbin Haas -- can lay claim to having made important contributions to what we place under the umbrella of New Florida cuisine, but Van Aken's New World cooking most clearly represents the movement's apex. This thinking-chef's chef and multiple cookbook author has spread himself thin of late with new Norman's branches in Orlando and Los Angeles (and the late, lamented Mundo), but a meal at his flagship establishment still braces with brassy, intelligent elixirs of indigenous ingredients and global concepts. Congratulations, Norman, and we wish you many more a success to come.
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