New Times: Was the farm-to-table concept totally absent from your consciousness, Chef Norman?
Norman Van Aken (NVA): Hardly. My paternal grandmother ran a dairy farm on Route 21. We did all our own canning, pickling... We were "do-it-yourself-ers." What Justin did for me was formalize the notion and remind me of our roots.
Justin Van Aken (JVA): I said, "Dad, we have an amazing story in New World Cuisine. I think it's time to write the second chapter."
So that's how Norman's 180 came to be?
JVA: I feel like a life of cooking is more of a vehicle for me. We have an opportunity here to utilize our brand and notoriety to do some good for our community.
NVA: Norman's 180's is all about desirability, sustainability, and community. People don't care about your politics if they don't love your food.
Chef Norman, is this your first time focusing on locally sourced ingredients?
NVA: I remember Alice Waters stopping her call on a pay phone to tell me, "I want you to help me with the Slow Food Movement in Florida."
JVA: Just ask Martina Borek of Teena's Pride if he's new to supporting local farmers. She'll tell you it goes back a couple decades.
And how was this new restaurant "a 180" for you?
NVA: I felt like I've cooked this way before, more rustic food. But for me it was a chance to dissolve all extraneous things and get to the essential things.
How long did you plan for Norman's 180?
NVA: About two years.
JVA: We were working from home in Key West doing research online, writing menus, talking to kitchen designers.
And why did you decide to come back to Coral Gables?
NVA: The Gables is the most solid business region. Despite [Norman's] crappy location, we did well for 14 years.
JVA: It feels natural. We're right down the street from where I first learned to cook. We had a feeling about that restaurant like it was a mother to the others.
Why did Norman's close?
NVA: Our business partnership was dissolving. Our interests were scattered. It was time for it to end.
And how about Key West?
NVA: I still love Key West, but we're not operating a restaurant there at this time.
So Justin, do you think you can rake in the big bucks in the restaurant industry?
JVA: (laughs) They say if you want to be a millionaire in the restaurant biz, start out with $2 million.
Any plans for the future?
NVA: With my partners, Janet Van Aken, Stacy Cofield, Tom and Kim Wood, we plan to do multiples of this concept.
So how much of this endeavor is you and how much is Justin? Whose kitchen is it?
NVA: I wanted him to have his opportunity to work with Phil [Bryant], the other co-chef. It's about them as much as me.
But yours is the only name on the concept...
JVA: He had worked so hard his whole life. I wanted to come here to pay homage to that work and breathe new life into something he created. If it wasn't for him, of course I wouldn't be here.