It was just over a month ago that I started to pester Norman Van Aken with emails. Like everyone else, I had heard he was returning to Coral Gables with Norman's 180 in the Colonnade Hotel (180 Aragon Avenue) and asked whether he would share some of the back story to the new place with our readers. I was curious about how he might determine the concept, plan the menu, develop the recipes, and, in general, what thought processes he might go through in shaping his new restaurant. I allowed that we at New Times wouldn't be choosy -- any crumbs of info he might want to toss our way would sate us just fine. After all, getting a culinary star of Norman's magnitude to share with Short Order is like convincing a famous Hollywood actor to appear in your small town production of Annie. You have to treat them with kid gloves -- you know, like not make a scene if they show up five minutes late for rehearsal.
Be that as it may, following the jump Van Aken reveals the direction his cuisine is taking (hint: it's not Latin/Caribbean), and offers "our list of 11 books that are part of the selected reading for 180". We're pretty sure he means the books that he and his team are absorbing, not what diners must read before eating there.
Norman has been studying and reflecting on "what the next twenty
(years) may be like. Or is it ten?" Having just returned "from the farm
country we were raised in" (presumably around his rural home town of
Diamond Lake, Illinois), he is dedicated to moving his cuisine "back to
the roots more". 180, he says, "Will be less specifically
Latin/Caribbean and more specifically about Seasonality. Of course this
is the great big story of our times, and I claim nothing new about
that. I think we have an obligation to move in this direction. My son
Justin is really helping on all of this and I thank him for that."
Seems Justin is just in time to also help Dad make his triumphant transition
from New World Cuisine to New World Interconnectedness. Van Aken
promises "websites, food blogs, etc., that are all part of the dialogue
that will be about why 180 should taste, feel, look, talk, think, etc.
like it does."
As for the physical side of the restaurant development, demolition is
about to be complete, and "architect Malcolm Berg and our kitchen
designer Jeff Brown are busy with plans and revisions as we go. We
currently are on a timetable to be open in September."
Finally, the list of books that Norman and company are reading and
re-reading as inspiration for 180. Some are well known, others less so,
but the choices provide food for thought, and perhaps hints as to the
menu to come. For instance, we can pretty much bet that pork will play
a prominent role, and perhaps go out on a limb and guess that
flatbreads will be served?
"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", Barbara Kingsolver
"Pork and Sons", Stephane Reynaud
"The Zuni Café", Judy Rodgers
"Spice", Jack Turner
"Flatbreads and Flavors", Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
"Dear Darkness", Kevin Young (beautiful food poems in here)
"Pig Perfect; Encounters with Remarkable Swine", Peter Kaminsky
"Seven Fires", Francis Mallmann with Peter Kaminsky
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"The Man Who Ate Everything", Jeffrey Steingarten
"The Discoverers", Daniel Boorstein
"A Return to Cooking", Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman
Anyway, thank you Norman. And keep us tuned in. I mean, you know, at your convenience.