Norman Van Aken and a few of his friends got together to cook dinner the other night. Those friends included celebrity chefs Jeremiah Tower, Emeril Lagasse, and Dean Fearing, as well as local celebrity chefs Scott Hunnel (Victoria & Albert’s), Brandon McGlamery (Luma on Park, Prato), James and Julie Petrakis (Ravenous Pig, Cask & Larder) and Sean Woods and Stephane Cheramy (Ritz-Carlton). And they all brought along a coterie of “helper” chefs, if you consider such talented chefs as Tim Keating (Flying Fish Cafe) and Matt Cargo (Prato) as kitchen help.
Charlie Trotter was to have been among the star chefs, but at a Friday evening meet and greet event at Norman’s it started to become apparent that he would not be there. I overheard someone from the restaurant say to another, “No sign of Trotter yet.” Then Van Aken told the assembled guests on Saturday that Trotter was ill and unable to fly under doctor’s orders. Representatives from Trotter’s culinary team were there to cook in his stead. I don’t think any of the attendees of the black-tie affair requested a refund of the $1000 per person fee. (For the record, I attended as a media guest.)
Van Aken also assembled five master sommeliers to do the wine pairings, including locals John Blazon, Brian Koziol and George Miliotes, and from South Florida Andrew McNamara and Eric Hemer, who also holds the title of Master of Wine, one of only a few in the world.
Following a Champagne reception that included canapes from the Petrakises, guests filed into a ballroom (the restaurant was too small to hold the several hundred guests). Van Aken made a few remarks of greeting and introductions, the chefs explained their dishes and then the eight-course dinner was underway. Four closed-circuit monitors were set up in the ballroom so guests could see some of the action in the kitchen, but I went back and got some photos and video of my own. Here are some of the images. I only wish I could let you smell and taste as well.
Click this link to download the complete Norman’s 10th Anniversary Gala menu with the wine pairings.
Tower’s dish was first, a three-spoon appetizer of oyster tartare, salt cod with chimole, and pork belly.
Tower was so revered by the other chefs that when he stepped to the podium to announce his dish the other chefs all bowed to him.
Scott Hunnel had all his plates laid out and ready to go. He offered Maine lobster with hearts of palm salad and Siberian caviar (albeit from Sarasota) in a special container commemorating the gala.
The soup was from Trotter’s team and featured hamachi and baby leeks with the artichoke broth poured at the table. Among those sitting at my table were Van Aken’s wife, Janet, and their newly born granddaughter. A favorite image was the baby’s mother spoonfeeding her the soup. No Gerber’s for that child!
The scene in the kitchen was playful. All the chefs kept a wine glass nearby. Above, Van Aken takes some video of the scene for his own records.
McGlamery’s dish featured veal stuffed casoncelli with smoked corn broth, summer truffle, and wagyu lardo — beef fat, essentially — that was frozen and then grated on top of the pasta.
Van Aken’s roasted wreckfish with butifarra sausage was blow-torched on the process line.
From left, Tower, McGlamery, Lagasse, Van Aken, Hunnel and Keating. Fearing seems to be yawning in the background, but he also may have been having a good laugh, as many of them did during the evening.
Fearing served maple soaked buffalo tenderloin with rabbit enchilada.
One of several wine service tables set up around the ballroom.
The sommeliers enjoyed a toast before the dinner.
Dessert was Manjari chocolate, coconut water and lemongrass sorbet and flax seed nougatine.