Food enthusiasts who want to hone their sautéing skills or discover the tricks of Thai cuisine will soon have a new Miami base for learning the culinary arts.
Chef Norman Van Aken and partner Candace Walsh plan to open a cooking school, “In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken at the Vagabond,” at 7411 Biscayne Blvd., at the site of the former Royal Motel in the resurging MiMo District.
When the school opens in the spring of 2015, it will offer classes seven days a week that cater to both adults and children. Among the offerings will be hands-on preparations and demonstrations, all geared to nonprofessionals who want to boost their proficiency at food preparation.
For Van Aken, a self-taught chef who made a name for himself helming kitchens — at restaurants like Louie’s Backyard in Key West, the original Norman’s in Coral Gables, and currently, Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando — the school will fulfill a dream.
“I have been doing restaurants for 40 years, and I love that, but I’d love to leave more of a legacy than you can with a restaurant,” said Van Aken, 60. “With a school, you can share with them, while you are here, the excitement of the passing of knowledge.”
Van Aken first approached the Vagabond’s developer, Avra Jain, with the idea earlier this year after reading about the motel’s renovations and re-opening as a boutique hotel and centerpiece of the district.
“This area of the city is going through a metamorphosis that is positive, and I want to be part of it,” said Van Aken, who lives in Midtown Miami.
Jain introduced him to Walsh, a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York, whose background includes working in various restaurant kitchens, owning a catering business and serving as a private chef in New York. She also has a master’s degree in food studies from New York University. The two will be 50/50 partners, dividing up responsibilities: Van Aken will handle the creative side and Walsh will be in charge of the administrative side.
Both will teach classes, and Van Aken — who has taught at the Culinary Institute of America, at a former cooking school in South Miami, at Macy’s and on Good Morning America, will also bring in chef friends from Miami and around the globe as guest instructors.
The idea is to create a social haven as well as an educational one, Van Aken and Walsh said.
“Our goal is to be community-driven business, so even though Miami is a big tourist destination, we want to appeal to the residents,” said Walsh, 33, who moved to Miami Beach four years ago, after living in New York and London.
Some classes will be 45 minute, hands-on sessions for up to 16 people, focused on creating such dishes as ceviche or chutney, Walsh said.
Other options will include series of six two-hour classes on basic cooking skills; or technique-driven classes on roasting, or how to make soup or fresh pasta, she said. Other classes may focus on regional cuisines.
“Norman and I love reading cookbooks and seeing what people are doing, and we will use cookbooks as inspiration,” she said. “We will also get included on the cookbook tours — have them come in, talk about books, maybe have a demonstration or serve food from the book.”
For kids, the pair will focus on teaching basic skills, with an emphasis on healthy eating and understanding ingredients. “I don’t want to dip bananas in chocolate and call it a cooking course,” Walsh said.
Overall, prices will range from $50 per 45-minute, hands-on class, to $75 to $125 for demonstration classes, to $125 per hands-on series class, she said.
Van Aken and Walsh’s new cooking school is aimed at capitalizing on the cooking craze sweeping the country, as chef-driven shows and culinary tours have increasingly become a rage. And opening the school in the MiMo District may make it even more on-trend.
“This is an arc of history that we are on, and that is going to be amazing for me to be able to distill it in culinary form,” Van Aken said. “It is really fulfilling.”