(This is the prologue, entitled "The Triangle," excerpted from No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken by Norman Van Aken, to be published on December 7 by Taylor Trade Publishing. Published with permission of Taylor Trade, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield.)
Julia Child was waiting. Along with 350 other well-dressed, well-heeled folks in an opulent hotel ballroom in Aventura, Florida, she sat in her gold-and-black dress and waited beneath glittering chandeliers. She was waiting for her birthday cake, which would come much later. She was waiting for the first course of a seven-course celebration dinner in her honor at the exclusive and hyperexpensive Turnberry Resort. She was waiting for a dish that I had coproduced with my relatively new friend Emeril Lagasse, as well as another dish coproduced by my great friend/brother, Charlie Trotter.
Emeril and I were teamed up to do the first course of the gala. That is not the way things are typically done. Usually each chef does his or her own dish from start to finish. But “Em” and I were still getting to know each other and this was not only a very prestigious event in honor of the woman widely viewed as the grande dame of American cuisine, but it was also fun to plan, refine, and then execute a dish partnered up like this. Emeril was a party to cook with. He was, in fact, a one-man Mardi Gras!
Julia was waiting, but not because of us. She was sitting through a long dissertation on the wines being served that evening. This is one of the most challenging parts of doing the first course for one of these dinners. You don’t make the food and simply hold it in a hot box. We didn’t cook that way and never would. This had to be as à la minute as humanly possible. Emeril and I had been prepping all day on our collaborations: Grilled Key West Shrimp and Chorizo Sausage (my recipe) and Delta Crayfish with Red Beans and Rice Cake (Emeril’s recipe).