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FALL DINING GUIDE: Young Gun

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While most working moms have to bring home the bacon and then muster up the energy to make a meal out of it, Havertown’s Rosemarie Fabien often comes home to such decadent dishes as Yukon gold potato gnocchi with sautéed salmon arranged atop a pool of silky beurre blanc, or sautéed scallops with asparagus puree and shiitake mushrooms. Both are adaptations from recipes in Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook. And these and other lavish meals are prepared by Nick Normile, Fabien’s 14-year-old son.

A cookbook connoisseur and culinary whiz kid with ties to such local high-end restaurants as Lacroix, Fork, Striped Bass, Amada and Osteria, Nick already has his gastronomic future mapped out. “I don’t want to be a TV chef—that I know,” he says. “And I don’t want so many restaurants that I lose focus. I want to make money, but I don’t want to lose my identity.

Most budding foodies have a source of inspiration they can pinpoint. For Nick, it’s calamari—something he tried while traveling through Italy with his grandmother when he was 11. Fueled by his new discovery, he coerced his parents to take him out to dinner often so he could explore an array of cuisines. In a short time, his palate expanded beyond Vinny T’s in Wynnewood to Le Bec-Fin in Center City. “I got the [Georges Perrier Le Bec-Fin Recipes] cookbook and made the crab cakes 20 times until I could swear I made them better than Georges Perrier,” Nick recalls.

Nick is well-versed in classic French cooking terms and techniques. His tastes for lighter sauces and touches of molecular gastronomy follow those of his contemporaries. Among his duties at Lacroix is prepping brunch, a job that ranges from searing lamb chops to making vegetables brunoise and mushrooms duxelles to searing Kobe beef skewers. A lot of what he’s learned simply came from watching the pros. And while heavy sauces aren’t his thing, he has grown proficient in making béchamel, hollandaise and béarnaise, beurre blanc and other classics.

But underneath it all, Nick is still a teenager. He may pass on the junk food, but when his friends come around, pizza and fries take center-stage. Of course, it’s a thin-crust Margherita pizza—made with durum wheat flour and goat cheese and grilled over a “really hot” fire—and “no ordinary fries” twice-fried for an ultra-crispy crust.

A typical school lunch for Nick might entail Caesar salad with sautéed chicken and from-scratch dressing, topped with a handful of homemade croutons. When asked if his friends make special requests, he shrugs: “My friends don’t have very developed palates.”

Nick’s targeted culinary coup is a “simple” combination of seared foie gras with cherry marmalade and brioche croutons. At the moment, he hopes to whet his knives at Napa Valley’s famed French Laundry. But with plenty of schooling still ahead of him, who knows who will be leading the culinary pack by the time he emerges from the Culinary Institute of America in eight years.

So what is Nick’s favorite restaurant?

“Maybe it’s because I work at Lacroix, but I see so much happening behind the scenes,” he says. “The food is really good—brunch is amazing.”