A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and most recently at The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, chef Norman Hargrove has a history of taking authentic American cuisine and bringing it forward into the contemporary world.
“One of my earliest memories is of my grandmother, my aunt and my mom cooking. I was skinny, but tall, and always in the kitchen, always hungry,” he recalls. “My mother, being a single parent who worked, wouldn’t get home until late evening. One day, I was hungry and I fried some chicken. She got home, ate, and was very happy and pleased. I started cooking for the family.”
Professionally, it was Georgia Brown’s in Washington, D.C.–situated a couple of blocks from The White House–where he came into his own. “That’s where I learned ‘Low Country’ cooking, from Virginia to Georgia. D.C. is a southern city with northern tendencies, but when we cook, it’s usually southern-style: fried chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, ribs, everything.”
After attending CIA in Hyde Park, New York, he did his externship in New Orleans at the New Orleans Marriott. He remembers his first helping of crawfish quite clearly: “I’m looking at these ugly things and didn’t want to put that in my mouth and it was a lot of work to get the meat out and then you suck on the head? But I liked them, reminded me of eating crab on the East Coast, different flavor but same experience,” says Hargrove. After a stint at the U.S. Army-Fort Meyers Officer’s Club, Hargrove arrived at the Peninsula in 2008.
His time at The Peninsula gave him the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of Chicago’s most respected chefs, including Graham Elliot and Curtis Duffy, and pushed his culinary boundaries, as he will do here at Nouveau Tavern.
“The flavors are going to be very authentic New Orleans with updated setting and presentation,” says Hargrove. “We’re not just going to throw gumbo in a bowl and serve it; rather, we’ll play with flavors around the rim of the bowl and it won’t be gumbo like you get anywhere else.”
When not working, a rare thing for any chef, Hargrove likes to catch a movie and go out to eat with colleagues, lately tending toward random Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai restaurants up on the city’s North Side. He recommends: Pho 777. He also enjoys whiskey and bourbon, using his chef’s palate to pick out flavor notes that please. His favorite beer? Yuengling, made in Pennsylvania. If you’re in Pennsylvania and headed toward Chicago, he’d appreciate you picking him up a 12-pack and he’ll thank you when you get here. This is Chef Norman Hargrove, of Nouveau Tavern.