Trends: Down With Chicken Nuggets!

The most sophisticated generation of Philly kids ever is renouncing its gordita-eating ways to embrace the joys of ponzu and organic duck eggs. But can you really be a foodie when you’re only four feet tall?

At the start of summer, a part-time chef at Lacroix named Nick Normile posted the following entry on his blog, underneath a gorgeous picture of a dish he’d put together for dinner: “This right here is the food that I really like to eat. It’s healthy, it’s local, it’s fresh. Eating like this gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, and I feel great afterwards. It’s grilled asparagus from a nearby farm, incredible, extra-sharp chèvre from another nearby farm specializing in goat’s-milk products, basil and chives from my backyard, walnuts, and a few squeezes of lemon juice. And it really needs nothing else.”

Normile has also recently blogged about his concept for a sustainable, better-tasting business model for fast food (“Chicken Confit. Chicken Breast. Pulled Pork. Pork Belly. Brisket. Burgers. All the meats would be sous-vide before being seared to order, or in the case of brisket or pulled pork, held warm”); enjoying duck eggs from a friend’s farm; his love for the grain quinoa; his experiments with baking bread using Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio; and his grief over the addition of an à la carte menu at the formerly prix-fixe restaurant Per Se in New York City.

Also in May, Normile blogged, “Posting has been slacking lately. I’m having trouble balancing homework, studying for the chemistry SAT 2’s, preparing for finals, going to Lacroix each week, working at Rita’s water ice a few days a week, and writing on my blog.”

Perhaps Normile was being a bit hard on himself, given that he just finished his sophomore year at Lower Merion High. At 16, he has held jobs at Osteria and Amada, just passed his driver’s-license exam, runs track, and even found time to prepare chicken confit for his mom on Mother’s Day. His stint at Lacroix is a slogging eight-hour apprenticeship every weekend, and he spends hours cooking at home and working on, his well-written and delightfully unjaded blog.

“None of my friends like to cook so much,” he told me one day in May after school, “but they like to eat what I make.” Normile, who has dark hair, hazel eyes and a slim runner’s build, recently created Butterscotch Krimpet ice cream for his buddies, in a rare foray into junk food.

Normile is perhaps the most extreme and frankly awesome example of a bona fide ’tween-and-teen trend sweeping the Philly area: the kid foodie. For those of us who spent our pubescent years guzzling Tang and pop-top cans of Tab, who couldn’t wait for our parents to head out on Friday nights so we could fire up some frozen Ellio’s or quick-fry a Steak-umm, these are perplexing times. Sure, Philadelphia is now officially a food town, and we are smug in the knowledge that our current Whole Foods-centric existence is much healthier than our Stouffer’s-filled childhoods. But how did our kids come to be enjoying maitake mushrooms, lamb saddle and ponzu?

“I don’t cook at all,” says Normile’s mom, Rosemarie Fabien, a PR consultant to architectural firms, sounding a bit baffled, albeit proud. “I make pasta, and macaroni and cheese. I never made a cake that wasn’t from a mix.” That, said she, supports her son fully. In early June, at her son’s request, she picked up 23 pounds of strawberries from Linvilla Orchards while Nick toiled at Lacroix.

“He’s made strawberry tarts, strawberry ice cream, and he had us get dry ice so he could replicate a recipe of Alton Brown’s, plus he made six jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam,” she says. “I just wish exams weren’t in his way. Strawberry season is only two weeks long.”