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Norman Van Aken and Jon Hochstat Creating Fine Dining Experience in Costa Rica

Jon Hochstat, a veteran of the service industry for more than a quarter of a century, who Norman Van Aken describes as "the totally cue'd in 'insider' that Tony Bourdain might use if he were shooting a new show on Costa Rican Cuisine," - recently reached out to Eater about a project that he was undertaking with Van Aken in Costa Rica. Hochstat informed us that he was the "Hooch" mentioned in a tweet from Van Aken on January 7th, which read: "Planning some cool events in Costa Rica this year with my buddy Hooch who lives there. More to come #whoishooch @Emeril".

This aroused some curiosity about the Central American Mystery project that one of world's - and let's not forget Miami's - most renowned chefs is apparently working on. According to Hochstat, Van Aken, the man behind the acclaimed Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, is going to be working with an array of other yet to be revealed all star chefs on an exclusive event in a seaside town called Jaco.

"Let me take you back a few years," began Hochstat, who spoke with Eater via skype from his home in Costa Rica. "In November of 2010, Norman and I met with with this gentleman named Mike about doing a project here in Costa Rica. I moved down here in August of 2011 and the project started coming together. We signed Norman to a one year consulting agreement, basically because the flavors down here are very similar to what he did up there."

While Van Aken was in San Jose working as a 'flavor consultant' for 8ctavo, Hochstat took him on a food tour of the city and tried to expose Van Aken to the richness of Costa Rica's resources.

"The amount of product that's available down here is mind-boggling," Hochstat exclaimed. "I travelled Costa Rica for a year and a half, getting all the vendors set up for 8ctavo and then we located a young Costa Rican who's a forager who has my list, plus if anything exists in Costa Rica, this guy can find it."

So it seems, even upon a cursory glance, that with Van Aken in a kitchen in Costa Rica and Hochstat using his laundry list of connections from the city to the depths of the rain forrest, the two have found an ideal niche to play around in. But the concept is a good deal bigger than just the pair of them.

"The property I'm working with is called Doce Lunas," noted Hochstat. "It's a 5 acre property, secluded and inside Jaco city limits. It only sleeps 40 people. It's got a full kitchen, full bar, etc. So, our idea was to bring chefs in, do 5-day events, some meals with the guests, a couple of hard-ticket dinners, and do a lot of interactive stuff with the guests, including cooking classes and outdoor trips. It's definitely going to be very interactive."

The goal is not to sell tickets by the day, like you might with a music festival, but rather to sell this retreat as a package deal that leaves Doce Lunas entirely booked for 5 days at a time. In addition, the"hard-ticket dinners" will be nights when those staying or living nearby, but not taking part in the Doce Lunas retreat, can simply buy a ticket and eat a meal prepared by Norman Van Aken or one of the other chefs that might be on the bill that night.

As far as a timeframe goes, Hochstat sounded fairly confident that everything was well on its way to coming together in the near future.

"I can tell you vaguely that Norman and the owner of Doce Lunas are speaking," he explained. "There's a target number that Norman wants to meet, we are able to meet that so we're just trying to get everything signed and set up and moving forward, so it could be as soon as March or April."

Hochstat was a little more tight-lipped when asked about who else was in talks to be cooking for these events, clearly intent on drawing out the suspense around the reveals for a while yet.

"I've spoken with a very well-known chef on the Pacific coast, I've spoken with an extremely well-known chef in the Washington D.C. area, I got a message from a chef for a very prominent restaurant group in the Northeast, so there's people finding out. I don't want to betray anybody's confidence, but these people or their business would be very well known by people who would want to take part," hinted Hochstat.

While many of the details may still be a bit on the murky side, the fact that a culinary legend like Norman Van Aken is not only involved, but is only the first big name to drop so far, means it's fairly safe to say that this is going to be particularly special event.
-Travis Cohen
· All Coverage of Norman Van Aken on Eater [EMIA]
[Photo Courtesy of Jon Hochstat]

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