Norman Van Aken

Host, A Word On Food

Norman Van Aken has been described as legendary, visionary and a trailblazer. He is known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world.

His new memoir, “No Experience Necessary” is published by Taylor Trade Publishing. The book has been praised by the likes of Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Monique Truong, Alan Richman (GQ Magazine), Jeremiah Tower, Wolfgang Puck and the late, great Charlie Trotter.

He is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage.” His restaurant “NORMAN’S was nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant in America.” He has been a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America.”

In 2006, he was honored as one of the “Founders of the New American Cuisine,” alongside Alice Waters, Paul Prudhomme, and Mark Miller at Spain’s International Summit of Gastronomy ‘Madrid Fusión’ event.

Norman Van Aken has published five cookbooks: Feast of Sunlight 1988, The Exotic Fruit Book 1995, Norman’s New World Cuisine 1997, New World Kitchen 2003 and My Key West Kitchen 2012 (with Justin Van Aken).

His radio show, “A Word on Food,” appears twice a week on NPR station WLRN.

He is the chef and founder of “NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando.” 

Ways to Connect

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Most everyone knows, but I will say it for the un-baptized…chorizo is a kind of sausage. The first time I remember seeing chorizo was back in my hometown of Diamond Lake, Illinois in 1965 or so. It was around that time that many Mexican families began to immigrate to the area. They worked very hard founding a close knit neighborhood, which eventually became part of the broader patchwork quilt that epitomizes so much of North America now.

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Without a doubt this is history’s most unconquerable of all Caesars!

Go anywhere in the U.S. and, from truck stops to swank spots, this is the one salad you are most likely to encounter.

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Back in the late 1990‘s at the original NORMAN’S restaurant in Coral Gables we had a young man who became our Lunch Chef named Eliecer Garcia. Like many young chefs he was very interested in cuisines from all over and when we talked about what to put on our lunch menu his ideas ranged from France to Hong Kong. I loved that but sometimes I’d say, “Eliecer. I want you to show me flavors your Cuban Grandmother would make and then we can twist them a little. Okay? Why don’t you show me how she would cook with … oh… boniato for instance? And then we’ll go from there.” 

Norman Van Aken

We flew up to join the family to celebrate my Mother-in-Law’s 90th (!) Birthday Celebration. When our family gets together we, like many families, get straight to the heart of the matter. What are we cooking?! What are we eating?!

We love to pack a little carry on of food before getting on a plane. It’s a fine way to pass the time and avoid the bland, predictable and unhealthy!

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I was sitting on the verandah of a hotel overlooking Waikiki beach waiting for a lunch menu. The mighty Pacific Ocean purred like a Lamborghini in the distance. I'd spent hours walking in Chinatown from early morning looking for beautiful and unique dishes I love to use for the thematic ‘Tasting Menus’ at our restaurant. But I had little luck and a keen hunger was rising up in me.

There was a real man in Key West who used to sell his homemade banana bread out of his bicycle nightly at the famous sunset celebration on Mallory Docks. I never saw him leave there with any bread leftover. Down in the Caribbean Banana Bread is considered a “man’s bread”. Perhaps the reasons are related to anatomy or maybe it’s the hefty dose of rhum included in the recipe.

Norman Van Aken

We were invited to El Paso, Texas to cook at a gathering of ‘Oldways Preservation’, a non-profit organization based in Boston, Massachussetts. ‘Oldways’ is one of the premier educational forums for focusing on healthy, culturally diverse and historically respectful eating. They put on conferences around the world and invite scientists, farmers, professors, chefs and food/wine media to promote positive lifestyles.

It may surprise some of you but I used to be quite shy when it came to going into restaurants and trying dishes and ingredients I had not known growing up, (as I had) in a small town in Northern Illinois. Now I am known for being “all in” when it comes to that… but we all have our ‘earlier selves’...don’t we?

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