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Norman Van Aken, Biography

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“Before the celebrity chef craze… before the start of Food Network, Norman Van Aken was starting a revolution. He was doing something unheard of at the time, taking local ethnic flavors, merging them together at restaurants where he worked.” — The Smithsonian

Norman Van Aken is acclaimed for introducing “fusion” into the lexicon of global cookery. He is also known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine” – a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, American and African flavors thus pioneering a new, visionary way of cooking in America. He is the only Floridian Chef inducted into the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage”. He was a 2016 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee along with previous winners Wolfgang Puck and Jacques Pépin. He was the first Chef from Florida to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Johnson & Wales University.

Van Aken is a James Beard semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America”. His namesake restaurant NORMAN’S, in Coral Gables, was a finalist for “Outstanding Restaurant in America.” The only one thus far in the entire state of Florida. He founded the second outpost of NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando in 2003, a semi-finalist for “Outstanding Restaurant in America” in 2019. He was a James Beard semi-finalist for his cookbook, “New World Kitchen”. His Orlando restaurant opened for dinners and private parties in February of 2023 in a larger, more modern space within the Dellagio Town Center located in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando.

He has received myriad accolades over the years and has represented the United States with international recognitions that include being honored alongside Alice Waters, Paul Prudhomme and Mark Miller as one of the “Founders of New American Cuisine” at Spain’s International Summit of Gastronomy ‘Madrid Fusión’ (2006) He represented the State of Florida at the USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano/World’s Fair. He was the first Chef to sit on the Board of Directors for the James Beard Foundation when it was re-organized.

Van Aken has shared his cooking and career, authoring six cookbooks (Feast of Sunlight; The Exotic Fruit Book; Norman’s New World Cuisine; New World Kitchen; My Key West Kitchen; Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen) and a memoir (No Experience Necessary… The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken).  His cookbooks have been hailed by the late Anthony Bourdain and Charlie Trotter, as well as Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Dr. Jessica Harris, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, and Wolfgang Puck. His memoir received a ‘finalist nomination’ by the prestigious IACP/Julia Child Award committee. His latest published book, Norman Van Aken’s My Florida Kitchen, was selected to represent the USA in the local category of the Gourmand International World Cookbook Awards and has been awarded the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal for Cooking. In 2020 he began donating his personal collection of papers, menus, photographs, letters, etc. to the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami ‘Special Collections’. He has joined other famous Floridians Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Charles Deering and Janet Reno in this culturally and community enriching way. In 2022 he signed on as the ‘Culinary Director’ for the non-profit Camillus House endeavors to help with the homeless, formerly homeless and food insecure families of South Florida.

Chef Van Aken has appeared on various television shows from CNN’s “Parts Unknown” with Bourdain to “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” He is often cited as a culinary expert in publications such as The New York Times and Saveur. He is now offering his cooking classes, “Cooking with Norman” virtually online via his website; When he is not in the kitchen, he can be found spending with his wife, Janet; son, Justin; and their granddaughter, Audrey Quinn Van Aken.

© 2023 Norman Van Aken. All rights Reserved.