NORMAN VAN AKEN
Chef Norman Van Aken has no shortage of accolades. You can find his name in the list of Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage from the James Beard Foundation. He was a semi-finalist for the foundation’s Best Chef in America award. He’s penned six cookbooks and been crowned “the founding father of New World Cuisine.” If you’re looking for someone that melds all the flavors and cultural influences of Florida into one mouthwatering culinary dish, Van Aken is your man. But running multiple adored restaurants, making television appearances and writing cookbooks leaves little time for reminiscing. So during the stay-at-home period, Van Aken did just that.
Why he built his culinary career in Florida: I think it was a calling of kind. From a food standpoint and a food culture standpoint, I felt like we had deep roots. I felt like it is this nexus between the Caribbean and Latin America and the southern tip of Florida, where I was cooking was just right for someone to come along and utilize it.
His latest project preserves his legacy: The University of Miami asked me if I would be willing to do the first culinary collections for the University of Miami, which does have the culinary collections of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and other historical figures. But the woman who was head of special collections, Cristina Favretto, interviewed me about two years ago, and so she asked me if I saved my stuff over the years and would I consider having them part of a Norman Van Aken collection. So when I learned more about how they did things—and this was before the quarantining, before the virus was known—we visited the library and saw the collections that they had on me and how beautifully they keep those things and share those things. So I was very impressed with that, and I decided that I would try it.
What this trip down memory lane has taught him: I think that the silver lining in [the virus] is it has caused people, some people anyway, the realization that a life that’s slower can be a life that is more gratifying. You feel like you can never ever catch up. If you can pay attention to your life and give it some time and not just live at breakneck speed, you get more out of it.