Chef Norman Van Aken of In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken - Biography

Miami, FL

August 2014

Norman Van Aken’s early years as a cook were the stuff of humble beginnings, belying the success he was destined for. He started cooking in Key West in the early 70s, and for the next decade worked his way up the ranks of local kitchens. Van Aken was a chef in the making as American cuisine was ramping up for revolution.

Van Aken teamed up with restaurateur Gordon Sinclair in his home state of Illinois in the early 80s, and soon returned to Florida to open Sinclair’s American Grill. In 1985, he returned to Key West and the kitchen of Louie’s Backyard, where his style began to take shape and gain recognition (enough to attract a young Charlie Trotter to his kitchen). In 1989, Van Aken opened Mano in South Beach, penned his first book, and brought the term “fusion cuisine” into the modern culinary lexicon. Still, that was only the beginning. Van Aken left Mano to open Norman’s in Coral Gables, Florida, as well as Norman’s 180 at The Colonnade Hotel, which later closed, with Norman’s at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando becoming his standard-bearer.

Most recently, Van Aken transitioned from posts at Miami Culinary Institute and Tuyo to launch a cooking school called In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken, and promote his new (and sixth) book, No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of a Chef. The book charts the course of a career that’s been both colorful and illustrious, earning Van Aken the James Beard Award for “Best Chef, Southeast,” placement on the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who” list, and even the first chef-membership on the James Beard Foundation’s Board of Trustees. He has received an honorary doctorate from Johnson & Wales University, and in 2006 he was honored as one of the “Founders of the New American Cuisine,” alongside Alice Waters, Paul Prudhomme, and Mark Miller, at Madrid Fusion.