Monthly Industry Insights

Hear from industry leaders their guilty pleasures, the oddest thing in their refrigerator, their inspirations and take on new trends. We've asked all of questions and have the answers for you here.

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September's Featured Interview: Norman Van Aken, NORMAN's at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

Norman Van Aken is the chef-owner of NORMAN's in Orlando and the founding father of New World Cuisine. The Ferdinand Metz Foodservice Forum and Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show are excited to present to him the Torch Award for his outstanding contributions to the industry at the upcoming event in Orlando. Learn more here.

What made you want to become a chef?
I wanted from early childhood to find something that would allow me to be ‘an artist’ of some kind. I read about artists, writers and playwrights and thought that was the place I needed to get to. I didn’t know that culinary was an art for a very long time.

What is the newest trend you see emerging?
I don’t really follow trends so I’m not sure. Maybe the backlash against silly chef TV shows? I am delighted to see more chefs getting involved with solving how we help feed our children of the world! 

What’s the strangest thing we would find in your refrigerator?
Not strange but it certainly would surprise folks who know me… Coca Cola! I get the Mexican kind and braise some meats in it with a host of other ingredients.

If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be?
So many places….. But let’s choose Vietnam today.

Is there one comfort food that you're secretly obsessed with having at home?
It is not truly ‘secret worthy’ in that suggests the illicit. But I love toasted (home made or artisanal) bread with very fine cheeses. (Cow Girl Creamery, Sweet Grass Dairy are current faves).

Which talent would you most like to have that you don't possess?
Riding a unicycle on a wire. Among many more! 

What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends?
BBQ or Paella. 

Who was your mentor as you were becoming a chef?
My Mother and my Grandmother.

If you could cook for and dine with anyone, who would that be?
My Granddaughter …. with her Father, Mother and Grandmother all around.

More about Chef Norman Van Aken: 

Norman Van Aken is the Walt Whitman of American Cuisine” --- Charlie Trotter

Norman Van Aken has been described as ‘legendary, visionary and a trailblazer’ as well as ‘The Culinary Titan of Florida’. He is “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.

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”. The Orlando Sentinel placed him in the “Florida Hall of Fame”.

He is an internationally acclaimed author. His memoir titled, “No Experience Necessary…The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken” has been praised by many including Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck. The book was also nominated for the prestigious IACP/Julia Child Award.

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. In 2015 Chef Van Aken will represent Florida at the USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano as part of the World’s Fair. Titled, “American Food 2.0, United to Feed the Planet”.

Norman Van Aken has published five cookbooks & one memoir: 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), No Experience Necessary, The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken, 2013. His next book is scheduled for 2016 and be titled, “My Florida Kitchen” (with Janet Van Aken).

His radio show, “A Word on Food” appears on NPR station WLRN 91.3 FM. He has appeared on Television from CNN to Tony Bourdain to Jimmy Kimmel Live. He is the Chef-Owner of “NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando”. His new venture is a Cooking School named, “In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken” in partnership with Candace Walsh and is being built on Biscayne in Miami.

“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”. - Smithsonian Magazine


August Insights - Richard Pink, Pink's Hot Dogs
July Insights - Keith Breedlove, Culinerdy Cruzer
June Chef Insights - Rob Valencia, Great Performances
May Chef Insights - Marc Murphy, Benchmarc Restaurants
April Chef Insights - Megan Johnson, Casellula
March Chef Insights - Sara Moulton, Chef, Cookbook Author, TV Personality

February Chef Insights - Barret Beyer, Hell's Kitchen
January Chef Insights - Anton Testino, Mulberry Street Cafe
November Chef Insights - David Binkle, Los Angeles Unified School District
October Chef Insights - Alan Ogard, Lexington Hotel
September Chef Insights - Barbie Marshall, The Farming Chef
August Chef Insights - Cal DeMercurio, Corporate Executive Chef, Black Bear Diner
July Chef Insights - Johannes Bernau, Executive Chef, Who Song & Larry's
June Chef Insights - Ryan Vargas, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril's Tchoup Chop