Van Aken melds the exotic ingredients and rich cultural heritages of Latin America, the Caribbean, the southern United States and even touches of Asia. Serving as the catalyst for a new culinary paradigm, Van Aken has earned a place as one of America’s greatest chefs.
Raised in the bucolic, rural town of Diamond Lake, Illinois, Van Aken remembers the hours spent alongside his mother, grandmothers and sisters canning homegrown vegetables and turning freshly picked berries into fragrant preserves. The aroma of Midwestern favorites like his mother’s strawberry jam and his Grandmother’s Irish cookies created a sensory foundation that would be excited and inspired by the powerful scents of saffron and cumin that are now so closely associated with Van Aken’s name.
Armed with an insatiable appetite for adventure, Van Aken hitchhiked across the country as a young man, working at sundry jobs—from Ferris wheel operator to breakfast cook. His travels eventually brought him to Key West, where the laid-back lifestyle, tropical produce, alluring spices, and multicultural traditions awakened his culinary passion. A self-taught chef with a voracious appetite for reading, Van Aken studied the works of culinary masters as he worked his way up in the kitchen. He formed a life-long friendship with Charlie Trotter after Trotter joined him in his kitchens for Trotter’s first cooking job. Following the early years of self-education and hard work, Van Aken achieved a startling moment of clarity: while the wisdom and artistry of European cuisine formed a fine foundation, he needed to cook in a way that expressed the dynamic experience of living in South Florida—where Spanish, African, and Anglo influences converge. He presented these ideas in a speech in Santa Fe entitled, “Fusion” - the first chef to utilize this term that has criss-crossed the world in the past twenty years.
In 1986, Van Aken embarked on a gastronomic journey, revisiting his favorite haunts—from local Cuban cafés and Bahamian snack shacks of Key West to the lush orchards and bountiful waters of Florida. Fusing local Latin and Caribbean recipes with traditional European technique and his own innovative spirit, Van Aken’s New World Cuisine captivated diners and elevated him to the forefront of the national culinary scene.
Van Aken transformed a number of Florida ’s restaurants into international culinary destinations before he opened Norman ’s in Florida ’s historic Coral Gables section of Miami in 1995. In 2004, Van Aken opened three new restaurants: Mundo, a 10,000 square foot café/bar at Merrick Park in Miami ; Norman ’s at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes and Norman ’s at Sunset Millennium in Los Angeles California.
He has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation as the “Best Chef in the Southeast” and is the only Floridian to have ever won entrance into The James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who.” He has received several accolades including the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence, and the Food Arts Silver Spoon Lifetime Achievement Award. Norman’s, in Coral Gables, has been honored as one of “America’s Top Tables” for four consecutive years by Gourmet Magazine, and has earned the title of “Best Restaurant in South Florida” from the New York Times and “Best Restaurant in Miami” from Food & Wine Magazine. Van Aken has also been featured on numerous television programs, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, Emeril Live, the Food Network’s My Country My Kitchen, and Eating Out Loud with Ruth Reichl.
The author of four cookbooks: Feast of Sunlight 1988, The Exotic Fruit Book 1995, Norman’s New World Cuisine 1997, and New World Kitchen 2003, in addition to being an award-winning chef, Van Aken is highly regarded as a culinary educator and cookbook author. He shares his passion for cooking by teaching classes at Norman’s and at culinary schools across the country.
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Norman Van Aken is a keynote speaker and industry expert who speaks on a wide range of topics . The estimated speaking fee range to book Norman Van Aken for your event is . Norman Van Aken generally travels from and can be booked for (private) corporate events, personal appearances, keynote speeches, or other performances. Similar motivational celebrity speakers are Viola Davis, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Rashida Jones and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Contact All American Speakers for ratings, reviews, videos and information on scheduling Norman Van Aken for an upcoming event.
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