February 29, 2024

50 Years of Golden Spoon Awards

Norman Van Aken is a Florida Icon

Chef, Florida Trend Hall of Fame restaurant owner, Miami; age 66

Art Levy | 11/27/2017

» The orange industry in Florida is worrying me, how it’s being decimated by this disease called greening and by inexpensive imports, primarily from Brazil. The orange is the symbol of Florida, it’s what’s on our license plate, but it could become a distant memory in a very short period of time.

» I always love cooking something I never cooked before.

» My father wanted me to be a professional football player or a car dealer. I was a fairly small kid and got my teeth knocked out when I was playing football my freshman year, and I worked one summer at his car lot and hated it. My mom was very open to whatever I was going to become. She had the patience of Job.

» If you can imagine doing anything else, go ahead and do it, because being a chef is a relentless job — the hours, the physicality of it. If you think it’s stressful, I agree with you, but, for me, it’s what I was born to do.

» One of the great unknown things about the Godfather is that you will know when something really violent is about to happen if you see oranges. Like when Sonny gets assassinated at that toll booth, right before he gets to the toll booth, you’ll see a billboard advertising Florida orange groves. Like there are oranges on the table before the Abe Vigoda character is killed and, when the godfather is almost murdered, he’s at a fruit market picking up a bag of oranges. It’s not a food movie but, in a way, it became a food movie for me.

» I’m not the kind of guy who wants to get in a boat and go out 50 miles into the sea and bounce up and down in 40-foot waves. I’m the guy who wants to build a fire on the sand and watch the sun go down.

» When a young cook asks me how to become a famous chef, I’m like, ‘that’s the wrong question.’ Fame may never come. You have to look at how to become great.

» I love working in Miami. I love the energy of the city, but I’m still really a small-town person.

» Watch the plates come back because the plates don’t lie. If there’s food on the plates, then they’re not enjoying it. I look for empty plates.

» I don’t even know how to this day I had the ability to go buy the book. I certainly wasn’t carrying a checkbook. Maybe, I had just cashed my paycheck. But I went that day to a bookstore on Duval Street and bought one of Mr. Beard’s books —a book called ‘James Beard’s Theory & Practice Of Good Cooking’ — and it literally changed my life. I went from a person who was kind of catching cooking lessons, one after another in a very willy-nilly way, to a person who began reading books to tell me how to do things. It was a technique book, and it really helped systematize things for me. It was like coming over the ridge of a big hill. This was my art. I finally found it.

Accolades & Accomplishments


1985 » Louie’s Backyard, Key West

1988 » Mira, Key West

1992 » A Mano, Miami

1995 » Norman’s, Coral Gables

2003 » Norman’s, Grande Lakes, Orlando

2010 » Norman’s 180, Coral Gables

2016 » 1921 by Norman Van Aken, Mount Dora

2017 » Three Restaurant, Wynwood

2017 » No. 3 Social, Wynwood

2017 » In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken cooking school, Wynwood


» Feast of Sunlight

» Great Exotic Fruit Book

» Norman’s New World Cuisine

» New World Kitchen

» My Key West Kitchen

» No Experience Necessary

» Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen

Tags: Dining & Travel, Golden Spoons

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About Florida Trend's Restaurant Editor

Florida Trend restaurant editor Chris Sherman stuck his finger into Key lime pie 20 years ago and has eaten his way up, down and across the sunshine state. Florida sets a big and constantly changing table, so when you find a great new restaurant or have a grand meal, let Florida Trend know.

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