Chef Norman Van Aken, Norman’s, Norman’s 180, Coral Gables, Orlando, Florida, FL, Fusion Cooking, New World Cuisine, Cookbooks, Where to eat in Florida, Norman’s Recommendations, Chef Recommendations


Norman’s - Orlando, FL  |  Tuyo - Miami, FL


Photo courtesy of Norman Van Aken

Q & A with Chef Norman Van Aken

Q. You’re often called “The father of New World Cuisine.” 

A. It’s better than being called the grandfather!

Q. Let’s talk about your restaurants, there was a rumor about your involvement with Norman’s 180 in Miami.

A. Life changed at Norman’s 180. I do consult for Norman’s 180, which means they can go with what I say with fervent belief or they can say ‘that’s a nice idea, but we don’t want to do that right now,’ which is always a challenge of a consultant, especially when your name is on it! I’m working with them and guiding them back to the farm-to-table kind of the things that were central to the ideology of it from the very beginning.

Q. Currently you’re working with Norman’s in Orlando, how is that going?

A. I started that restaurant and modeled it after the original Norman’s [which was in Coral Gables]. We’re very happy with it, the Ritz is very happy with it and it’s going well. It has a very steady amount of business and we get really good comments from the guests. I go up there about 10 times a year. I love being there with our team and learning more about Central Florida farmers.

Q. Have you changed the way you approach your cooking over the years?

A. I’m kinda unplugging the instrument and going back to the acoustic form. It’s relaxing to me, it’s more in sync with the farm-to-table simplicity. If I do a hog snapper, you can be sure it’s not going to be embellished with things from three continents away and it’s not going to take a Pacojet to make it.

I’m so loving the DIY kinds of restaurants, pop-ups restaurants, and trucks. There is a whole vital thing that is going on in America right now that I’m glad to see and be able to participate in some ways.

Having done the high-high end, and we continue to do the high-high end in Orlando, but the kind of guy I am who fell in love with Key West in the early 70’s with the little joints, the little cafes, barbecue stands, the Haitian shacks, that kind of thing, and that is still what appeals to me on a root level.

Q. What new projects do you have on the horizon?

A. We’re working on a few different things, including a line of retail products. We’ll start off with being in the refrigeration section of the supermarkets. It‘ll be sauces and  marinades, things that exemplify New World cuisine, show my geographical love of the Keys and South Florida in general. So it will be a Caribbean/Latin spin on things with mojos and moles.

I’m going to be doing a number of things with my son. He was brought up in the business and is now 30 years old. He was trained in pastry, but he’s had a whole range of  experiences. It’s creating another vector for me. It was always Norman and then it was Norman and sous chefs, now it’s Norman and Justin Van Aken.

I’m also working on a cookbook My Key West Kitchen. It’s a book that will harken back to the original flavors of the Keys -- it’s kind of an homage to Key West and the time frame basically from the 50’s to now. So it will incorporate old Southern dishes, as well as Cuban, Bahamian, Asian and the iconic dishes of the Florida Keys.

I've also completed a memoir called No Experience Necessary, which is kind of a wry title given the hellish, funny, painful, joyful life one lives on the road of being a chef.

Advice / Tips

Q. Speaking of iconic dishes, what makes a Key Lime pie truly authentic?

A. Key limes (which are not green), sweetened condensed milk, some will say graham cracker crust and some will say not. I like graham cracker crust. And it’s garnished with unsweetened whipped cream, at the most.

Social Media

Q. How has Twitter and Facebook helped you as a chef?

A. I use Twitter and Facebook for about the same reasons I do cookbooks, which is to extend my love of places, food, and people to an audience. The magical thing behind the electronic medium is that I don't have to wait for a publisher and a distribution chain, I can just do it with absolute immediacy. It’s the soul of portability and I can be at a restaurant like Antojito’s [see details] and take a picture of a pupusa and boom! it’s out there and people are commenting on it and some people are asking where this place is and some people are asking what a pupusa is and asking for a recipe, so it’s almost like a live audience that you’re able to reach.

Q. How do you feel about the fact that everybody who has access to a computer now feels like they can be a food critic?

A. It’s a hugely challenging thing. Democracy is a messy process. It certainly is a fascinating and wonderful process, but it’s a messy process. We had this aristocratic system where the highly vaunted critics of the Miami Herald, the New York Times, the Times-Picayune or whatever, could write an article and have immense influence. Now opinion comes out and I don’t think people know who said it. If it’s published, it has a weight to it. And publishing is easy. Any Twitter, any blog, anything like that can end up being in print. We have not yet developed a bullshit factor for every blogline that comes out.

But, you’re also opening it up and it becomes a more interesting forum. It’s like we’re kind of going to back to the age of pamphleteering that existed in the 1770’s, whereas people, citizens, got their information from a whole host of different places.



Q. Are there food-related books that you love?

A. Culture and Cuisine by Jean-Francois Revel. It sparked me to write Fusion Cuisine and it’s the book that I would take to the desert island.

Why We Eat What We Eat by Raymond Sokolov. It’s a book about the transitions that occurred right after Columbus discovered American and everything that came about in a huge hurry after the Columbian exchange, across the entirety of the planet.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This book was one that my son, Justin put in my hands and told me to read. It has been instrumental to our renewed vision for our company.

[See details.]

Q. Is there a market that you like to go to?

A. Robert is Here - it’s a fruit stand in Homestead and he’s been doing it for a real long time and I really like that place.

The reason it’s named that, is when Robert’s family moved to the Redlands when he was about 7, he decided to put fruit out on a cardboard table. You can imagine, 35 years ago, how few cars were rolling past it at that point. He put out his little table with his tomatoes and mangos or something and the next day his dad felt sorry for him because Robert didn’t get any customers. So his dad put a sign on the side of the road that said “Robert is Here.” Now it’s his kids and the in-laws and the whole family is involved.

[See details.]


Q. We’d love to know about the local places in Key West, off of Duval Street:

A. People think they've been to Key West if they've been on Duval Street. That is like thinking New Orleans is only Bourbon Street and misses most of the reasons to fall in love with this place. Get off Duval and on to the side streets, cruise through all of Old Town, get over to Fort Zachary Taylor, walk down Whitehead or Thomas Street, walk through the graveyard, see Caroline Street but don't just do the "Duval Crawl."

[See details.]

Q. Are there any places to taste those original flavors of Key West?

A. The Hogfish Bar and Grille is where I go quite often. Their “specials” are a good bet. You might enjoy its raffish charms.

The Half Shell Raw Bar, it’s a fried seafood and beer joint.

*** Click here Norman’s full list of restaurant recommendations for Key West, Miami, and Homestead ***


Q. Is there a drink that is very typical of the Keys?

A. It’s changed over the years. Tom Collins would have been an answer in 1960. Daiquiri is still big now.

Wine is not as big in the Keys as I would like it to be and I’m a wine drinker. There is a little place on Duval Street that just opened that is pretty good.

It’s a wine bar called Vinos. It has about 30 seats and a little balcony on the street, so you can sit out there and watch people walk up and down Duval Street. It’s kind of on the quieter side of Duval Street, so it’s very relaxing. As you get away from Sloppy Joe’s, block by block, it gets quieter and quieter. It’s not totally devoid of action, but it’s also not people playing air guitar outside of Rick’s.

The Green Parrot is the best bar. No food, but a pizza thing next door. It has a great live music scene.

For craft beers, The Porch is in a nice setting. It’s across from The Bull off Duval. Ask which door.

[See details.]


Details of Norman Van Aken’s recommendations for restaurants, bars, and markets in Miami, Homestead, and the Florida Keys.


- Conch Salad With Watermelon

- Salsa Of Life






I Drive / Sand Lake

Contemporary American

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando

4012 Central Florida Parkway

Orlando, FL. 32837 (view map)

T: 407.393.4333 (make a reservation)



Downtown Miami

Contemporary American

Miami Culinary Institute Rooftop

415 N.E. Second Avenue

Miami, FL 33132

T: 305.237.3200 (make a reservation)








My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories

Purchase on / Powell’s Books

New World Kitchen : Latin American and Caribbean Cuisine

Purchase on / Powell’s Books

Norman's New World Cuisine

Purchase on / Powell’s Books

Norman Van Aken's Feast of Sunlight

Purchase on / Powell’s Books

The Great Exotic Fruit Book: A Handbook with Recipes

Purchase on / Powell’s Books


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