Getting to Know Chef Norman van Aken

While many of us are dreaming of what changes we’d like to make in 2010, chef Norman van Aken is actually making his dreams a reality as the creator of New World cuisine gears up for some significant changes of his own. But first, let’s get to know the man underneath the chef’s hat a bit better.

Norman’s 180 restaurant is all about change. In September van Aken said he’s preparing to steer the ship away from Latin and Caribbean influences and heads towards a more Americana and global selection with dishes “like buttermilk friend chicken and pizza with fried green tomatoes.”

But before he expands upon his already incredible reputation, here are a few tid-bits you may or may not know about the renowned chef.

His most embarrassing cooking-related moment happened when he got a job at The Midget BBW in Key West in the early 1970s, where he admitted to the boss that he didn’t know how to cook anything other than breakfast yet. The boss said, “Don’t worry kid. You’re working the graveyard shift and those folks will be so [far gone] by the time they eat, they wont’ really care what you know how to cook.” Van Aken said “I was lower than low knowing how far I had go to go in the biz.”

Van Aken may be a master of his trade, but the one thing about the kitchen that still confounds him is microwaves. While many of us heavily relay on microwaves, van Aken clearly survives on hand crafted dishes rather than pre-heated leftovers.

When recently asked what food item he would like to come back as in his next life, van Aken said, “a million buttered strawberry pancakes served to all the kids in Florida who need a breakfast. It would be served near the field where we picked those berries in the morning and they could come cook with me and get that sense of the circle of life. Or an apple. To Eve. On a mirror.”

If he had a choice to serve a meal to any famous person, alive or dead, van Aken said it would be Mark Twain, and he would cook “Pork Havana, My Way.” Apart from his own successful restaurants, van Aken loves to go to Antojitos in Homestead, Miami for soups and pupusas.

Always thinking ahead, when asked “if you significant other gave you a pass, what celebrity chef would you most like to enjoy a naked cooking session with and why?” Van Aken respectfully responded, “No pass.”

When cooking, van Aken loves to listen to The Buena Vista Social Club series or a blues shuffle featuring Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin’ Wolf.

And finally, van Aken’s favorite junk food item is a hot dog from Wrigley Field.