Chef Norman, chef-owner of NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, founding father of New World Cuisine, the only Floridian of the James Beard list of Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage, as well as an internationally acclaimed author, recently received the Food Shows and Ferdinand Metz Foodservice Forum inaugural Torch Award. And we were on site to capture this momentous occasion which was followed with a one-on-one cooking demonstration.
Chef Norman was presented the Torch Award for his outstanding achievements and contributions to the restaurant and food service community. In his own words, “I am very excited to receive this newly created award, and hope that in doing so more light will be shed upon how diverse, deep and delicious the cooking of Florida is.”
“I have lived and cooked here my whole adult life and it continues to inspire me every single day!” The award was presented by none other then Certified Master Chef Ferdinand Metz.
“Not only is Norman Van Aken’s culinary career astonishing, but his personal journey is perhaps even more amazing. He is completely self-taught as a chef, and he is perhaps the most literary-focused culinarian in America. This wonderful book brilliantly documents his extraordinary odyssey.” – Charlie Trotter, James Beard Award-winning chef and author.
After cooking my way through recipes from My Key West Kitchen and reading the memoir that literally regales my culinary soul, No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken, I couldn’t agree more with Chef Charlie Trotter. Click HERE to purchase a copy to adorn your cookbook shelves.
Since Chef Norman’s arsenal now includes a pen as much as a pocketful of chef(‘s) knives. With the buzz of his newest restaurant in Central Florida, Chef Norman was kind enough to sneak in a quick interview to satisfy our curiosity.
Q: How has CFL’s culinary culture evolved since you first stepped foot here?
Chef Norman: It has moved far beyond the ‘chains’ and imported/faceless kind of restaurants that sadly have become so dominant in much of America… to more personal and ‘home grown’ restaurants. Orlando is a financially strong place that has benefited greatly from the “parks and attractions”. That is good. But it is also becoming more diverse in ways I love. And some of the diversity has been here a while and finally getting broader support as people learn through the media and word of mouth. I am thinking about the places that are around Colonial Drive for instance. I also have been taken to some very good Colombian restaurants as of late in Orlando.
Q: Reasons why Mt. Dora was chosen as the preferred location for the new restaurant?
Chef Norman: Sometimes in Life it is like a door opened for you. And that is what it seems to have happened in Mt. Dora. There is a confluence of reasons. I am enamored with Central Florida. I love the proximity I feel I have to the farms when we are cruising around the highways and roads there. I see the lakes and feel the power of nature in ways reminiscent of our Midwestern roots. And then the specific artistic bells that went off when we toured The Modernism Museum went off. Janet, (my wife) and I are partnered with the folks who own the museum. I am wowed by the depth of their love of ‘the storytelling’ in art. I am not content to make food. I want my culinary expressions, (and service and setting) to ‘tell the story of Florida’.
Q: What can we expect from the new restaurant in Mt. Dora?
Chef Norman: We will be cooking more and more showcasing the power of modern Florida cookery. The setting of our restaurant there takes me in some ways back to the charm of Key West days. But it will not be a re-creation of that time. Instead it will be a coalescence of all of the things we want to cook and serve in this ongoing century. It will be unfolding soon!
Q: The best thing you ate so far in 2015?
Chef Norman: I enjoy thinking about that question! But answering it…. Impossible!
Q: What is the next exciting thing you foresee in the culinary world and why?
Chef Norman: For me it will be a multiple front. Our new restaurant in Mt. Dora. Our new Cooking School in Miami. And our 6th cookbook, “My Florida Kitchen”. I believe that each of these point to the next exciting thing which is a lot more Education for All. By availing ourselves to that we can become more worldly, more helpful to others, healthier and more self assured. Education is the key!