50 Years of Golden Spoon Awards
Norman Van Aken is a Florida Icon
Chef, Florida Trend Hall of Fame restaurant owner, Miami; age 66
» 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.