Interview: Norman Van Aken Gets the 10

In some ways, it's all about the new when it comes to homeboy and Chef Norman Van Aken. The guy who spawned New World Cuisine is back on the scene again, this time with a new restaurant on the way and a new hosting gig.

But his restaurant -- now pay attention, especially if you've been living under a piece of coral and haven't heard about this -- Norman's 180, is also about change. As he told our Jackie Sayet back in September, he'll be steering the ship away from Latin and Caribbean influences and over to more comforty/Americana/global eats, with dishes like buttermilk fried chicken and pizza with fried green tomatoes.

Before that opens, and goodness knows when that will be (hopefully soon!), find Chef Norman onstage with Emeril Lagasse. On Saturday, January 9 at 8 p.m. he'll be hosting the creator of New New Orleans cuisine in the final segment of Johnson & Wales/Adrienne Arsht Center's Celebrity Chef Series' second season.

Maybe when he's busy interviewing "Mr. Bam!" someone from the audience can ask him what the deal is with the mirror (see his answer to the second question). We're clueless.

New Times: What was your most embarrassing cooking-related moment?

Norman Van Aken: Getting a job at The Midget BBQ in Key West in the early '70s. I admitted to the boss that I didn't know how to cook anything other than breakfast yet. The man said, "Don't worry kid. You're workin' the graveyard shift and those folks will be so fucked up by the time they eat, they won't really care what you know how to cook." I was lower than low knowing how far I had to go in the biz.

NT: What food/utensil/technique still confounds you?

NVA: Microwaves.

NT: If you came back in your next life as a food item, what would it be and how would you like to be served?

NVA: A million buttered, strawberry pancakes and served to all of the kids in Florida who need a breakfast. It would be served near the field we picked those berries in that 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.

NT: If you could serve a meal to any famous person, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you cook for him/her?

NVA: Mark Twain. "Pork Havana, My Way."

NT: Aside from any restaurants you own or have financial interest in, which Miami eatery is your favorite and what do you like to order there?

NVA: I love to go to Antojitos (in Homestead) and have her soups and pupusas.

NT: If your significant other gave you a pass, what celebrity chef would you most like to enjoy a naked cooking session with and why?

NVA: No pass.

NT: What's your favorite soundtrack/song to cook to?

NVA: The Buena Vista Social Club series or a blues shuffle featuring Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf.

NT: What is your dream culinary trip?

NVA: Cruising the street stalls of Vietnam with Tony Bourdain and maybe Nicole Routhier or Mai Pham and then cooking with them, Janet [his wife] and a Vietnamese multi-generational family.

NT: What's the hottest thing a date could whip up for you in the kitchen?

NVA: Huevos revueltos with chorizo and chilies, followed by [a] fig tart.

NT: What's your favorite junk food and where do you get it?

NVA: Hot dogs. Wrigley Field.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Riki Altman