Food News

Where in the World is Norman Van Aken?

There were rumors that father-son chef duo Norman and Justin Van Aken had been fired from Norman's 180 a couple weeks ago. So we decided to stalk em. Or at least their Twitter.Yes, this is indeed sick and disturbing behavior, but someone had to put the rumors to bed.

Norman Van Aken does a great job of documenting his travels and promoting events, his restaurants and other chefs; it's his brand after all. He even sprinkles positivity and compassion along the way. though his name is on the sign at 180, one thing is for sure - he's rarely there. That could very well be the reason the rumors started. Case in point, the week before Eater posted on the firing, both chefs were seen, as Padma Lakshmi would say, "packing their knives." But couldn't it have been because they were going on a week long trip to launch the grand opening of the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio? Perhaps...

The reality is, Van Aken is always traveling. His last tweet from #Normans180 was on October 4 along with a pic of a "Norman Van Aken-designed burger." He did a week-long stint in San Antonio with the CIA, cooked a dinner in Nashville the following weekend, spent a few days chill-axing by the water in Key West, and then returned to the MIA at the tail end of the month for a demo at the Fairchild Garden.

That was 20 days spent out of town. So what does this all mean for the alleged firing? Well, we did some fact checking...
  • When calling the restaurant and asking to make a reservation on a night that Van Aken was in-da-house, the hostess inform me the wandering chef would return towards the end of the month.
  • One day, we asked to speak with Chef Justin. The person who answered the phone said he would be in at noon if we called back. (We didn't get around to making the call.)
  • Their New York-based publicist confirmed the Van Akens are still actively involved in the Norman's 180 project.
  • Van Aken's very own Twitter feed proves he's still promoting and engaged in Norman's 180.
It is common for chefs to travel these days. It's safe to say, we can give this whole Norman thing a rest -- he's part of the restaurant.

It's also safe to say he has one of the most entertaining online brands out there; he is a marketing machine! Van Aken posts about relevant topics and events, great photos of his beloved Key west. He engages with his audience, promotes other restaurants, and writes a wonderful blog. This started off as a mission to poke holes in what appeared to be a PR charade, but turned into a re-discovery of a chef many people have disregarded.

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Aniece Meinhold