Norman Van Aken at Miami Culinary Institute

Do journalists need to attend journalism school in order to perform well in their profession? No, since many great journalists learn on the job by finding a mentor who can teach them all they need to know. But a great journalist can help a journalism school teach the kinds of things that will truly prepare students to be perform well.

In the same way, a great chef can help a culinary school prepare students to be the best chefs that they can be. After all, plenty of chefs complain that young graduates of culinary schools don’t have the work ethic to really put in the time and effort to be part of a team, to work their way up the ranks, and pay their dues (as chefs themselves have done in the past). They complain that graduates expectations are too high – they aim to be the next Food Network Star, not a $20,000-a year line cook. (Read a discussion of this by clicking here.) So, good preparation, enthusiasm, and appropriate expectations are essential to a good culinary education.

That’s why the news that Norman Van Aken has accepted a position of executive chef at Miami Culinary Institute, one the most exciting culinary programs in America, is so important.

Already deeply involved with MCI, serving on its Chef’s Council and teaching its signature Enthusiast Classes, Chef Van Aken will now be responsible for managing the foodservice operations for the Institute’s world-class restaurant – set to open this fall – as well as its café and catering services.

It is a restaurant that has Miami very excited. Super Chef discussed the new position with Chef Norman Van Aken recently.

Super Chef : How much of your time will be dedicated to this position?

Van Aken: We took an apartment in Miami near the School to focus very much time to the endeavor.

Super Chef: Will you be spending time in Orlando as well?

Van Aken: Yes. I will continue on with “Norman’s at The Ritz” in the same as usual way as well. But it is a well-oiled machine now. I go six times a year.

Super Chef: Will you be teaching classes or instructing students in the new restaurant?

Van Aken: I will be teaching the students. Primarily my first role will be to open the new restaurant on the top of the School. The School is amazing and a real gem for Miami. The Organic Garden is one of the special touches I will be utilizing in menu creation. I very much will seek to involve our students in that!

Super Chef: Have you been thinking about culinary school for some time? You went to Johnson & Wales, right? Were you thinking about teaching when you were a student?

Van Aken: I never attended a cooking school. Johnson & Wales gave me an Honorary Doctorate years back.

Super Chef: It seems like a natural step for many top chefs to join culinary schools. I am thinking of Jacques Pepin and all the great chefs at the French Culinary Institute. I remember eating with Jacques at FCI’s restaurant in New York – a remarkably good meal. Is that your model, or something totally different?

Van Aken: I will look to learn more about what Jacques has done with FCI now more intently in that he is quite the Mentor for me…and so many.

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