No Experience Necessary is Chef Norman Van Aken’s joyride of a memoir. In it he spans twenty-plus years and nearly as many jobs—including the fateful job advertisement in the local paper for a short-order cook with “no experience necessary.”
Long considered a culinary renegade and a pioneering chef, Van Aken is an American original who chopped and charred, sweated and seared his way to cooking stardom with no formal training, but with extra helpings of energy, creativity, and faith.
After landing on the deceptively breezy shores of Key West, Van Aken faced hurricanes, economic downturns, and mercurial moneymen during the decades when a restaurant could open and close faster than you can type haute cuisine. From a graveyard shift grunt at an all-night barbeque joint to a James Beard–award finalist for best restaurant in America, Van Aken put his trusting heart, poetic soul, natural talent, and ever-expanding experience into every venture—and helped transform the American culinary landscape along the way.
In the irreverent tradition of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and populated by a rogues’ gallery of colorful characters—including movie stars, legendary musicians, and culinary giants Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, and Charlie Trotter—No Experience Necessary offers a uniquely personal, highly-entertaining under-the-tablecloth view of the high-stakes world of American cuisine told with wit, insight, and great affection by a natural storyteller.
Norman Van Aken is the Jimmy Page of his profession—a man who was THERE at almost every important moment in its history. The OG of South Florida, New World cuisine, and a guy who knows where every body is buried . . . many of them to be found in No Experience Necessary.
— Anthony Bourdain
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
For Norman Van Aken, being a chef is a passion that has taken him on an incredible journey that he’s artfully poured into No Experience Necessary. His brilliant, witty storytelling will leave you inspired and hungry for more. It’s a must-read for aspiring chefs across the globe.
— Emeril Lagasse
Fasten your seat belts—No Experience Necessary is here. Anyone wondering what it’s like to live as a chef, and anyone who is wondering if they should, must read this book. Best stories since Kitchen Confidential: everything from an ‘Orgasmic. Lethal. Righteous’ steaming rice raised to Charlie Trotter’s lips to the hilarious story of local gadfly and bartender (‘a notorious flamer even by Key West standards’) failing to kill himself in two feet of Caribbean sea water. I adore this book.
— Jeremiah Tower, chef, author, architect, adrenalist
No career path is straightforward, but some are fated. Norman Van Aken took a circuitous route to the kitchen, but it is where he was meant to be. The American culinary landscape would not be the same without his vision, his authenticity, and his highly personal and remarkably provocative food—and his food would not be as delicious if not for his story and the recipes in this essential tome.
— Mario Batali, chef, author, entrepreneur
Norman Van Aken was a true pioneer of the American food movement in the 1980s, when chefs began to combine regional inspirations with modern cooking techniques. He was the first to blend Florida and Caribbean flavors with a classically trained approach to fine cuisine, and the first meals I ever ate in his restaurant were revelations and are still memorable today. One of the best things about dining experiences with Norman is his warm, kind-hearted, good-humored personality. It comes through in this book, just as it does in his cooking to this day.
— Wolfgang Puck
Norman Van Aken’s memoir is as byzantine as a Russian novel but lots more fun. It’s bawdy, bizarre, and often brilliant, with an abundance of marquee names. Appearances by Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffet, Julia Child, and, behaving badly, Burt Reynolds and Prince Stefano of Monaco. (Queen Victoria gets a mention, but posthumously.) One of the most delightful menu-writers of his generation, Van Aken has crafted an exhilarating groaning board of uninhibited culinary writing. It spans the length of the American food revolution, historically and geographically, and could have been titled Continental Confidential.
— Alan Richman, GQ Magazine
Although best known for bringing New World Cuisine into the culinary spotlight, Norman Van Aken has also managed to write one of the most compelling and page-turning memoirs I’ve read. No Experience Necessary is pure Norman as I have come to know him as a friend—revealing, funny, and brutally honest. And just as a memorable dish leaves you wanting more, so too will the pages of this delicious book.
— Thomas Keller, The French Laundry
Anyone contemplating becoming a chef has got to read Norman Van Aken’s new book. As someone who entered the profession when it was not even remotely glamorous, Van Aken offers a personal odyssey of hard work, low pay, high anxiety and comic relief before he achieved recognition as one of America’s most innovative chefs who became an inspiration for many to follow. Van Aken gets to the heart, soul and belly of the matter and does so with a mixture of justified pride and rigorous attention to detail.
— John Mariani, food and travel columnist for Esquire Magazine
Nobody says ‘rollicking’ anymore, but that’s the perfect word to describe Norman Van Aken’s highly entertaining memoir-with-recipes—a sort of nonfiction picaresque novel as full of color and spice and wit as his celebrated cooking.
— Colman Andrews, editorial director, TheDailyMeal.com