Van Aken's No Experience Necessary Whets the Appetite With Tales of Kitchens Past

All photos courtesy Norman Van Aken
Van Aken looks back at the road less traveled in his memoir, No Experience Necessary.
Norman Van Aken may not be a household name like some of his friends, but that's probably the way he wants it. Credited with being one of the founders of New World Cuisine, Van Aken paved the way for his publicly celebrated friends, such as Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, and Mario Batali by creating (and making the world take notice of) the culinary revolution taking hold in the U.S. during the 1980s.

Before becoming an internationally renowned chef, he worked as a carny and sold flowers in Hawaii barefoot. He is more public radio than Food Network; more Key West than South Beach. Van Aken may be a chef, but everything he experienced on the path to discovering that calling has made him a storyteller, a skill he displays on his NPR radio show, "A Word on Food" and in his new book, No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken.

See also: Norman Van Aken on His New Book, Miami's Food Scene, and Hanging Out With Anthony Bourdain

No Experience Necessary is the story of how a young Van Aken tried his hand at various blue collar jobs while searching for something he didn't even know existed. It delves into the hands-on education he received in various kitchens and the education he self-administered by reading the best cookbooks ever published. Written in a conversational tone, the book reads like a story overheard at a dive bar at just about that time when shit gets real.

It's fascinating to read about a time when chefs weren't rock stars winking at you from 50-inch flatscreens, a time when culinary school was not a goal, but a Plan B. Before Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay, before Paula Deen and Rachel Ray, there was Van Aken, and No Experience Necessary tells the story behind that transition, not only in the man, but in American society.

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