Food & Drink

He 86’d the president. This Florida celebrity chef won’t cook for Trump

Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken turned down an invitation to cook at an event at Mar-a-Lago hosted by President Donald J. Trump and his son Eric.
Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken turned down an invitation to cook at an event at Mar-a-Lago hosted by President Donald J. Trump and his son Eric. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Guess who’s not coming to dinner.

Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken turned down an invitation last week to cook at an event hosted by President Donald J. Trump and his son Eric at the Trumps’ Palm Beach retreat, Mar-a-Lago.

Van Aken, the Florida-based chef credited with coining the term “fusion” cuisine, received a request from an event company asking to hire him to prepare a 250-person meal at Mar-a-Lago. The event, hosted by the Trumps, would raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, according to the email Van Aken shared with the Miami Herald.

“I would not feel it to be honorable of me to seem to align myself with the policies of the Trump administration as it might be concluded by cooking there,” Van Aken responded in an email to the company.

“I would love to be able to help St. Jude’s as it is a remarkable organization. If you find a client that would like my services that promotes socially just politics that are inclusive to women, the poor, immigrants, the LGBTQIA, please let me know,” the email continued. “I would truly like to help in the future for St. Jude’s.”

The dinner was to be a “very exclusive event. Trump is hosting with Eric,” the email to Van Aken read.

Van Aken said he “was torn” with the decision, given the charity’s good works. But ultimately, he said “I don’t want people feeling I’m a take-a-check-and-who-cares kind of guy,” Van Aken said. “I’m not OK with an administration that’s been so wrong headed about the people I mention in the letter.”

Van Aken is not alone.

Chef José Andrés speaks about being an immigrant during South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Formal Tribute Dinner at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. The Master of Ceremonies was Anthony Bourdain and Gloria Estefan helped pre

Chef José Andrés has been a strident critic of the president’s stance on immigration, even scrapping a planned restaurant in Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, sparking a $10 million lawsuit that was eventually settled. Van Aken said he was inspired by Andrés defending the “backbone of restaurant industry: the people who immigrated to this country.

“There needs to be some push back, and chefs have a role in that,” Van Aken said.

Also ringing in his head: the image of Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, known as the internet meme Salt Bae. Gökçe, who incited outrage after dressing as late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, served a lavish steak dinner in September to Venezula’s leader Nicolas Maduro as that country faces food shortages.

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Last week, Gökçe served Donald Trump Jr. at his New York City restaurant, Nusr-Et, part of global, multimillion dollar restaurant empire.

“I didn’t want that same kind of perception,” Van Aken said.

Van Aken has been honored by the James Beard Foundation as a “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage,” and named the among the Best Chef in America in 1997 for his groundbreaking Coral Gables restaurant Norman’s. He is a partner in the new Wynwood restaurant Three and owns the long-running Orlando restaurant Norman’s at The Ritz-Carlton.

Carlos Frías is the James Beard award-winning Miami Herald food editor. Contact: 305-376-4624; @carlos_frias
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