Chef Roundtable

Culinary Personalities

How did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Who or what inspired you?


1. Chef Norman Van Aken

Tuyo Restaurant

My answer may be surprising, since I had been cooking for about seven years before I decided I wanted to be a chef. Back then, cooking was not regarded as a profession, much less an art. But I needed to work and I hated most other forms of work available. I found kitchen life to be the best—better than the factories or grunt labor construction I had endured before. When I got a job in Key West—where there were professional chefs all around me—I found myself suddenly willing to do whatever it took to become the best chef I could be.


2. Executive Chef Aaron Brooks

EDGE Steak & Bar at the Four Seasons Miami

My mother and father were a real inspiration to me. Our family has always been in the hospitality business. My father managed pubs in Sydney while my mother worked the stoves in the kitchen or pulled beers behind the bar. When I finished school, my mother pushed me into a four-year apprenticeship at a five-star resort in my hometown on the Gold Coast. That was 17 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. This is a fantastic industry with amazing personalities that inspire me on a daily basis, both to continue improving as a professional, and to teach the next generation of chefs everything I have learned throughout my travels.


3. Chef and Owner David Bracha

Oak Tavern and The River Seafood and Oyster Bar

When I was in high school, I worked in bread bakeries in Brooklyn, N.Y. Although I enjoyed it, I never thought that cooking or the hospitality industry would become a career. During the 1980s, cooking wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. When I enrolled at New York Technical College, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. But after a visit to the Hotel and Restaurant Department, I was immediately intrigued. I decided to join the program, and studied cooking technique and management. My inspiration for cooking comes from the creativity I have as a chef, and the overall commitment to the craft that is always growing within the industry.


4. Executive Chef Gabe Fenton

Bourbon Steak Restaurant, Turnberry Isle Miami Resort

My work in a pizza shop, along with my parent’s dedication to the home-grown food movement, is truly what inspired me to be a chef. As a teenager in Princeton, N.J., I worked in a pizza shop that ended up being purchased by two young men from Naples—the birthplace of pizza. They shared their passion for food. It wasn’t just about making pizza for them; it was making the dough, feeling it, knowing it, and paying attention to the food. Their mother taught me how to make marinara sauce. I still make that sauce today. The entire atmosphere was really inspiring. My parents also had their own garden, and almost everything we ate came from the ground around our house. To this day, I’m extremely passionate about sourcing locally and using only the freshest ingredients at Bourbon Steak.