A Word On Food

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“Before the celebrity chef craze… before the start of Food Network, Norman Van Aken was starting a revolution. He was doing something unheard of at the time, taking local ethnic flavors, merging them together at restaurants where he worked.” --- The Smithsonian

Among his many masteries as a chef, Norman Van Aken is best known for introducing "fusion" into the lexicon of modern cookery and considered to be the founding father of New World Cuisine - a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors.  He is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage” and was s a 2016 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee along with Jacques Pépin and Wolfgang Puck.

Van Aken is a James Beard semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America” and his namesake restaurant NORMAN’S, was nominated as a finalist for “Best Restaurant in America.”  He has represented the United States proud with international recognitions that include being honored alongside Alice Waters, Paul Prudhomme and Mark Miller as one of the “Founders of New American Cuisine” at Spain’s International Summit of Gastronomy ‘Madrid Fusión’ (2006) and represented the State of Florida at the USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano as part of the World’s Fair (2015).

Van Aken has shared his cooking and career, penning more than five cookbooks (Feast of Sunlight; The Exotic Fruit Book; Norman’s New World Cuisine; New World Kitchen; My Key West Kitchen) and a memoir (No Experience Necessary… The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken).   His cookbooks have been hailed by Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck; while his memoir captured the attention of the prestigious IACP/Julia Child Award and received a ‘finalist nomination’ along with Michael Pollan, Anne Willan and Luke Barr.

Chef Van Aken opened “1921 by Norman Van Aken” a restaurant in Mount Dora, Florida in September, 2016. The restaurant has 160 seats with indoor and outdoor dining open for lunch and dinner featuring “Modern Florida Cuisine”. It is in alliance with the extraordinary Modernism Museum directly across the street. The restaurant’s design includes many elements from the Museum’s collection of art. Additionally he is partnered with Candace Walsh to open “In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken”, a cooking school in Miami in June of 2017. The two are joined by restaurateur Susan Buckley and debuting a new restaurant and roof-deck lounge adjacent to the school due this summer. The restaurant is named “Three”. Chef Norman is the Chef and founder of NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando which opened in 2003 and has many local and national accolades.

Chef Van Aken has appeared on various television shows from CNN’s “Parts Unknown” with Bourdain to “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”  He is often cited as a culinary expert in publications such as The New York Times and Saveur.  Additionally, Van Aken is the hosts of “A Word on Food” a radio show that airs twice a week on NPR, in addition to being a staff writer for one of the leading culinary websites, The Daily Meal. There he is featured on his column, “Kitchen Conversations” which have featured chefs, authors, wine-makers, cocktail gurus and restaurant luminaries.

His next book, “Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen” will be out in Fall of 2017 and published by University of Florida Press.

When he is not in the kitchen working up new recipes he can be found spending time with his wife, Janet; son, Justin; daughter-in-law Lourdes; and his pride and joy, his granddaughter, Audrey Quinn Van Aken.

Spring Rolls

May 18, 2019


Norman Van Aken ©2005

This is a Vietnamese dipping sauce that can be used for many things. It goes by the name Nuoc Cham. To make spring rolls to your liking there are a number of good books on that as well as online sources.

Yield: 3 Cups

1 jalapeño (or Serrano) chile, seeds removed, thinly sliced

1 habanero chile, stemmed, seed and minced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 ½ Cups sugar


1 ½ Cups warm water


May 11, 2019


May 4, 2019


Norman Van Aken © All Rights Reserved

These were some of the first flavors of Key West we came to know and love.

Yield: 3 dozen approx.

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ Cup whole milk

1 ¼ Cups AP flour, sifted

2 Tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 Tablespoon Roasted Garlic, mashed or ½ Tablespoon raw garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons sweet onion, diced small


Apr 27, 2019


Source: FEAST OF SUNLIGHT, Norman Van Aken

I often use this to garnish gumbo.

2 pounds okra, in excellent shape, rinsed and patted dry

12 dried chiles (cayenne, sequin, or the like)

6 garlic cloves, halved

2 Tablespoons mustard seeds

2 Tablespoons dill seeds

1 quart cider vinegar

1 quart rice wine vinegar

1 quart water

24 whole black peppercorns

Boil the canning jars and lids as described in canning manufacturers directions.

Pizza Joints

Apr 20, 2019


Apr 13, 2019


Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2003

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons butter

Place the chocolate pieces and water in a stainless steel bowl, and heat over a double boiler until melted, stirring until smooth. 

Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. 

Keep warm until needed.

Steak Sauce

Apr 6, 2019


©2004 All rights reserved by Norman Van Aken

This is classic Japanese sauce that is typically served on panko crusted pork cutlets. But… it can also liven up a steak. Give it a try!

Yield: 2 Cups

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 Tablespoons hot water

Mix this together and reserve a moment.

½ Cup ketchup

2 Tablespoons minced ginger

1 Scotch bonnet chile, stem and seeds discarded, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 Tablespoons of granulated sugar

Beurre Blanc

Mar 30, 2019

Beurre blanc

©2002 All rights reserved by Norman Van Aken

Yield: 1½ Cups

6 tablespoon white wine

3 tablespoon white wine vinegar

¼ cup shallots, minced

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ Cup heavy cream

¾ lb butter (3 sticks), cut into small bits, kept cold

½ teaspoon lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Combine wine, vinegar, shallots bay leaf and black pepper in a medium size heavy saucepan and reduce over medium heat to about 3 tablespoons.

Brown Sugar

Mar 23, 2019


Norman Van Aken, © 2018

30 ounces by weight once cleaned of cubed butternut squash, (or what’s in season)

1/2 Cup XVOO

1/4 Cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon smoked pimentón

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees

Fish Sticks

Mar 2, 2019


Feb 23, 2019


Norman Van Aken © All Rights Reserved

Yes this is large batch but it freezes well and when you are making a soup such as this one it is just as easy to make a large volume as a small one. And the rewards are the next time you want some you are set!

Yield: 9 quarts

1 chicken (about 3 pounds), halved

¾ pound boneless pork shoulder

¾ pound pork bones

Manteca, as needed

6 garlic cloves, sliced

2 jalapeños, minced

2 onions, diced medium


Feb 16, 2019

Conch Salad

Feb 9, 2019
Penny De Los Santos


©2012 All rights reserved by Norman Van Aken

Norman Van Aken, © All Rights Reserved

2 pounds cleaned, fresh conch, diced and lightly salted for 30 minutes

1/2 Cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1/4 Cup fresh lime juice

1/4 Cup fresh lemon juice

1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced

½ Cup XVOO

¼ Cup kosher salt, (or more to taste)

¼ Cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

1 cucumber, peeled and diced medium, slightly salted

1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced small


Feb 2, 2019

CORN STICKS                                                                                              

© 2016 All Rights Reserved by Norman & Janet Van Aken

This is cornbread but in the shape of mini corn on the cob. We make these in heavy old-fashioned corn stick cast iron pans. ‘Lodge’ makes a fine brand. There are indents in them to mimic the shapes of perfect small ears of corn.

Yield: 14 (cute as hell) Corn Sticks

For the Batter:

3 eggs, beaten

8 ounces sour cream

1/4 Cup vegetable oil