A Word On Food

Saturdays at 8:34 AM

“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. He is also known as the “founding father of New World Cuisine” - a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, American and African flavors.  He is the only Floridian Chef inducted into the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage”. He was a 2016 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee along with previous winners Wolfgang Puck and Jacques Pépin.  

Van Aken is a James Beard semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America” and his namesake restaurant NORMAN’S, in Coral Gables, was nominated as a finalist for “Outstanding Restaurant in America.” The only one thus far in the entire state of Florida.  He founded NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando in 2003, also a semi-finalist for “Outstanding Restaurant in America”, only the second restaurant in the history of Florida to reach the semi-finalist stage (The first was NORMAN’s in Coral Gables). He has received numerous local and national accolades over the years, and has represented the United States 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/World’s Fair (2015).  

Van Aken has shared his cooking and career, penning six cookbooks (Feast of Sunlight; The Exotic Fruit Book; Norman’s New World Cuisine; New World Kitchen; My Key West Kitchen; Norman Van Aken's Florida Kitchen) and a memoir (No Experience Necessary… The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken).  His cookbooks have been hailed by Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, Eric Ripert, and 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. His latest published book, Norman Van Aken's My Florida Kitchen, was selected to represent the USA in the local category of the Gourmand International World Cookbook Awards and has been awarded the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal for Cooking. 

Another project is, ‘Time Out Market Miami’ Food Hall where he has two concepts. One is based on his beloved Key West and the other is his take on artisanal pizzas. The original Time Out Market is in Lisbon, Portugal with more markets to follow in New York, Chicago, Boston, London, Dubai and Montreal. The food hall is about 20,000 square feet and is already becoming a Miami standout for tourists and locals alike.

Chef Van Aken has appeared on various television shows from CNN’s “Parts Unknown” with Anthony 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 host of “A Word on Food” a radio show that airs weekly on NPR station 91.3 WLRN in Miami.

When he is not in the kitchen, 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. 

When I go to a city as a guest chef, our hosts usually take great care of us and routinely offer to take us to one of the fancy or “Four Star!” restaurants in town.

I was out walking Bounder, the little dog our son Justin brought home from a shelter a few years ago, and was almost back home when I spotted a McArthur Dairy milk crate brimming over with a harvest of 20 or more backyard grown avocados on the edge a neighbor’s lawn.

Roux The Day!

Jul 27, 2013
wikipedia.org

One of the more dominant techniques that began to show up in the kitchens of the 17th Century was roux. Seldom has a technique undergone such a transformation in opinion amongst chefs and dedicated home cooks.

A high-pitched voice called out, “Arepa, Arepa, Arepa de Maiz!”

The ‘Parade of the Three Kings’ was heading our way and our son was marching with his South Miami High School band. Justin normally played the viola back in those days, but he surprised me as he hefted a huge drum and beat on it with energy and precision while he and his bandmates proceeded in musical celebration past us while tears of pride fell on my chest.

Norman Van Aken

I have heard the sing-song voices of children in the swimming pools of hotels I’ve stayed in from Hattiesburg to Honolulu as they play a game called, “Marco Polo”. 

Norman Van Aken

You may be making plans to celebrate our day of "National Independence" from the once “Tax Mad” English by having friends and family over for a backyard party. Possibly your menu will feature one of the all-time icons of American gastronomy, "The Great American Hot Dog".

Norman Van Aken

Have you seen that now classic commercial where a bunch of cowboys get all freaked out about a salsa that is produced in New York City?!

Well, I found it similarly amusing to be in an elegant restaurant in New York City! recently where they were offering me a menu which included caviar service, foie gras and a Fried Green Tomato Salad. I had to have that salad! It was pretty good but it couldn't match many I've had in some mighty funky places in the South and… at the $14 price tag, I could have had a Catfish Dinner with hush puppies, cole slaw and a pitcher of cold beer!

Norman Van Aken

Feeling carnal? Do you need to gnaw? Got a bone to chew on?

Here in the water wonderland of South Florida many of us are stampeding to steak houses like, well, like cattle.

Wikimedia Commons

Most everyone knows, but I will say it for the un-baptized…chorizo is a kind of sausage. The first time I remember seeing chorizo was back in my hometown of Diamond Lake, Illinois in 1965 or so. It was around that time that many Mexican families began to immigrate to the area. They worked very hard founding a close knit neighborhood, which eventually became part of the broader patchwork quilt that epitomizes so much of North America now.

domesticdaddy.net

Without a doubt this is history’s most unconquerable of all Caesars!

Go anywhere in the U.S. and, from truck stops to swank spots, this is the one salad you are most likely to encounter.

enenutricio.wordpress.com/

Back in the late 1990‘s at the original NORMAN’S restaurant in Coral Gables we had a young man who became our Lunch Chef named Eliecer Garcia. Like many young chefs he was very interested in cuisines from all over and when we talked about what to put on our lunch menu his ideas ranged from France to Hong Kong. I loved that but sometimes I’d say, “Eliecer. I want you to show me flavors your Cuban Grandmother would make and then we can twist them a little. Okay? Why don’t you show me how she would cook with … oh… boniato for instance? And then we’ll go from there.” 

Norman Van Aken

We flew up to join the family to celebrate my Mother-in-Law’s 90th (!) Birthday Celebration. When our family gets together we, like many families, get straight to the heart of the matter. What are we cooking?! What are we eating?!

We love to pack a little carry on of food before getting on a plane. It’s a fine way to pass the time and avoid the bland, predictable and unhealthy!

Wikimedia Commons

I was sitting on the verandah of a hotel overlooking Waikiki beach waiting for a lunch menu. The mighty Pacific Ocean purred like a Lamborghini in the distance. I'd spent hours walking in Chinatown from early morning looking for beautiful and unique dishes I love to use for the thematic ‘Tasting Menus’ at our restaurant. But I had little luck and a keen hunger was rising up in me.

There was a real man in Key West who used to sell his homemade banana bread out of his bicycle nightly at the famous sunset celebration on Mallory Docks. I never saw him leave there with any bread leftover. Down in the Caribbean Banana Bread is considered a “man’s bread”. Perhaps the reasons are related to anatomy or maybe it’s the hefty dose of rhum included in the recipe.

Pages