A Word On Food

Saturdays at 8:34 AM

Chef Norman Van Aken
Credit www.normanvanaken.com

Norman Van Aken has been described as ‘legendary, visionary and a trailblazer’. He is known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world.

His new book is a memoir. It is titled, “No Experience Necessary,” (Taylor Trade Publishing). The book has been praised by the likes of Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Monique Truong, Alan Richman (GQ Magazine), Jeremiah Tower, Wolfgang Puck and the late, great Charlie Trotter.

He is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage.” His restaurant “NORMAN’S was nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant in America”. He has been a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America”.

In 2006, he was honored as one of the “Founders of the New American Cuisine,” alongside Alice Waters, Paul Prudhomme, and Mark Miller at Spain’s International Summit of Gastronomy ‘Madrid Fusión’ event.

Norman Van Aken has published five cookbooks: Feast of Sunlight 1988, The Exotic Fruit Book 1995, Norman’s New World Cuisine 1997, New World Kitchen 2003 and My Key West Kitchen 2012, (with Justin Van Aken).

His radio show, “A Word on Food” appears twice a week on NPR station WLRN 91.3.

He is the chef and founder of “NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando.” 

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Vaca Frita

Jul 19, 2014
A plate of Vaca Frita with rice and fried plantains
Norman Van Aken

Before I looked at him I heard his voice. He was ordering from the blackboard menu.

''Vaca Frita please with moros" he added. American accent all the way. But he knew he was going to be 

  getting rice and beans when he requested those items. Confidence all the way. He was told in Spanglish, "you get y una mas 'Side'."

He responded. "Do you have Maduro Plantains?"

"Si!"

The Egg

Jul 12, 2014
Norman Van Aken

The summer I became a golf caddie was one filled with suddenly unfamiliar routines and the deep lows and soaring highs of messy adolescence. I was 14 years of age and not skipping smoothly along the surface of life’s waters. My childhood pals, the Harris boys seemed to suffer no similar quandaries so as is so often the case of adolescent logic I was infinitely attracted to them.

Butchery

Jul 5, 2014
A collection of knives and other tools used by butchers
Norman Van Aken

  The sun was hot and bore down on a shirtless man holding a shining silvery saw. It was 1957 and we were in Miami Beach. I was with my parents and two sisters and we were amidst a crowd. Everyone sat in rapt silence in front of a cement bandstand near the hotel's swimming pool as he evoked other-worldly musical sounds from a standard carpenter’s tool. 

Scones

Jun 28, 2014
Scones.
Norman Van Aken

My grandmother made scones. Her maiden name was Janie Quinn so she came by that knowledge like her Scottish cousins did. Birthright!In Scotland scones are not somethingjust to go with tea. They are a national institution. When my grandmother, "Nana" mad e them she was serious to the point of severe. I picked up on it ... and she caused me to love them like I learned to love standing up in our grade school classroom reciting the 'Pledge of Allegiance'.

Plantains

Jun 21, 2014
Norman Van Aken

"Sherman, my boy," as Mr. Peabody from the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" TV show might have intoned, "Please set the' Way Back Machine ' to the summer of 1973". We're going to a little restaurant on Duval Street in Key West called Cafe Expresso.

The Foods Of India

Jun 17, 2014

‘A Word on Food’ is done with words of course. Where would I be without them? Our blonde-haired, blue-eyed granddaughter Audrey is not yet two yet she is teaching me to try more communication...

Caviar

Jun 4, 2014
Containers filled with caviar.
Norman Van Aken

You don’t eat caviar because you’re hungry. But the portion set before us at a dinner the other night was certainly capable of staving off a serious quantity of pang.

We all eye’d the curvaceous morsels of edible hedonism. They were caviar-stuffed, chive-tied crêpes perched upon the base of empty, over-turned, long stemmed Riedel wine glasses. This caviar presentation was done in the style of the legendary “beggars purses” as created by Chef Barry Wine the once-upon-a-gilded-time owner of the ‘Quilted Giraffe’ restaurant of New York City.

Caramelization

Jun 4, 2014
Pictured from left to right, Onions in a skillet going through the cooking process of caramelization.
Norman Van Aken

Inevitably I have a conversation with nearly every chef that comes to work with me as well as the students who attend my cooking classes. It has to do with a cooking term “caramelization”.

Nachos

May 21, 2014
A plate of crispy nachos topped with jalapeños, sour cream, and guacamole.
Norman Van Aken


Hamburgers

May 10, 2014
A Hamburger with fries, ketchup and mustard.
Norman Van Aken


Peppers

May 7, 2014
Green bell peppers for pope chilies.
Norman Van Aken


Culinary Couples

Apr 29, 2014
A picture of artisan containers
Norman Van Aken

You and Me Darlin’. Like Ham and Eggs. Like Cream and Sugar. You know what I mean Love?

Like Bogey and Bacall some things are meant to be unified a Oneness out of Two. It is the way of the world. When I think of the great food marriages I swirl in a dance of dualities. Salt and Pepper. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Chocolate and Vanilla. What causes some things to match so perfectly that we rarely think of them alone? That their still stunning singularity is magnified by more than a power of two when twined?

I remember looking at a can of soy sauce one day in the store room of Louie’s Backyard’s kitchen… and printed upon it were these words, “Established in 1250”, … as in the year 1250. “My Lord”, I muttered … to no one else … “that’s an old company.”

We drive about 60 miles round-trip to get our tortillas these days. I don’t wish to think … as an accountant might… how much gas that costs per tortilla … but these tortillas are worth it … partly to the see the face of the 70-something woman who sells them to me from her little bodega. She sells lengua and such too. Her shop is named “Moreno’s” and I urge you to make the trek. It is down in the bosom of our South Florida’s growing region … which encircles the appropriately named village of ….  ‘Homestead’.

The way my mother taught me to make cinnamon toast was to start with raisin bread and toast it to perfection.

She might have timed it by how long it took her to jump into her waitress work uniform before slathering it with rich and creamy Wisconsin sweet butter. Then she sprinkled a combination of sugar and cinnamon out of our plastic, yellow  ‘baseball player’ figurine bottle that was covered with wax paper tucked under a red metal lid tha t doubled as the faux baseball boy’s ‘cap’. She usually slathered enough butter on the toast so that the cinnamon and sugar mix slide over the top of it like grains of sand dancing in the ebb of an ocean wave.

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