Norman Van Aken


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...


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.


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”.


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


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


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?

Sopa De Pollo

Apr 19, 2014

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.

The majority of times I have enjoyed oxtails has been in the classic Cuban dish named, “Rabo Encendido.” The translation is literally “Lit Tail.”

This is supposedly due to the spice level in the dish, but unless I make it myself or have it in the home of another chile-loving person, the spice is mild, while the flavor is great. I love the tomato-ey rich stew that I have eaten since venturing into places like “El Siboney” in Key West years ago. I had it there again recently. 

I walked into our restaurant kitchen and I inhaled an aroma I’d known before I knew it’s name. It was blood. It spiraled me back in time to a grocery store where my mother shopped when I was young. She carried me in there before the age of three and slung me from hip to hip while she selected our food and put it in the cart. By the time I was five, I knew the owners names, Mr. and Mrs. Petersen.

Though small, the store was pretty amazing for the time. They had a full butcher case that Mr. Petersen personally manned. He had a box of sawdust that he used to toss like chicken feed onto the wooden floors to sop up the blood that fell off his knives. A vibrant produce section lined one whole wall of the store. It relied on the area’s farms and orchards. Though the fish choices were few, they were fresh Great Lakes fish. There was even a baked goods cabinet by the check out area. Mrs. Petersen added in her own home-baked Greek specialties that lent a sense of exotica to the rural store in our town.

A Word On Food: Turkey

Jan 11, 2014

The first time we rolled down Highway 1 in the Florida Keys was 1971. Sometimes you would not see an oncoming car for 10 to 15 minutes. The darkness on those narrow bridges we crossed was nearly overwhelming.

But above us the constellations came through. The starlight was an explosion of skyward imagery that guided us forth. Now we drive across these islands on the same highway and struggle to find a gap where you hope to find the darkness once again and the attendant miracle of the stars. Returning here, I am reminded of the words of ancient Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice for its not the same river and hes not the same man.

Many North Americans would look at the word "mojo" in its printed form and pronounce it “mo-joe." In Spanish of course, it's pronounced "mo-ho" because the letter “j” is pronounced as an "h," as in jalapeño.

The word mojo comes from the word “mojar,” which means, "to wetten” so the usage of mojo can actually be pretty broad in that there are many ways to ‘wetten’ food. Years ago, I took a rather radical departure from the traditions of mojo and made tropical fruit mojos! If mojo meant a thing that would get something wet, I wanted to demonstrate that food that I’d added spices to, especially fish, would be happy swimming in a puree of mango and another dimensional ingredient or so.