“An excellent collection of recipes that showcase the abundance of seafood and fresh produce of Florida combined with Cuban, Caribbean, and South American influences.”—Emeril Lagasse
“Van Aken describes the rich culinary roots and historical traditions of Florida’s cuisine. I have an exceptionally deep craving to try these recipes for the fusion that only Norman has skillfully refined over the years. I trust him implicitly with my palate and soul.”—Mario Batali
“Norman Van Aken is a pioneer in Miami for creating modern cuisine inspired by Latin American and Florida flavors. Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen embodies this creativity and excitement and pays homage to the melding of traditions and innovation. A new essential!”—Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner, Le Bernardin
“The father of Florida cuisine has delivered once again! Packed with delicious recipes and peppered with witty humor, this cookbook defines the food of the Sunshine State and offers insight into the great mind of one of America’s most talented and celebrated chefs.”—Virginia Willis, author of Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome
“Vast and delicious, nuanced and intelligent, this essential book reaches as far back as our colonial history and leaps forward to a new and vibrant culinary landscape that speaks not only for Florida but for America as a whole.”—Edward Lee, chef and author of Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen
Award-winning chef and restaurateur Norman Van Aken invites you to discover the richness of Florida’s culinary landscape. This long-awaited cookbook embraces the history, the character, and the flavors of the state that has inspired Van Aken’s famous fusion style for over forty years. Drawing from Florida’s vibrant array of immigrant cultures, and incorporating local ingredients, the dishes in this book display the exciting diversity of Van Aken’s “New World Cuisine.”
Recipes include Key lime beignets; cornbread-stuffed quail with strawberry-ancho-guava jam and sweet and sour parsnips; “Spanglish” tortillas with hash browns, creamed spinach, and serrano ham; pork stew with raisins, tamarind, plantains, and chiles; and fully loaded cracked conch po’ boys.
While preparing these dishes, readers will enjoy advice and stories straight from the kitchen of a master chef. Van Aken infuses his recipes with tips, techniques, and personality. He reveals the key to a good gumbo, praises the acidity of a pickled peppadew, connects food innovation to jazz and blues music, describes hitchhiking adventures across the state with his wife, Janet, and tells the tale behind the Mustachioed Swimmer, a cocktail named for Tennessee Williams.
Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen is a delicious read—the definitive guide to the historic past and multicultural future of Florida’s abundant foodways. With its forward-thinking blend of old and new, thoughtful step-by-step instructions for wonderful meals, and plenty of friendly conversation, this book is a rare immersion in a culinary artist’s world.
Norman Van Aken is chef-owner of NORMAN’S at The Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando, and 1921 by Norman Van Aken in Mount Dora, Florida. Additionally, he is chef-partner at Three, a fine dining restaurant, and No. 3 Social, a roof deck lounge, in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami. His cooking school, In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken, is also in Wynwood. Van Aken is the only Floridian inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America and was a 2016 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee with Jacques Pépin and Wolfgang Puck. He is the author of five cookbooks, including My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories with Justin Van Aken, and a memoir, No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken.
In this interview, Chef Van Aken tells us how he got started cooking and gives us a sneak peek into his kitchen.
How did your love for cooking start?
Not long after I got hungry! Really it probably found root when our mother was preparing homemade jams to preserve for winter. Magically she let me help her. The intoxicating smell of simmering strawberries and sugar on our stove and watching her kind face as she cooked remains with me still.
Your New World cuisine blends flavors from immigrant cultures with local ingredients. When did you first decide to bring multiple tastes together and what inspired your fusion style?
It happened very naturally while I was a young cook in Key West. Being around the mix of humanity that was new to me, a transplanted Midwesterner, ignited new reactions to food in me. I wanted to make what I was tasting. And it was a fusion style that I ultimately named it.
How have other chefs informed your own cuisine?
I have loved reading my entire life. So it was a combination of that and working within the crazy and wonderful kitchen world that drove the information into me. I wrote my memoir, No Experience Necessary, on that idea, among others.
Do you have a particular vision in mind as you create and test new recipes?
For me it is like writing a song. I have a few notes, maybe a bit of a melody that floats into my head. But in cooking there are ingredients instead of notes. In both cases one wants to evoke deep feelings and make lasting memories.
Are you still learning new techniques along the way?
The beauty of cuisine is that one is always learning. I learned a really old technique while writing this book. I offer it as an alternative to cubing potatoes in my “Chowder, the Red One . . . Like Sailors Make” recipe. You prepare the potatoes by cutting them once in half and then by driving a knife into them and twisting the knife. It’s an “old school” way of ensuring the potatoes “break” along their natural lines and better absorb the soup’s merging flavors.
You’re opening a cooking school in Miami. What has the response to this idea been like?
Nearly everyone who has worked in our kitchens who hears about the school says, “Oh, that is so perfect for you, Chef! You always surrounded us with ways to learn!” And that makes me quite happy.
What is one must-have kitchen tool that you couldn’t live without?
My tasting spoons. You must always taste the food as you go along to see what it is revealing to you.
Do you have a signature dish your family members request at special gatherings over and over again?
There are a number of them, but one is certainly my creamy cracked conch chowder with saffron, citrus, and coconut. But I think my “‘After Church’ Ham, Mac ’n’ Cheese, and Coca-Cola Collards” dish from the new book could become a contender!
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A songwriter in a blues and country rock and roll band living about as simply as imaginable with lots of family, friends, books, and music around me, probably in the South somewhere. I’d like there to be a lake if it can be arranged. I can’t imagine not cooking so I’d need a good stove too, a wood burning grill, a wine cellar. . .
What advice would you give home cooks just starting out in the kitchen?
The food is always guiding you much more than is spoken about and much more than people realize. Your powers of observation are a marvelous way to learn. People lean on recipes and TV food shows and such too much. It is better to immerse yourself in great ingredients—seasonal, local, properly-raised and curated ones. Keep it simple, get your feet under yourself for a few years, and then you can blossom.