Sample Recipes

Norman Van AkenNorman Van Aken has been described as “legendary, visionary and a trailblazer,” as well as ‘The Culinary Titan of Florida.” He is “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.

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. The Orlando Sentinel placed him in the Florida Hall of Fame.

He is an internationally acclaimed author. His memoir, No Experience Necessary… The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken, has been praised by many, including Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck. The book was also nominated for the prestigious IACP/Julia Child Award.

In 2006, Norman 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. In 2015 Chef Van Aken represented Florida at the USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano as part of the World’s Fair, titled “American Food 2.0, United to Feed the Planet.”

Norman Van Aken has published five cookbooks and one memoir: Feast of Sunlight (1988), The Exotic Fruit Book (1995), Norman’s New World Cuisine (1997), New World Kitchen (2003), My Key West Kitchen (2012, with Justin Van Aken), No Experience Necessary, The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken (2013). His next book is scheduled for 2016, My Florida Kitchen (with Janet Van Aken).

His radio show, A Word on Food, appears on NPR station WLRN 91.3 FM. He has appeared on numerous television programs, from CNN to Anthony Bourdain to Jimmy Kimmel Live. He is the Chef-Owner of “NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando.”

His new venture is a Cooking School, “In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken,” in partnership with Candace Walsh. It’s being built on Biscayne in Miami.

“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.” – Smithsonian Magazine

Award-winning chef Norman Van Aken has been cooking in Florida for 40 years. My Key West Kitchen is his love letter to Key West, where he first found the passion to cook, and where the unique cultural makeup of the island influenced his cuisine today. Follow Chef Van Aken as he strolls through Key West, reminiscing and re-creating dishes from “little joints” and restaurants both past and present. Organized by well-known Key West neighborhoods, the chapters include “Duval and Downtown Crawlin’,” “Places in the Hoods,” “Places on the Water,” and “Around Town These Days.” In each, Norman includes recipes for his own take of the first foods and drinks he experienced in Key West and how they seemed “different than ordinary American fare,” from the Sunday Fish Fry at Capt. Tony’s to the Rib Sandwich and Dark & Stormy from the Bahama Village Elk’s Club. Norman also focuses on the home cooking of Key West, whether it’s “Yard Bird” Fricasse with Collard Greens and Pot Likker from the Tropical American South, Plaintain Soup from the Spanish Caribbean, or Nassau Grouper in Banana Leaves with Coconut “Run Down” from the British Caribbean. Interspersed throughout each chapter as well, Norman revisits eight menus from his past and chooses three of his favorite recipes from each, including the Sunshine Lime Pie from his very first cooking job at The Midget in 1973 to the Wild Mushrooms on Brioche with Sherry Cream and Serrano Ham that he created at the infamous Café at Louie’s Backyard in 1987. Norman and his co-author and son, Justin, also include many examples of what they are cooking today like a Tamale Scramble with Chorizo and Jack Cheese or Justin’s Best-Ever Peanut Butter Ice Cream. Finally, Chapter 5, The Bodega, includes 20 must-have pantry recipes to guarantee successful cooking in your own Key West kitchen.


Serves 6 to 8

The Midget was known foremost for its barbecued ribs. One day Sammy got the idea to cut the meat off the ribs leftover from the night before and toss it in a pot of chili. Because most home cooks are not faced with loads of leftover rib ends, we’ve replaced them here with braised pork shoulder to make a chili that’s just as flavorful but without the work of slow cooking on the grill and having to take the meat off the bones.

  • 3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 12 ounces beer
  • ½  cup pure olive oil or bacon fat
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced
  • 1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 Spanish onion, diced (about 2 cups), plus more for garnish (optional)
  • One 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup Java Gal’s Lemon BBQ Sauce or your favorite BBQ sauce
  • 2 cups Black Beans or other cooked beans you like
  • Jack cheese, grated, for garnish (optional)


  • 1 ½  tablespoons chile molido or chile powder
  • ½  tablespoon cumin
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Mix all of the rub ingredients together in a large bowl or zip-tight baggie. Add the pork and let sit for an hour. Meanwhile, roast the guajillo chiles for 4 to 5 minutes, until they become fragrant. Pour the beer in a small pot and bring to a simmer.

Remove the chiles from the oven and place in a bowl. Add the beer and let the submerged chiles steep for 15 minutes to soften. Transfer to a blender, pulse until roughly pureed, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the pork and cook until the meat is no longer pink in the middle. Add the garlic, jalapeño, poblano, oregano and onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the beer and guajillo mixture to the pork mixture and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add the canned tomato sauce and lemon BBQ sauce. Reduce the heat and cook at a simmer until the meat is tender, about 2 hours.

Add the black beans and simmer for about 10 minutes. Garnish the chili with chopped onion and/or as much grated cheese as desired.

Ingredient Note: Pronounced “gwah-hee-oh,” this is a somewhat tough-skinned dried chile with a deep reddish flesh. It is obtained from drying a fresh mirasol chile. The heat is mild compared to many chiles with a tea-like flavor. Anchos are an acceptable substitute.

Sunshine’s Key Lime Pies

 Yield: 2 pies (of course!)

The first time I saw a Key Lime Pie was a few days after I started at the Midget. It was about eight A.M. and I was having a cold beer, reading a newspaper, and getting ready to go home to bed. I noticed a young lady named Sunshine arriving through the doorless bar on her bicycle, wearing a cotton barely-there dress, a large hibiscus flower behind her left ear and bearing a tray containing two pale yellow pies. She explained that she only prepared two at a time or the taste would “get lost”; besides, she only had room for two in her bicycle basket. I drained the beer and saved my pie for later. (By the way, Sunshine went on to manage part of the business affairs of a guy named Jimmy Buffett, so she probably makes pies only for pleasure now.)

  • Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • One 12-ounce bottle key lime juice
  • 10 extra-large egg yolks (reserve the clean whites for the meringue)


  • ¾ cup sliced almonds, lightly pan toasted
  • One 4.8-ounce package graham crackers, crushed in the bag
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted


  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup egg whites
  • Pinch kosher salt

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pulse until well ground, but not quite dust. The mixture can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week if not using right away.

Preheat the oven to 350.F. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the melted butter to combine. Divide evenly between 2 pie pans. Press the crust firmly onto the bottoms and up the sides of the pans, making a small rim. Bake the crusts until bubbling and turning from shiny to matte, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack.

Pour the condensed milk into a large bowl and stir in the key lime juice. In another large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale yellow. Add the key lime mixture, stir well and pour into the pie crusts. Tap the pans on the countertop to remove any air bubbles and bake for about

15 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Let the pies cool to room temperature, then wrap and refrigerate for up to 10 hours.

When you are ready to serve the pies, make the meringue. Set a pan of water large enough to fit the bowl of your mixer to a simmer. Add the sugar, egg whites and salt to the bowl and whisk gently by hand over the simmering water until the mixture is room temperature and you can’t feel any sugar granules when you roll the mixture around in your fingertips. Transfer the bowl to its mixer and whip on high speed until the meringue turns bright white and holds medium peaks. Apply the finished meringue to the chilled pies. Torch at will.

Ingredient Note: The so-called key lime, a small, round fruit with a thin skin and a mottled yellow-green look, is, according to some, the “true” lime, Citrus aurantifolia. It is more tart than Citrus latifolia, the lime commonly found in the produce section of most grocery stores. Key limes are also known as Mexican, West Indian and Bartender limes. Key lime trees love the warmest weather and only grow down in the Keys in the United States. Trees were established as early as 1839. Gail Borden invented condensed milk in 1853 to give people in pioneer conditions safe milk that would keep longer than fresh whole milk. Some creative genius in the Keys combined sweetened condensed milk with key lime juice and eggs to make the first key lime pies. He (or she) would not be the last!

These recipes may be reproduced with the following credit:

Recipes from MY KEY WEST KITCHEN: Recipes and Stories (Paperback Edition) by Norman Van Aken. (Kyle Books; Oct. 7, 2017; $22.93/Paperback, ISBN: 978-1909487772).