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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 VanAken 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 VanAken), No Experience Necessary, The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman VanAken (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.”

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.

Pompano & Fideo Noodle Stew with Rosa’s Two Way Tomato Sauce

Rosa’s “Two Way” Tomato Sauce
Makes 3 cups

  • 1/4 cup finely diced fatty bacon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, crushed up by hand
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

Heat a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.

Add the bacon and oil. Cook until the bacon is beginning to crisp and has given off some of its fat.

Add the garlic and shallot, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the sugar, stirring well and mashing it in with a heavy wooden spoon to break up. Cook for about 2 minutes, taking care not to allow this to burn. (Sugar accelerates the possibilities of burning.)

Add the crushed red pepper. Stir briefly. Add the vinegar and stir well, as the sugar needs to be well dispersed. Add the stock. Increase the heat and bring to a high simmer; cook until reduced by half or a bit more, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juice. Season with a bit of salt and black pepper and bring just to a boil, then lower the heat and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the basil and stir. Season with more salt and black pepper if needed. Serve warm, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate.

 Note: You can blend the sauce if you want a smoother consistency, but do so before adding the basil so you keep those pretty flecks within the sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1/4 vegetable oil
  • 3 slices good bacon, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced, plus 2 cloves thinly sliced
  • 1 serrano chile, minced (seeds may be left in if desired)
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 bulb fennel, cored and diced (3/4 cup)
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper
  • 2 pounds scrubbed and debearded mussels
  • 1 cup soft red wine (such as merlot, although I have used Champagne if that was handy)
  • 3 cups Rosa’s “Two Way” Tomato Sauce
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, pureed
  • 8 ounces loose, dry fideo (or vermicelli) noodles
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 12 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 pounds skin-on pompano fillets, cut into pieces 1 inch long (you can use bass or other fish as well, removing skin if you wish)

In a large rondeau pot (or Dutch oven), combine the vegetable oil and bacon. Cook over medium heat until the bacon is almost done. Add in the minced garlic, the chile, onion, carrot, and fen­nel and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the mussels and wine. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook until the mussels steam open, 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the mussels to a colander set over a bowl; discard any mussels that haven’t opened. Put the Rosa’s “Two-Way” Tomato Sauce and the pureed tomatoes in the pot and remove from the heat. Set the sauce and mussels aside.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook the fideo noodles in the ½ cup olive oil. Toss and pull at them with tongs to shake them out of their bundles. Cook until nicely colored, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels for a moment, then stir them into the tomato sauce mixture. Place over low heat and cook, covered, until the noodles are soft to the bite. Add the mussels and the liquor from the bowl under the colander, stirring them into the noodles and tomato sauce. Cover and keep on very low heat so you don’t overcook the mussels.

If your fish fillets are thick, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat another sauté pan over medium heat and coat the bottom with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the butter and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Add the shrimp and fish. Cook until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. (Thicker fish, such as grouper, might take longer. Sear them first in the pan with the shrimp, then transfer to a baking sheet and finish in the oven.)

When the shrimp and fish are cooked, add them both to the stew. Season to taste. Gently stir. Heat the stew over medium heat and serve hot.

 Serving suggestion: Serve with some good, crusty garlic bread. If you need any more than this you are possibly jaded. So if you are, and you are like me, let me offer this further temptation: Smash some fine anchovies into some butter and slather it on your bread. Sit back and enjoy the broadest smile your face might be able to stretch into.

Turrón Studded Chilled Chocolate Brownies

Makes 12 brownies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (65%), finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces white turrón, coarsely chopped

Preheat a convection oven to 325 degrees or a regular oven to 350 degrees. Have a (9-inch) square baking dish ready.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then remove from the heat and drop in the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes, then stir until smooth.

Sift the flour with the cocoa powder into a bowl. Whisk in the salt and set aside.

Stir the sugar into the melted chocolate mixture; then stir in the coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla.

Finally, stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the baking pan, then sprinkle the turrón all over the surface, pushing it into the batter slightly. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through. Let cool to room temperature. Loosen from the pan. Cut the brownie into 12 squares and then chill them, wrapped tightly in plastic.

There is nothing more perfect than these with a cold glass of milk. Simple.

Excerpted from Norman Van Aken’s Florida Kitchen, by Norman Van Aken. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, September 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida. Photos by Debi Harbin.

Contact: Samantha Zaboski