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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Sailor Stews
8:00 am
Sat December 28, 2013

A Word On Food: Chilau

Click the play button above to hear the radio version of this post by Norman Van Aken.

A play of light mesmerized me as I lay in bed, savoring the last moments of an unmoored  consciousness. I allowed my mind to wander as I simply enjoyed the light show and worked on understanding where it was coming from and how it was working.

The process of cooking is nearly identical for me. The analyst in me came to realize that the fluttering sequences of light and shadow dancing on the unadorned wall placed me in the room that once was my son’s. The light of the early morning sun punctuated by the rhythm of the ceiling fan sought to keep me lulled and sleeping longer.

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The King's Meat
8:00 am
Sat December 21, 2013

A Word On Food: Roast Beef

Click the play button above to hear the radio version of this post by Norman Van Aken.

The very words themselves call up ancient things. I imagine it on the menu that day in the year 1215 when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede or something Shakespeare’s own mother would have served.

When I fantasize about the words being read in a perfect movie, I hear a voice like Sir Alec Guinness intoning them.

“Roast Beef.”

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Tongue Ho!
8:00 am
Sat December 14, 2013

A Word On Food: Taco Lingo

Click the play button above to hear the radio version of this post by Norman Van Aken.

I learn words in many ways, but the best may be in eating. The words on the menus and in the cookbooks I have from around the world have helped me conquer at least ‘parts’ of foreign languages.

I have a good knowledge of French, Italian and even some Japanese, if you allow that food is the central most important aspect of understanding a people’s tongue. My vocabulary was broadened by at least seven new words in Little Havana just the other day at a place blandly named, “Viva Mexico.”

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Italian Interludes
8:00 am
Sat December 7, 2013

A Word On Food: Sandwiches

Click the play button above to hear the radio version of this post by Norman Van Aken.

I was near a small sandwich stand in an open-air market.

It was like many you would see almost anywhere in the world. A radio was playing a vaguely familiar tune. Soft drink cans and cigarette packs lined the windows inside the stand where a lady was stuffing soft buns with meats. There was a paper napkin dispenser advertising Coca-Cola.

This sandwich stand happened to be in Florence, Italy.

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Cowpoke Songs
1:04 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

A Word on Food: Menudo

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Long before any Hispanic boy bands tormented or tantalized the radio air waves, the soup/stew Menudo was a siren song sung to me for the first time back in my younger days in a little grocería named ‘La Bodega’ in Diamond Lake, Illinois. 

Maybe it was the alleged attributes of Menudo being able to cure a hangover that first led me to its pleasures. It must've been something strong to convince me Menudo is not made with things I normally consumed in my boyhood.

No hangover is required at all anymore for me to long for some of that homemade, restorative soup. And I had a hunch I’d find some of that in Homestead where one can find the best concentration of Mexican food to be found in either the counties of Miami-Dade or Monroe.

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Birthday Bird
8:00 am
Sat November 23, 2013

A Word On Food: Chicken Fricassee

Click the play button above to hear the radio version of this post by Norman Van Aken.

A dramatic rainstorm was rolling through the lower Florida Keys as we tried to decide what to make for breakfast the day after our granddaughter Audrey’s first birthday.

My daughter-in-law Lourdes wisely poured some freshly squeezed orange juice and put some of her homemade banana bread in the toaster to stave off the equally volatile storms of unquenched thirsts or insatiable appetites propelled and honestly worsened by our practice of morning café con leches.

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Norman Van Aken's
8:00 am
Sat November 16, 2013

A Word On Food: Garlic Sunshine

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What do you do with a word like aïoli the first time you see it in print?  If you don’t grow up versed in languages containing umlauts, It’s confusing for sure. Maybe I resisted learning much more until I started cooking and I discovered how good a word with an umlaut could taste! The first time I made an aïoli I was in Key West, not sunny Provence from whence she likely shone first. But the sun connected us through the gypsy medium of garlic!

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Radio Gastronomy
7:31 am
Tue November 12, 2013

A Word On Food: Barbecue Hula

I graduated from high school in a small Midwestern town at 17. My older sister, Jane, had moved to Honolulu to go to a junior college out there. How she managed this relocation to the faraway islands, considering our socioeconomic circumstances and our conception of what our arc of life could be, was beyond me.

She had moxie! She invited me to come visit during my summer vacation. Of course I did!

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
8:00 am
Sat November 2, 2013

(S)wine Snobs

Click the play button to hear the radio version of this post by Norman Van Aken.

When the woman at the butcher counter asked Jimmy the Cutter, “do you have a nice butt?” Jimmy didn’t hesitate and said, “My wife kind of digs it.”

The lady pushed her walker aside to get a better look at the pork in Jimmy’s case, pretending not to hear him. Her faded alligator purse fell open to reveal a half empty carton of Lucky Strikes and a copy of Reader’s Digest. He looked at me and rolled his eyes toward the crease of his paper deli hat.

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
9:13 am
Sat October 26, 2013

Salt Of The Earth

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I held my grandchild Audrey in the saltwater of the Atlantic in the Florida Keys ‘Bahia Honda State Park.’

She kicked her ‘just-turned-one’-year-old legs in the shallow sea, churning the water and splashing her granddad joyously. I was a little concerned that the sting of the salty water might invade her incredibly blue eyes. She did not share my concern.

It was only a keening hunger she developed from this new exercise that drove her back to her mother and the cold watermelon to be savored under the stone pavilion our family was huddled under for this birthday celebration.

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
8:00 am
Sat October 12, 2013

Souse In The House!

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I’ve been making Souse.

Right? Got that? Know what I’m talkin’ bout

You might be confused. You might stay that way. Let me unravel a bit.

Here's souse as defined by the Wikipedia geniuses:

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
11:03 am
Sat October 5, 2013

Tortillas: Hecho a Mano

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A Mexican boy of 20 or so in long baggy shorts with a baseball hat is cooking my eggs while his mother rapidly peels potatoes with a curved blade flicking the peels away from her into a bowl, while she giggles at the conversation she’s having with him.

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
8:00 am
Sat September 28, 2013

Eau de Philly: Sweet Bacalao

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The rising spring sun played tag with a retreating winter wind on the stony streets of a South Philadelphia morning. Our cab driver was taking us from the genteel hum of a Four Seasons Hotel to the airport for our return to Miami. He seemed to be taking a shortcut not many would know. We were meandering through the narrow streets of a residential section. I spoke up over the squawk of his radio, “Hey, my friend. What part of town is this?!” The cabbie, a smiling Haitian man said, “Yes. This is the Italian Market area.”

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
8:00 am
Sat September 14, 2013

Ceviches: A Raw Deal, But So Good

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Controversies over the birthplace of certain dishes are part of the spice of life and landscape of any cuisine. A spirited discussion revolves around the origin of ceviches. This seafood favorite, made of raw fish and/or barely blanched shellfish marinated in citrus juices and laced with various adornments, many maintain, was bestowed upon the world at large via ancient Peru.

Or not.

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Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
8:00 am
Sat September 7, 2013

Welcome To Ham Country

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We were in Atlanta for the annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival not long ago. The folks who started this up have hit the sweet spot on all manner of Southern cooking and drinking with this fest.

My son Justin and I were busy as bees over the 3 days and nights with various events---a dinner at the “Optimist’s Club,” a “nose-to-tail” demo on whole fish grilling at The Loews Hotel and finally a farewell party Sunday evening called “A Chorus of Greens” hosted by Atlanta star chefs, Annie Quatrano and Linton Hopkins. We did attend a few classes as well. One was on making Country Hams.

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