The Florida chef discusses his newest cookbook
Norman Van Aken has written four previous cookbooks, but few are as close to his heart as his newest My Key West Kitchen, which he wrote with his son to celebrate his adopted city. He isn’t originally from Key West, but it has in many ways shaped his life and his cooking. "I started cooking in Key West, and I’m originally from northern Illinois and Wisconsin, and in 1971 I got very tired of the cold, wintery weather and I went to Key West," he said.
When the Norman’s chef arrived in Key West, he was inspired by the vast flavors that had merged in the city, ranging from Cuban food to Haitian food. "We got the real deal, the real feeling of these ethnic flavors... and it totally created the template of my cuisine," he said.
The cookbook not only has dozens of recipes, ranging from Key Lime Pie to plantain soup, but each recipe also comes with a story. Van Aken felt that that piece of the book was not only necessary, but impossible to ignore: "The stories just flow out because when you’ve lived through them, they’re not just a collection of recipes, or a special where you did them in your restaurant, they all sort of have a connotation of the people who taught me the recipes" he said.
For more, watch the video above, and if you’re inspired to cook, pick up a copy of My Key West Kitchen.
The Epicurious Blog
I&aposve been to Florida once. The Miami/South Beach scene is quite memorable, but ultimately, it&aposs not really for me. The one part of Florida that does fascinate me (other than the Everglades) is the Florida Keys, in particular Key West. Maybe it has to do with its literary heritage (Papa Hemingway, Tennessee Williams), although it&aposs hard to deny the allure of white sand beaches and a tropical climate. But thanks to Norman Van Aken and Justin Van Aken&aposs My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Kyle), I can now add to that list, the island&aposs food.
Take a look at a map and you&aposll see just how close Key West is to its Caribbean and Latin American neighbors. So it&aposs really no surprise, then, that so many of the food and recipes the senior Van Aken writes about reflect the geography. Mollete Sandwiches, Chuletas Empanizadas, and Bahamian Conch Chowder are just a few examples. But perhaps the most endearing aspect of the book are the loving tributes to Key West personalities and locales done in a way that the Van Akens know best--through food. Woven throughout it all is Norman Van Aken&aposs own story of how he became a chef and how the Illinois-native ended up in Florida. The energy and feel to Key West seems unlike any place else don&apost be surprised if you have the urge to book a flight down after reading this book. But in case you can&apost, you&aposll be glad you have the recipes in hand to enjoy a little taste of the Conch Republic.
My Key West Kitchen
NVA: Mangoes originated in India, but today they are loved in cuisines all over the world. The Sanskrit word for mango is amra, meaning "of the people." I think barbecue means "of the people" in America so I have united them here. Justin and I demonstrate this dish at mango festivals from time to time. The bonus: We always bring a bowl of it premade so that the guests can have a taste. That means the batch we make up on stage comes home. You'll be left with half of the BBQ sauce from this recipe, but you'll be pleased as you can use it on any kind of thing in the world that you might barbecue. It is outrageously good on a burger.
Average user rating 1 / 4 Reviews 1 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 0 %
"Batido." This pretty little word is well known all over Latin America and to many in South Florida as well. A sweet and frothy fruit milkshake, it's as varied as the currently available fruits in season. Guanabana, mamey, atemoya, coconut, cherimoya, banana, tamarind and many others—all contributing their gorgeous colors and enticing fragrances! Put the pulp of any tropical fruit or fruits in an electric blender with a little ice, a splash of milk and hit the blend button. Moments later, in a frosty glass, a delicious, healthy, delectable fruit smoothy is waiting for you. The buttermilk is my own addition. If you like the tangyness of sour cream ice cream or crème fraîche you will like this as well. If not, you can omit the buttermilk and go the standard batido route. It's all good.
Average user rating 0 / 4 Reviews 1 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 100 %
Conch Salad, Man!
"Hey. Hey. I'm Frank, the Conch Salad Man. I'll sell you the world's best conch salad!" He was holding a huge white pickle bucket brimming with his conch salad. With no more explanation than that, he reached in and gave me a paper cup full. I tipped back a mixture of finely diced conch, tomatoes, red onions, Scotch bonnets, bell peppers, celery, citrus juices and herbs. The flavors of the sea were in there, too. Living in Key West was my culinary university I never needed more formal training. The place was filled with honest, in-your-face flavors that came from the Cuban, Bahamian and African-American residents and wanderers who passed through. I didn't move to Key West to re-invent the cuisine—I came to find a home. In the process, I found a path to both. In this recipe, you will taste the foundation of each.
Average user rating 3 / 4 Reviews 4 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 75 %
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Stone crab gazpacho
From My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories My Key West Kitchen by Norman Van Aken and Justin Van Aken
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- Categories: Soups American South Spanish
- Ingredients: tomatoes red onions yellow bell peppers English cucumbers tomato juice ground cumin Tabasco sauce bread stone crabs
Lost Kitchen Supper Club Event in Key West!
Lost Kitchen Spotlight Dinner: Chef Norman Van Aken
6:00pm “Meet and Greet” Reception
Lost Kitchen Supper Club is proud to present an evening with Chef Norman Van Aken, a James Beard Award semifinalist for the “Best Chef in America.” His namesake restaurant NORMAN’S, was nominated as a finalist for “Best Restaurant in America”, the only to yet reach that level in the history of Florida. He’s the author of five cookbooks which have been hailed by many including the late Anthony Bourdain and Charlie Trotter as well as Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. He credits his early days living and many years cooking in Key West for the inspiration behind his celebrated and highly acclaimed, “New World Cuisine”. He will be signing copies of his cookbook, “My Key West Kitchen”, co-authored with his son Justin at the dinner.
Passed Snacks include:Queso Blanco, Crushed Potato & Florida Avocado Mini Tostadas with Salsa Verde, Crispy Hush Puppies with Key West Lobster Salad, Grilled Moroccan Spiced Lamb Kabab ‘Bites’ with Cucumber Raita.
Dinner, served family style, will feature Chilled Rhum and Pepper Escabeche Fish with Mango Mojo and ‘Swamp Cabbage’ Slaw, Adobo Rubbed and Roasted Breast of Chicken, Calabaza-Boniato Mash, Tropical Fruit-Moonshine Chutney and for dessert “Havana Bananas” with Chocolate Sauce and Coconut Ice Cream.
Tax and Gratuity are not included in the price of dinner so please don’t forget to take care of the staff. Full bar available. Doors open at 6pm for the meet and greet cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres and dinner will be served around 7 PM.
STONE CRAB GAZPACHO
4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and
1/2 red onion, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 European (hothouse) cucumber, peeled, seeded
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cups tomato juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly toasted and ground cumin
A few dashes Tabasco sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
11/2 cups cubed bread, toasted or sauteÅLed in olive oil
until golden brown
2 cups cleaned stone crabmeat or other crabmeat
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except the
croutons and crabmeat, cover, and refrigerate until thoroughly
chilled, 2 to 3 hours.
Working in batches, if necessary, place the chilled soup in a blender
and quickly but very briefly pulse the soup. Gazpacho is best when
it retains some nice texture.
When ready to serve, taste to adjust the seasonings you may need
some salt. Ladle into chilled soup bowls, top with the croutons and
crab and serve.
Ingredient Note: We prefer a variety of heirloom tomatoes that have almost no seeds and are brilliant red.
You will get superior results if you can make this during the peak tomato season.
Photos are from My Key West Kitchen by Norman Van Aken & Justin Van Aken (Kyle Books 2012) Photo Credit: Penny de los Santos, used by permission of the publisher. The recipe, straight from the book, is also used by permission of the publisher. It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to disclose affiliate links. We hope that it will be useful to you to use the Amazon links here, but you need to know that if you shop through the links on this page, it will benefit Brette Sember. Thanks for helping.
Key West Backyard “Cut Up” Salad
Accomodations provided by:
The Marker Waterfront Resort
200 William Street
Key West, FL 33040
Special thanks for extra video featured in this episode: VISIT FLORIDA, Florida Keys & Key West, Library of Congress.
Special thanks also to our hosts, Maria and Rob Sharpe for opening their lovely Key West home to us.
Our Guest, Norman Van Aken, is best known for introducing “fusion” into the lexicon of modern cookery. He is also known as the “founding father of New World Cuisine” – a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, American and African flavors. He is the only Floridian Chef inducted into the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage”. He was a 2016 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee along with previous winners Wolfgang Puck and Jacques Pépin. Additionally, Van Aken is the host of “A Word on Food,” a radio show that airs twice a week on NPR, in addition to being a staff writer for one of the leading culinary websites, The Daily Meal. His columns, “Kitchen Conversations” feature chefs, authors, wine-makers, cocktail gurus and restaurant luminaries.
When he is not in the kitchen he can be found spending time with his wife, Janet son, Justin daughter-in-law Lourdes and his pride and joy, his granddaughter, Audrey Quinn Van Aken.
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Key West Conch Fritters
When you fly into Key West, the Spanish words Bienvenidos a Cayo Hueso! greet you upon arrival, signaling that you ain&rsquot in America so much anymore! Key West&rsquos airport is called Key West International, and back in the 1970s, the airport was more like a funky bus terminal in a southern town with a bar called the Great Escape that featured an all-girl topless band. It was owned by Stacy Harnish and the menu offered various preparations with the clam-like mollusk known as conch. We locals loved it. These days you can buy them from Venda Storr who has taken up frying and selling perfect conch fritters from the convenience of her driveway.
If I had to name two weather vanes that measure our cooking, I&rsquod say &ldquoacidity&rdquo and &ldquoheat.&rdquo It is also a given that we have meaty notes since we cook so many dishes centered around protein in our kitchen&mdasheven many of our vegetable dishes have a meaty power. So, while we don&rsquot typically strive for really spicy (although in some occasions we do), we very often are looking for something refreshing and lifting, even in a simple, everyday kind of sauce. Spice and acidity are the buttons to push, and in this cocktail sauce, you will notice the greater clarity they offer. Every bite counts. Every scintilla of what goes into cooking matters.
Norman Van Aken on 'My Key West Kitchen' - Recipes
Chef Norman Van Aken, Cookbook, My Key West Kitchen, Florida, FL, Recipes, Chef’s Recommendations, Chef Justin Van Aken, Cooking
Chef Norman Van Aken is known as the founding father of New World Cuisine -- a mixture of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He’s an inductee into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America and winner of Best Chef: Southeast. He’s the Director of Restaurants at the Miami Culinary Institute. He wrote his most recent cookbook, My Key West Kitchen, with his son Justin.
We asked him for his thoughts on the book and about Key West.
Cookbook | My Key West Kitchen
The thing about Key West is that most of knew that we were in love with the place. It wasn’t just a place to live and work in. It was our personal and collective Shangri-La.
Long before Jimmy Buffett wrote “Margaritaville,” we had already pledged allegiance to the magical little scrap of land at the end of the rainbow. We were stoned on it, bewitched, bothered and bewildered on it. We just felt lucky to be in the warm arms of her and when you walked the old, small, human-sized streets, lanes and alleys, you felt protected by some ancient maternal force.
For some of us America had betrayed our vision of fairness and sanity. The Vietnam War was over by the time most of us arrived but its memory, the dark machinations of political skullduggery, the wrongful ongoing racial divides, the endless quest for materialism were all dissolved in the tropical timelessness of old Key West. Something deep in our souls told us this was a place where you could find peace and quiet and camaraderie of like-minded, peace-loving people. On top of that it was stamped with an indelible raffish charm, an ineluctable joie de vivre. As one song put it, “Partly hippie, partly kicker too!”
It was a place where last names were irrelevant. You could remake yourself in Key West and no one would mind as long as you helped keep the good times rolling. We didn’t have money. We lived day to day and week to week but we were intent to do it with quality drinking establishments and places to dig the crazy matrix of foods not practiced in most of America saving, perhaps, New Orleans.
We were a “Confederation of the Charmed,” a “Republic of Renegades.” We were under a spell.
A Key West Itinerary for Foodies
It won&rsquot take foodies long to fall in love with Key West with its multi-cultural blend of vibrant flavors from Cuba, the Bahamas and other far-flung locales. Award-winning chef Norman Van Aken credits his years of living and working in Key West as the foundation for developing his revolutionary New World Cuisine. Recently he and his son Justin wrote My Key West Kitchen, a cookbook that features recipes inspired by some of their favorite people and eateries on the island. Follow this itinerary to discover some of the dishes that inspired this notable chef.
Get your day started at Sandy&rsquos Café, a small Cuban restaurant at the end of the M& M Laundry building on White Street. Yes, you read right. It&rsquos at a laundromat. Let this be your introduction to the funky synergy of Key West. Step up to the window and order a colada, an espresso-style brew to share, or a café con leche, a Latin latte with steamed milk. Try any of their breakfast sandwiches on fresh pressed Cuban bread. Don&rsquot miss the pastelitos, a delicious pastry similar to an American turnover but in fun Caribbean flavors like guava.
Half Shell Raw Bar &mdash Photo courtesy of Half Shell Raw Bar For lunch, go old-school at either Half Shell Raw Bar or Hogfish Bar and Grill. They both serve up the freshest fish with no frills just like the classic joints of Key West past. At the Half Shell, nosh on the Shrimp Po&rsquo Boy sandwich or the conch ceviche, while looking out over the Historic Seaport at the Bight. Hogfish Grill is located in the Safe Harbor Marina on Stock Island, a five minute drive from Key West. Try anything that&rsquos made with their namesake specialty. The &ldquoKiller&rdquo Hogfish Sandwich and Hogfish Fingers are a good start or dig into a plate of &ldquoPeel &lsquon&rsquo Eat&rdquo Key West pink shrimp. Both restaurants call for an ice cold beer.
[PHOTO_235838]Dinner offers two distinct choices--the low-key Cuban restaurant, El Siboney, or the upscale Caribbean-American spot, Louie&rsquos Backyard. El Siboney is located in an unassuming brick building hidden off Catherine Street. Here you can have generous portions of authentic Cuban fare at reasonable prices. Try the white bean soup, tender roast pork and the sweet plantains. Indulge in the rich creamy flan for dessert. At Louie&rsquos Backyard you&rsquoll find breathtaking views of the Atlantic and island specialties like conch fritters spiced up with a hot pepper jelly or a unique version of shrimp and grits made with Key West pinks, mushrooms and bacon. Finish with a slice of refreshing Key lime pie with a twist--a gingersnap crust.
[PHOTO_235843]After you polish off that last bit of dessert, mosey on over to Van Aken&rsquos favorite bar for a nightcap (or three) at the Green Parrot Bar. This funky dive is known for its &ldquono sniveling" motto, rocking live music and characters galore. Order up one of their long-time specials–a Root Beer Barrel Shot. This tasty combo of root beer schnapps and light beer will quickly have you ordering another round.
Claudia Miller lives in Key Largo at the top of the Florida Keys. She chatted with Chef Norman Van Aken at a special event at the Green Parrot where he was cooking up chicken and waffles and signing his new book My Key West Kitchen.