Known internationally as the man who created New World cuisine, Florida chef Norman Van Aken has always been a bit of a culinary superhero. In the 1980s he revolutionized the way Americans think about flavor by blending Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African, and American cuisines and tastes. Today, he oversees his acclaimed restaurant Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Florida. Van Aken is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard “Who’s Who in American Cooking.” He won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast in 1997, and his restaurant, Norman’s of Coral Gables, was deemed best restaurant in Florida by The New York Times. Gourmet magazine named it as one of America’s Top Tables. The James Beard Foundation named Norman’s as The Best Restaurant in America in its first year of eligibility.
The godfather of fusion talked to Hungry Beast about eight of his favorite recipes from his cookbook, New World Kitchen: Latin American and Caribbean Cuisine.
1. Sugarcane Marinade This marinade is one of my all-time heroes. Try it on breasts of chicken and you’ll see what can make a chicken sing. But don’t limit yourself—I use it most often on duck breasts. You can immerse the portions or you can apply it like a barbecue sauce as you cook everything from birds to pork. I’ve even marinated portobello mushrooms and prepared them for my vegetarian friends.
2. Black Bean, Tropical Fruit, and Queso Blanco Salsa Since the publication of New World Kitchen, this dish has become one of our go-to dishes for when we are doing any kind of tailgate, office, or cocktail party. I have given this recipe to members of our family (tough critics!) and they l-o-v-e this salsa! They end up getting big compliments from their group of friends. What could be better than bragging rights so easily attained?
3. Tiradito of Scallops This is a technique even more than a recipe. It will open up a whole ocean of ideas for you. It is basically a Peruvian-Japanese marriage between sushi and ceviche. I look for the freshest fish, so the scallops here are only an illustration. I like it equally with line-caught fish like salmon, snapper, and tuna.
4. Papas Chorreadas with Romaine Imagine macaroni and cheese, but sub out the pasta for potatoes and you get an idea of how delicious this Colombian dish is. I use it most often to accompany a great grilled steak or a baked ham.
5. Curried Chicken with Pineapple, Cucumber, and Coconut The oceanic crossroads that unite Asian, Indian, and Caribbean cookery are met in the magical flavors of this dish. The coconut milk (yes, out of a can is fine) gently tames the curry’s fire in a way that will make converts out of those not yet in love with the spice so emblematic of India.
6. Grill-Roasted Rack of Lamb in Red Mole With not much more than a few minutes of oven cooking, a spice grinder, and a blender, you can make your own classic mole—a sauce that has often confounded even dedicated chefs. It might also introduce you to the cooking bananas known as plantains. It was that very ingredient that caused me to form my initial love of Caribbean cuisine. More than a recipe, this could be your ticket south.
7. Chicken and Seafood Stew with Coconut Milk and Nuts (Xinxim) This dish is one that I admittedly classify as a “master class” recipe in a book we wanted to keep simpler than many chef-written cookbooks. But anything less would have been a disservice to this Afro-Brazilian dish bearing a melodic Portuguese name. Its mixing of chicken and seafood is akin to paella, but it is truly a product of the Old World crashing onto the shores of the New, where history was forever changed.
8. Coconut Kisses The flavor of these “dessert amuse-bouches” will make you feel the kiss the name implies. Brace your knees—it will be a deep, chocolaty kiss. I love to serve them with vibrantly colored purees of various seasonal fruits for contrast and refreshing lift.
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