Norman Van Aken’s
1921 Culinary Masterpiece
By Alona Abbady Martinez
James Beard Awarded Chef Norman Van Aken, widely regarded as the founding father of New World Cuisine, has merged fine art with his renowned cuisine in his latest endeavor, 1921 by Norman Van Aken. Located inside a quaint house built in 1921, in the heart of Florida’s diverse agriculture region, the restaurant in Mount Dora is the latest culinary canvas for the chef credited by Smithsonian Magazine as having revolutionized the American restaurant scene.
At Home with Van Aken
1921 by Norman Van Aken opened in September 2016 and features what Chef Van Aken calls Modern Florida Cuisine.
“I feel like a film director in some ways, where I purposefully try to push myself into a new arena and do something that I haven’t really done before. I think it’s impossible to completely remake yourself. The point is to put yourself in another geography or another century or another way of looking at food. I wanted to see how I could interpret a modern Florida cuisine and not repeat myself by utilizing so much of the Latin and Caribbean basis of the cuisine I first experienceed in Key West.”
Guests will not be disappointed, indulging in appetizers like Cape Canaveral White Shrimp with Jacksonville Purple Rice Grits, ‘Nduja Vinaigrette and Ramp Butter ($14) and Roasted Romanesco Salad with Pistachio and Caper Pesto,
Soft Farm Egg, Roasted Garlic Purée and Ash Oil ($12) and entrees like Yellow Edge Grouper with Crispy Tofu, Herb Salad, Kaffir Lime & Garlic Chips ($36) and Smoked Beef Shoulder with Sunchoke Purée, Pickled Ramps, Summer Truffles and Black Truffle Jus ($38)- you can supplement with Australian Winter Black Truffle for an additional $13.
An Artful Dining Experience
Chef Van Aken has partnered with the Modernism Museum next door to the restaurant and incorporates many elements from the museum’s art collection as part of the eatery’s design.
“Ever since I was young, I was fascinated with art and felt like the highest notion of living is about being artistic. I’ve been mightily inspired by all kinds of artists.”
The unprecedented museum collection contains works by Wendell Castle, George Nakashima, Paul Evans and Dale Chihuly in various mediums, with a recent purchase of David Bowie’s collection of Memphis art to appear on display soon.
With so many fine works of art, it’s hard for Chef Van Aken to pinpoint a favorite.
“I love the philosophy of the artists, such as Nakashima. He really wasn’t about making a table or a bench as he was about repurposing the life of a tree. Something about that aesthetic really hit me,” he said.
Van Aken speaks of one of his first mentors, a Japanese chef, who worked with him when he was first starting out in Illinois, when the connection between fine art and culinary arts was vividly clear.
“The Japanese chef would go out to the yard of the inn and collect dandelion leaves to make a salad at a time when foraging wasn’t even thought of in the culinary mainstream. He was looking at nature and what can be created with it. Similarly, Nakashima’s art philosophy was also about that.” 1921 combines both of these themes, as well. Why not venture to Mount Dora for a curated culinary tour you won’t soon forget.