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Friday, June 7, 2013

Chefs Norman and Justin Van Aken at Father's Day Event

Father-and-son chef team, Norman and Justin Van Aken, have joined forces with Keys chef, George Patti, to host a Father's Day dinner at M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom in Islamorada. The creative menu will include alternating courses from each chef starting at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 16.

The Van Akens met Patti when they dined at M.E.A.T., and both said they bonded over a love of making chorizo from scratch. They were soon coming up with different ways to collaborate, and Father's Day seemed a perfect fit.

"We really enjoy George's gutsy, hip, pub fare," said Justin Van Aken. "He and I are both first-time fathers, and we'll have our dads in the house as well. The event is really going to be something special."

Norman Van Aken is known internationally as the "founding father of New World Cuisine." Currently, he is the chef and director of restaurants at the Miami Culinary Institute in Downtown Miami, and he is the chef-owner at NORMAN'S at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando. He is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of "Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America."

Recently he co-wrote "My Key West Kitchen" with son Justin. Written as an homage to the multicultural cuisine in the Florida Keys, the cookbook features recipes inspired by some of their favorite people and eateries in Key West past and present.

At the Father's Day event, the duo will whip up several dishes from the cookbook such as Shrimp Po' Boy with hot sauce vinaigrette, fashioned after the dish at Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West.

"Like many things in the book, we eat something somewhere--like the Po' Boy at Half Shell or the pork chops at El Siboney--but we don't ask for a recipe," Norman Van Aken said. "We go home and try to recreate it somewhat faithfully and somewhat with the Van Aken spin."

They'll also be serving the unique Milk-Braised Pork Tacos with quick-pickled red onions, which was originally inspired by an Italian recipe.

"You don't normally think of braising in milk," Van Aken said. "You'd think that it would separate and break down, and that's exactly what happens. It does separate, but the sweetness of the milk becomes almost like a flan in a way. The pork becomes quite moist and delicious."

Patti, the chef/owner at M.E.A.T. and Tasters Grille and Market in Tavernier, will serve some of his specialties like lobster empanadas and homemade chorizo sliders. He will also put a spin on chicken and waffles by doing a Chicken Fried Quail and Waffles with a maple syrup gastrique.

Known for its "gourmet fast food" concept, M.E.A.T. has gained a loyal following, especially for savory items like bacon and porchetta that Patti cooks up in his cherry wood smokers. The restaurant has been garnering media accolades such as being named one of the top five best new restaurants in the Keys on and highlighted in Florida Travel and Life Magazine for their duck fat-fried French fries.

Beer expert, Rich Abrams from MicroMan distributing, will pair each course with an array of five craft beers. "We'll be using regular craft beers, as well as seasonal drafts," said Patti. "It's just like you're pairing wine, and I like a yin and yang approach. If a beer is sweet, pair it with spicy food, and if the beer is bitter, it gets sweet food."

Nutella-and-Guinness Adult Milkshake Shooters by Patti and a Georgia Peach and Pecan crisp with Sour Cream-Vanilla Ice Cream by Justin Van Akin will top off the meal. The Van Akens will also be on-hand to sign copies of "My Key West Kitchen."

M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom is located at mile marker 88 Oceanside in Islamorada. The event is $80 per person. Limited seating is available, so reservations are required. Call 305-852-3833 for more information.

Originally published in L'Attitudes in the Keynoter and Upper Keys Reporter.

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