We should count our lucky stars that culinary legend Norman Van Aken runs not one, but two restaurants right in our backyard. His latest, 1921 by Norman Van Aken, is an absolute stunner and, along with chef de cuisine (and legend in the making) Camilo Velasco, Van Aken says he's on a mission to "give voice, flavor and setting" to cooking in modern-day Florida.
"I was in the middle of writing My Florida Kitchen, and I'd done a lot of research, travel and cooking to determine what that was to me," Van Aken recalls. "Then we opened 1921 and, in large part, the new book became the template for our menus."
If you've had the pleasure of dining at 1921, you'll know those menus are deeply rooted in the history of Florida and explore the rich diversity of the Sunshine State. Van Aken came up with the term "fusion" a long time ago to give himself clarity on how he wanted to approach cooking. In the 1921 kitchen, Van Aken and Velasco – the "Killer V's" – marry what they describe as "astonishing" hyperlocal ingredients, then stamp their fingerprints of fusion on such remarkable dishes as Titusville spiny lobster and rock shrimp dumplings with country ham dashi; dazzling whole Cape Canaveral white shrimp with Anson Mills grits dashed with spiced 'nduja vinaigrette and ramp butter; or pan-roasted duck breast with duck confit, mole poblano and trumpet mushrooms.
Van Aken declares, "We wouldn't be the restaurant we are without the partnership we've forged with many farmers, fishermen and artisanal suppliers." No doubt Florida's bounty of flora and fauna reigns at 1921, and it's easy to see why Van Aken feels ever so grateful for that largesse as well as the procurers who help bring it to the restaurant's splendid tables. —FK
1921 by Norman Van Aken
142 E. Fourth Ave., Mount Dora