Norman Van Aken's Word On Food Debuts

When it comes to Florida cuisine, the conversation starts with Norman Van Aken. The chef and author was among the first to realize the tropical food goldmine of the region, and his restaurants and cookbooks have had a huge influence on chefs in Florida and beyond. Now the chef/owner of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando and Director of Restaurants at Miami Culinary Institute, Van Aken is also hard at work on his next book, My Key West Kitchen (Kyle Books), due out in fall 2012. In the meantime, he'll contribute to Food Republic with his "Word On Food." First up, sandwich memories.

I was near a small sandwich stand in an open-air market like many you could see almost anywhere in the world. A radio was playing. Soft drink cans and cigarette packs lined the windows to the inside where a lady was stuffing soft buns with meats. There was a paper napkin dispenser advertising "Coca-Cola"®. This sandwich stand happened to be in Florence, Italy.

In my hack Italian I said, "Buon giorno Signora. Due Lampredotte, per favore." "We Italians are absolutely crazy about these sandwiches", my new friend Iano explained. "It is made from the stomach of the cow".

He had lived in the United States for a number of years before returning to his native land. He had eaten classic New York pastrami sandwiches, barbeque'd Carolina pork, good old All-American cheeseburgers but this cow's belly on a bun he asked me to join him in consuming is his all-time favorite sandwich. I have to admit, I liked it very much.

That might come as a surprise to one of my former babysitters. I received an e-mail recently from a girl who used to watch me when I was 5 years old and she was merely 12. After we got past the wonder of being reunited (via the Internet, albeit), she told me of a night when she fixed me a "Hot Dog on White Bread with Ketchup" for my dinner. She wrote, "You howled in protest!" and noted that I "refused on the grounds that a sandwich was not a proper dinner." I even "ate standing up, unwilling to sit at the table." My father came home later that night and consoled the disconsolate girl and even said that I "was unreasonable sometimes about food and its presentation."

Hell, I was just warming up!

It's pretty widely known now (and possibly even true), that an Englishman who held the title of "The Earl of Sandwich" invented sandwiches. Apparently he was an avid card player and wanted a way of conveying the foods of 19th century England to his mouth without greasing up the cards he loved playing so much. "Grouse on Rye with Stilton and Onion" and such, I imagine.

What would The Earl have thought of the Italian lamprodetta? He might have loved them. After all...he was a gambling man and it is a gutsy sandwich.

Not dinner perhaps...but still very good!