How a self-taught journeyman cook got an education

My Foundation Cookbooks

Victuals by Ronni Lundy
Victuals by Ronni Lundy

“I didn’t go to a cooking school. By the time I learned that they existed I’d been cooking about 7 years… mostly in Key West. When I found out how much the tuition was I knew that was not in the cards for me. But since I was very young I was in love with reading … and that came to save me.” –Norman Van Aken

There are many more books that came along later and are really great… but these have been chosen in that they were the original building blocks for me. Some are missing. I donated about 20 cases of books I’d collected over the years to The Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans a decade ago that are not here for me to pull from. Ken Hom is one that must be in the museum and there are others. One day I hope to return the most beloved of them to a place in Florida. The only ones here that came along kind of later are by Judy Rodgers’ and Ronni Lundy’s. Ronni’s book illuminates a land that was kept far too long from most Americans knowing almost anything about. Judy’s is a classic that is filled with love and knowledge that I want more people to know about. Charlie is here not because it was a building block but because he is my chosen brother. — Norman, 2018


  1. James Beard, Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, (Key West, 1978)
  2. Gaston Lenôtre, Desserts and Pastries (Key West, 1979)
  3. Jacques Pepin’s La Technique (Key West, 1979)
  4. The Time-Life Series, Key West, 1978-1980


  1. On Culture and Cuisine, Jean-François Revel, (Key West, 1988) I put this first because…
  2. Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking (Key West, 1986)
  3. The Book of Latin American Cooking, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (Key West)
  4. Bugialli’s Foods of Italy, (Key West, 7.23.86)
  5. The Book of Caribbean Cooking, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (Key West, 1987)
  6. Catalan Cuisine, Colman Andrews (Key West, 1988)
  7. The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, (Lake Forest, Il. 1982)
  8. The Cooking of Southwest France, Paula Wolfert (Key West, 1986)
  9. Elizabeth David’s Classics, Key West, 1987
  10. A.J. Mc Clane’s Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery, (Key West, 1986)
  11. Food, Waverley Root (Key West)
  12. Gourmet (Magazine) Cookbook Vol. 1 and 2, (Jupiter Beach, 1985)
  13. Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons, Jessica Harris. (Key West, 1989)
  14. Jeremiah Tower, New American Classics, (Key West, 1987)
  15. Louisiana Kitchen, Paul Prudhomme (Lake Forest, 1983)
  16. Marcella’s Kitchen, Marcella Hazan (Key West, 1987)
  17. The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, Barbara Tropp, (Key West, 1988)
  18. Jean Andrews “Peppers”, The Domesticated Capsicums, (Key West, 7.23.87)
  19. Food and Wines of Spain, Penelope Casas (Key West 1985)
  20. Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, Shizuo Tsuji, (intro by MFK Fisher, Key West)

The Three Star Chefs of Europe Series: Key West, (Key West around 1986-1988)

  1. Ma Gastronomie, Fernand Point
  2. Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, Roy Andries De Groot, (Key West 1986)
  3. Roger Vergé, Cuisines of the Sun
  4. The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean and Pierre Troisgros
  5. The Cuisine of Fredy Girardet
  6. The Three Star Recipes of Alain Senderens
  7. The Three Star Chefs of France, Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe, (Key West)
  8. Escoffier and the Guide to Fine Art Cookery (Key West)
  9. The French Menu Cookbook, Richard Olney, (a gift from the publisher, (1985, Key West)
  10. The Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin, (intro by MFK Fisher) (Miami Beach, 7.23.91)


  1. Why We Eat What We Eat, Raymond Sokolov, (Miami Beach, 1991)
  2. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child
  3. Charlie Trotter, (Charlie’s original book), May 1995
  4. A Taste of Cuba, Linette Green, (1991, Miami Beach)
  5. Blue Corn and Chocolate, Elizabeth Rozin, (Miami, 1992)
  6. Brazil, Christopher Idone, (1995)
  7. The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis
  8. Memories of a Cuban Kitchen, Mary Urrutia Randelman, (1992, Miami Beach)
  9. Southern Food, John Egerton
  10. Susanna Foo, “Chinese Cuisine”, (Miami, 1997)
  11. The Foods of Vietnam, Nicole Routhier, (Boca Raton, 1990)
  12. White Heat, Marco Pierre White


  1. Judy Rodger’s, Zuni Café, (Miami, 2002)
  2. Victuals, Ronni Lundy (Miami, 2017)


© 2023 Norman Van Aken. All rights Reserved.