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Chef Norman Van Aken Chats Up His New Book

Norman Van Aken at Flavorisha

Chef Norman Van Aken got his start while was working the merry-go-round for a traveling carnival.  He didn’t think it was that exciting. He spoke about that experience and also his new book, “No Experience Necessary” at Flavorish Market recently. When asked about his carny colleagues and if they had gone onto successful careers like him, he replied “Most of those guys end up in the slammer.” Van Aken left the carnival circuit and gravitated towards restaurants, “I kept going back to restaurants, there was something about them. When I would go for an interview, I wasn’t trying to be a chef, I was just trying to survive.”

When the Chef Van Aken was working for, Chef Fred Boomer, he broke both of his arms – that proved to be his own “big break.” Van Aken that had to step in and pick up the slack. Chef Boomer was famous for his incredible soups – Van Aken learned how to make them all. “I asked every dumb question anyone’s ever asked so I could make his soups,” said Van Aken. He learned how to make all of Boomer’s soups and went on to establish himself as one of the great chefs in the world.

My Key West Kitchen Norman Van Aken

Norman Van Aken has been described as ‘legendary, visionary and a trailblazer’. He is known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world. He is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage.” His restaurant “NORMAN’S” was nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant in America”. He has been a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America”. In 2006, he was honored as one of the “Founders of the New American Cuisine.”

Chef Van Aken has published six cookbooks and his radio show, “A Word on Food” appears twice a week on PBS WLRN 91.3. He is the Chef and Co-Owner of “NORMAN’S at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando.”

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Easter at My Fave Places

happy easter

Don’t have your Easter meal plans yet?  HA!  Well, neither do I.  Seems like everyone is having some sort of celebration and all the pictures look delicious, so I’m still trying to figure it out.  In case, you are in the same boat, I’ve compiled a list of some of the yummiest fares that I’ve come across.  Here’s how it’s going down in some of my favorite places in Miami.  Let me know what you decide, perhaps I will join you.

Four Seasons Hotel Miami

EDGE Terrace Daylight

The EDGE, located in the Four Seasons (on Brickell), is on of my favorite spots to dine.  The EDGE never disappoints and this Sunday they wil offer an elaborate Easter Brunch buffet with everyday breakfast favorites, fresh seafood, made-to-order BBQ, unlimited a la carte options, whole roasted pork prepared in a traditional Latin style in a Caja China and special holiday favorites.  An extravagant assortment of sweets prepared by our in-house pastry chef, free-flowing mimosas, mojitos, Bloody Marys and draft beer complete the Easter Brunch experience.  You can dine in or outdoors–the shaded terrace is my favorite spot.

Some of my favorite things on the Easter menu include:

·    Roasted Leg of Aussie Lamb stuffed with Figs and Brioche and served with Mint Chimichurri
·    Whole Roasted “Tomahawk” Rib Eye with Rosemary Black Pepper Honey
·    Potato Gnocchi “Made Live” with Mushrooms, Spring Peas and Shaved Fresh Black Truffle

Easter Brunch is from 11:30-3, but there’s a special Egg Hunt for kids at 10:30.  It’s $99 for adults and wee ones (ages 5-12) eat for $32.  Get more information and make reservations by calling 305-381-3190.

Trump International Beach Resort



My friends at Neomi’s in the Trump International Resort (on Sunny Isles) have great feast planned.  It includes things like Lobster Deviled Eggs, Rolled Prime Rib Roast (with Coffee BBQ sauce), and Cherries Jubilee Bread Pudding!  WHOA!  Chef K is even toasting “Peeps S’mores” for guests at a dedicated station.  Here’s a sneak Peep!

Their kids program, called Planet Kids is also planning a slew of activities, starting with a traditional Easter Egg Hunt on the lower lawn.  The Easter Bunny will be there! Brunch runs from 1pm-6pm and is $65 for adults, $25 for kids 6-12.  Unlimited champagne and mimosas will cost another $20.  Make reservations by calling 305-692-5770.

The Biltmore

Eggs Benedict

The Biltmore (in Coral Gables) hosts an extravagant Champagne Brunch every Sunday, but they are going all out for Easter.  The menu includes a Eggs Benedict with Black Truffle Hollandaise, Dijon Maple Pork Shoulder, a Sushi Station, and a Seafood, Caviar, and Raw Bar station.  The Easter Bunny will hop around for pictures with families.  They threw in live entertainment and bottomless Champagne and Bellinis, for good measure.

Brunch is $95 for adults and $47.50 for children (ages 5-11).  It starts at 10am and the last seating is at 2pm.  Make reservations by calling 305-913-3200.

NOM NOM, folks!

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Need to Borrow a Yacht?


It happens.  It really does.  There comes a time in every South Floridian‘s life when they just need to borrow a yacht.  It happens.  It might be for a party, or a corporate event, or to entertain family coming in from Polar Vortex central.  Regardless of the reason, we always find ourselves looking around saying, “Self, where can we get a yacht?”  Well, here’s my solution.  Call up Windridge Yacht Charters.

They are the first high-end, full service yacht charter service in South Florida.  The fleet includes the 170ft Lady Windridge  and the 131ft Windridge K.  The Lady Windridge accommodates up to 432 guests on three spacious levels and a captivating rooftop deck. For a more intimate experience, the Windridge K features two levels of elegant interiors for entertaining up to 149 guests.  You can even charter for events for as few as 10 people.

PicMonkey Collage

The company has been in business for 35 years and has just joined Entertainment Cruises, the nation’s largest dining and sightseeing cruise company.  Plan your event with them and don’t forget to invite me!

 Disclosure:  I am NOT being compensated in any way for this post.  I just love the brand and wanted to share.  All opinions are my own.

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You’re Invited to Healthy Glow with Laura Mercier Cosmetics


Last night, I had a dream that was both the BEST dream ever and the WORST dream ever.  I dreamed that my oncologist told me that it was all a big mistake.  That I didn’t have cancer.  That I wasn’t living with terminal cancer.  That was the BEST part.  Then I woke up and realized that it was only a dream.  That was the WORST part.  I’m sure the dream stemmed from anxiety caused by meeting with my doctor this week and hoping that he pronounces me STILL cancer free.  But, whether he does or not, I have work to do.  I have to warn women about this horrible thing-this Ovarian Cancer.  I have to tell them about the silent symptoms and urge them to trust their own knowledge of their bodies.

This mission is one of the most important things in my life right now.  Because of this, I’ve sought out organizations and companies that I can partner with to bring about awareness, as well as funding.  One such company is Laura Mercier CosmeticsLaura Mercier has witnessed this battle up close–one of her dear friends has been fighting for years.  The President and CEO of the parent company to Laura Mercier, Claudia Poccia lost a sister to this nasty, vile disease.  Together they formed the Laura Mercier Ovarian Cancer Fund.  In addition to other work, the Fund hosts Shop for a Cause–products whose entire profit goes to the fund.  There is a lip gloss, a face powder, and the Bonne Mine. Here are both women talking about the reasons they are committed to this disease.

I’m partnering with Laura Mercier to both bring awareness while raising some much needed dollars.  Next Tuesday, at Bloomingdale’s in Aventura Mall, I’m hosting #JewelsHEALTHYGlow.  It’s a master class where women will learn to use the Bonne Mine palette, a universal palette that can be used for bronzing, cheek color, and glow.  Bonne Mine means “Healthy Glow” and it’s suitable for ANY complexion.

Because I want EVERYONE to be included, I’m hosting the same event TWICE in one day–at NOON and again at 7pm.  The price of admission?  JUST BUY ONE OF THE PRODUCTS.  I’m not making a dime in this deal, I just want you to hear my story, know and learn the symptoms, and help me rid the world of this disease.

Please help me.  Call Bloomingdale’s at 305-792-1223 to reserve your spot.  Even if you’re not in the area, please consider buying one of the products online.  Or simply tweet out the hashtag–I will be FOREVER grateful.  Thank you!

Jewel Laura Mercier 4.22.14 evite

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Sing for Your Supper at Hard Rock Cafe

pink mic

Tomorrow is Tax Day.  And this year, Hard Rock Cafe is cutting Americans a break by asking them to lay down their wallets and pick up the mic.  At all US locations, including those in Miami, Hollywood, Key West, Orlando and Tampa, they are giving patrons a chance to “sing for their supper.”

Yep, guests  an select their favorite song and take the stage to perform.  Guests who perform a complete song on the Hard Rock Cafe’s live music stage in front of the entire restaurant will receive a free dinner entree from Hard Rock’s new menu.  New menu items include the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich, Arugula Salad with Shaved Marinated Chicken or Fiesta Burger (or Veggie Burger).

“Sing for Your Supper combines two of Hard Rock’s founding principles – music and scratch-based, all-American cuisine – and gives our fans an opportunity to sample our new fresh, authentic offerings,” said John Galloway, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Hard Rock International. “We hope that locals and guests in all of our U.S. markets take advantage of our Tax Day relief efforts and share their talents on our stages.”

Who’s doing it? If you are, let me know, as I want to BE THERE!

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I’m a Transitions Ambassador


Back in junior high, one of my teachers suggested an eye exam for me.  She had noticed that I had a hard time seeing.  She was right.  I got my first pair of glasses and started a lifelong long/hate relationship with vision correctors.  Throughout my youth and young adulthood, I’d always deemed myself “too cute for glasses.”  HA!  I even wore contacts for a bit.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve worn glasses regularly.  I never really wore sunglasses consistently until I moved to the Sunshine State.  They are absolutely NECESSARY here.  About 5 years ago, when purchasing a pair of prescription glasses, the optician talked me into getting a pair that had the matching, magnetic sun glass overlay.  Did I think I was cute?  YES.  Were they practical?  NO.  When I came inside and snatched them off, I then had to find a place to put them.  They just weren’t practical.

About that same time, the Hubs got a new pair of glasses and the SAME optician suggested to him that he get Transitions lenses.  I came home with a bulky magnetic thing–they were cute though–and he comes home with his glasses and sunglasses all in one.  He didn’t have to take anything off when he came inside.  He didn’t need to keep switching frames.  His glasses could be worn inside AND outside.  All day.  Who was #WINNING?  Not me.

transitions lenses collage

Then, last year I was lucky enough to meet the cool folks from Transitions at the SOBE Wine & Food Festival.  A few months later, I met up with them again at Hispanicize.  We got along famously.  Still, it was a bit of surprise when they emailed me earlier this year and asked me to be a Transitions Ambassador.  Of course, I agreed.  Especially after realizing that the ambassadorship came with a new pair of Transitions lenses.  Who was #WINNING now?  ME!

transitions collage

What exactly ARE Transitions lenses?  Well, it’s best to experience them.  Here’s a link to their cool 360° Virtual Viewer.  It shows you how you actually see the world–with and without their lenses.  And ANYONE can wear them–they are designed to fit any frame, style, size and prescription.  Even kids wear them!  They don’t just look great, they protect again eye strain and fatigue, while blocking 100% of UVA/UVB light.

Can you tell that I love this brand?  I do.  I’m #WINNING!

Disclosure:  I am a Transitions Ambassador for 2014.  I have been provided this cool pair of eye glasses with Transitions lenses.  I will also represent Transitions at several conferences this year.  They will cover some of my expenses for these trips.  All opinions are my own. 

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Lots of Dots

fraas dottie3

If I had a signature look, it would probably be black leggings paired with some sort of oversized top.  I’m not sure when I started wearing the leggings, I just looked up a few years ago and had accumulated huge collection of black ones.  Since then, I’ve added a few other colors, but black is my general go-to.  In fact, I had to pack for a conference last week and the first things in my suitcase were 5 pairs of black leggings, followed by various tops.

One morning, I threw on a pair with a black peplum shirt.  When I looked in the mirror, I felt like it was just “BLAH.”  Until I remembered the dotted scarf that Fraas had just sent me for review.  It had been one of the last items that I tossed into my bag.  I pulled it out and still wasn’t sure if I liked it with this outfit.  After all, it was BRIGHT green with white polka dots.  But it was also long enough that I could tie it up real fancey.  After a few minutes of gawking at myself, I decided to go with it, especially since I was almost late for breakfast.

fraas dottie collage

Boy, am I glad that I did!  It turned out to be the hit of the day!  I’ve never gotten as many compliments on a scarf before.  One of the female members of the Intercontinental Miami Hotel’s staff even admired it on the elevator going down.  I ended up taking more than a few pics that day, including one that was entered into a contest to win a trip to Italy.  Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but don’t you just love the pic?

This scarf, called the Spring Dottie, retails for only $32 and is available in a nice palette of colors–including turquoise, yellow, pink, and taupe.  I’m thinking that I want to get a turquoise one as well.  Actually, any of them will do–they all match with black leggings, right!

Disclosure:  I was provided this Fraas Spring Dottie scarf for review purposes.  You can order one by calling 212-575-0191.  All opinions are my own. 

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