Chef Jenneil “Jenn” Ross Brings the First Jamaican Vegan Restaurant to the Historic Town of Eatonville in Florida

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Visitors never ceased to be mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, smells, and taste of the bustling culinary scene in Florida.  Nicknamed the “Sunshine State”, Florida is one of those states where you can become captivated by the diversity of its culinary scene whether it’s fine dining, the farmer’s market, a street fair, or a quaint café.  I’ve said it once, and I will say it again, any direction you choose, the road will take you to a dining experience that simmers and stirs your soul, leaving you breathless and yearning for more, and definitely bringing you back time and time again to Florida.

Orlando, Florida, known as the home of our beloved Mickey Mouse has turned into a mecca of culinary delights and hidden treasures attracting foodies and celebrate chefs alike. Just six miles north of Orlando, you will find the historic town of Eatonville.   This historic little town is the oldest and the nation’s first incorporated black township and is part of the Orlando–Kissimmee metropolitan statistical area and is known as the town “Where Dreams Are Made.” 

Although author Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance writer best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God” might be Eatonville’s most celebrated celebrity, Chef Jenn has become a household name with her Jamaican vegan dishes and her home-made vegan ice cream. Believe it or not, it all started with an idea, a blog,  teaching cooking classes, a meal plan and delivery service, and a restaurant in the middle of a gas station in Orlando, Florida. 

Jenneil “Jenn” Ross, chef and owner of the DaJen Eats Café & Creamery left her beloved home of Jamaica at the tender age of 16 and found herself in America and quickly learned that dining in might be a more cost-effective way to save money instead of dining out.  A self-taught chef, Jenn studied the art of cooking and learned how to cook and eventually harness her craft and created vegan dishes that provided a healthier option to those who frequent inside the Citgo on North Orange Blossom Trail near Lee Road where DaJen Eats first started and became well-known for their vegan-Jamaican sandwiches and rice bowls. After Jenn’s lease in Citgo abruptly ended, Jenn introduced her cult following to something as equally as amazing as her vegan food and lead her followers to her café in the historic Eatonville at 323 E. Kennedy Blvd. 

Eatonville is a predominately African American community and food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States is usually prepared in a style of cooking originated during American slavery referred to as “soul food”. Although soul food is often referred to as comfort food, soul food was born out of the necessity and survival of African slaves who were given only the undesirable cuts of meat from their masters. Ingredients commonly found in soul food has contributed to the high occurrences of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiac and circulatory problems among African Americans.

 For the residents of the historic Eatonville and its surrounding communities, Dajen Eats raises the bar on the culinary diversity that is available within the community providing a healthier food option without sacrificing taste. My impromptu visit to Eatonville led me to DaJen Eats for Sunday Brunch.  Normally during the week, DaJen Eats’ menu consists mostly of their famous vegan-Jamaican sandwiches and rice bowls. However, Sunday is a day of decadence at DaJen Eats. My palate was seduced by the deliciously plant-powered ode to the classic Jamaican Oxtail, “Hoax Tail”.  There’s a saying at DaJen Eats The “meat” may be a hoax, dahling, but the flavor is real.”  To say that the flavor was real would be an understatement, I don’t think that I ever had a real oxtail as flavorful and as delicious as the DaJen Eats’ hoax tail.

While dining in the café a couple dining at the table across from me suggested that I try the mouth-watering Curry Chick’n and Potatoes. As an island girl, curry chicken and potatoes is one of those comfort food dishes that I always looked forward to my mom making as a child.   I’ve tried many times to duplicate my mom’s recipe, I’ve ordered it plenty of times in Caribbean restaurants and always found myself disappointed because it just wasn’t as good as my mom’s, well until now. Hands down this was the best non-chicken, curry chicken and potatoes dish I have ever had, I’m sorry mom. 

There’s also plenty of other options on the menu like Jerk Chick’n Flatbread, Jerk BBQ Jackfruit Sammich, Ackee & Toast, Brown-Stew Cauliflower, Garlic toast and all if Pur Salads.  On this particular day Chef Jenn was preparing for the launch of her first Dinner and A Story Book Club featuring the book BECOMING” by Michelle Obama.  The atmosphere was as vibrant, fun-loving, and as charismatic as Chef Jenn. Her adoration for books is clearly front and centered inside the café, you will find a free lending library area designed with all the comforts of home. Her goal is to open people’s mind to something new and make veganism and African American culture accessible to everyone.

While I was browsing through the books and eating Irie Cream, the Irie Cream is DaJen Eats homemade vegan ice cream, I found myself ending a perfect afternoon at DaJen Eats with an Irie ending with a little “Rum Raisin The Roof”.   Irie pronounced Eye-ree means a good or pleasing, state of mind, and I was definitely pleased with my entire culinary experience.

Vegnews declared DaJen Eats “Rum Raisin The Roof” Irie Cream as one of the top 50 desserts in the United States.  However, if you can’t make it to Eatonville during your visit to Orlando for this grown-up version of Chef Jenn’s favorite ice cream, then head over to Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park on Park Avenue and grab DaJen Eats’ Rum Raisin The Roof” Irie Cream in Peterbrooke Chocolatier grab and go freezer.  The raisins in this grown-up treat are soaked in spiced overproof rum for at least 3 weeks.

 

Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, DaJen Eats will definitely bring us to Eatonville time and time again.  It’s no wonder why DaJen Eats has been crowned the Best Caribbean Restaurant during 2018 Best of Orlando Reader’s Choice competition hosted by Orlando Weekly.  DaJen Eats is definitely the Home of the Irie, Happy Vegan. However, if you’re not a vegan, don’t worry, the food will seduce you into becoming one.

DaJen Eats Cafe & Creamery

Vegan restaurant

Address: 323 E Kennedy Blvd suite f, Eatonville, FL 32751

Hours:

Wednesday        7AM–7PM

Thursday             7AM–7PM

Friday    7AM–8PM

Saturday              11AM–8PM

Sunday 11AM–4PM

Monday               Closed

Tuesday               7AM–7PM

Menu: places.singleplatform.com

Order: grubhub.com, seamless.com

Phone: (407) 775-5791

 

Guy Fieri Invites His Chef-Friends Over For A Sunday Cook-Off On A New Series ‘Guy’s Ranch Kitchen’ On The Food Network

 

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Guy Fieri invites some of his chef-friends over for Sunday cook-offs on Guy’s Ranch Kitchen beginning on Sunday, November 12th at 12pm ET/PT.  Each week, Guy and a few of his best chef pals come together for a Sunday meal with big flavors and delicious dishes. On the premiere episode, Guy hosts a mouth-watering Friendsgiving to celebrate Thanksgiving.

With “too many cooks in the kitchen,” friendly competition sparks as they try to outdo each other with the most flavorful and delicious dishes.  Alex Guarnaschelli creates a delicious hot brie sandwich with a tangy cranberry vinaigrette and Eric Greenspan reinvents a traditional holiday dish with his crispy sweet potato latkes and marshmallow crème fraiche. Aarti Sequeira prepares samosas, an Indian food favorite, stuffed with the flavors of Thanksgiving, while Carl Ruiz takes a Latin approach to his dish filling empanada pastries with cranberry and turkey.

It’s not a celebration without libations and dessert, so Aaron May pours a Portuguese-style sangria with cranberry and cinnamon to go with delicious handheld pumpkin and pecan pies. As the chefs add their own personal flair, each recipe prepared in Guy’s Ranch Kitchen can be recreated in anyone’s kitchen at home.  Fans can head to FoodNetwork.com/GuysRanchKitchen to browse behind-the-scenes photos of your favorite chefs, watch video extras and get the recipes.  Tell us which dishes are your favorite using #GuysRanchKitchen.

Destination Florida: Redefining the Culinary Journey in Florida with the restaurant Monger by the Voltaggio Brothers, Chef Bryan and Chef Michael Voltaggio

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Dolly Parton once said that her weakness has always been food and men…in that order. In the State of Florida, you will find no shortage of chefs, food artisans, and food enthusiasts redefining the culinary scene.  With its vibrant colors, diverse culture, and agriculture that provides a plethora options, making Florida a mecca that has attracted many award-winning chefs. No matter what road you choose in Florida, you will always be lead to the ultimate culinary experience, and in 2017, if you don’t want to take a road, you can now relax in comfort and take the train.

MiamiCentral and Brightline has come together to bring you Central Fare, the ultimate urban marketplace. “This will be a new gathering place, a unique culinary destination showcasing the talents of both and national artisans, tastemakers, and chefs” said David McIntyre, Senior Vice President of operations from MiamiCentral and Brightline.

MiamiCentral is a new 11-acre mixed use development is the heart of Downtown Miami and the future home of the Brightline train service. The project which is the first of its kind in Florida, will feature 20 food and retail purveyors, and 6 restaurants. Connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando, Brightline, is helping redefine the meaning of culinary tour by enhancing the culinary journey by making the places we love to eat more accessible by train.

Monger, located in the heart of Central Fare, will be the signature dining experience and the first collaborative restaurant in Florida, by the Voltaggio Brothers, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio.  Monger is a 10,000-square foot restaurant where guest can curate their own meals.  The restaurant will have separate kitchens that will coordinate with the dining areas representing its three distinct culinary sources such as the green grocer, the fish monger, and the butcher.  This concept will give diners and up close and personal experience, evoking the intimate feeling of dining at home among artwork, residential furniture and custom design lighting.

Bryan and Michael Voltaggio best known for their time on Bravo’s Emmy winning season of Top Chef and their 2011 co-authored cookbook, VOLT.ink” has also been featured on the Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, and the Food Network. The idea behind the restaurant is to make it a guest driven restaurant.  “Brightline is connecting people to and from their destination.  We’re doing the same thing with the menu,” says Michael Voltaggio.  “We’re providing the ingredients.  We’re cooking for you.  You decide what that destination is.”

 

 

 

Because this Love is a Shore thing: Chef Burton Peterson of the Cast Iron Pot in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Just like many days and nights before, the aroma of Conch Butter Sauce, Souse and Potato Salad, and many, many, other traditional Caribbean dishes wafts through the air. Like magic, the aroma beckons you, leading you to the heart of Estate Princesse, right off Northside Road to the Cast Iron Pot in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

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And the man behind the magic, no other, then award-winning, Chef Burton Peterson. Peterson who once worked in the famed Waldorf Astoria in New York, is no stranger when it comes to creating eventful and intricate dishes for U.S. Presidents, Celebrities, Royalty, and Brides. This is probably why the Cast Iron Pot possesses an air of seclusion that makes you feel like royalty from the moment you enter the main dining area. You know you have officially arrived to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, when you’ve had a meal or two, at the Cast Iron Pot.

Like so many before him, Peterson traded in the city that never sleeps, for island breeze, beautiful sun, and a celebrated agriculture that has enable him to create a farm-to-table restaurant that takes you on an amazing journey filled with bold flavor and the richness of the island’s history and culture.

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A significant feature of the cuisine at the Cast Iron Pot is the method on which each dish is prepared. Each dish is cooked inside a cast iron pot, cooked to order, with the freshest ingredients the land and sea in St. Croix has to offer. Food like photographs, stir emotions and evoke forgotten memories while simultaneously creating new ones. And at the Cast Iron Pot, Peterson has been creating and re-creating memories with his authentic and traditional Old World Caribbean Cuisine.

As a writer, I am often not lost for words, but in this case, it’s was really hard to capture the right words. I could use every adjective in the dictionary and it still would not give the diversity and flavor of the cuisines at Cast Iron Pot justice, the cuisine here is Phenomenal with a capital “P” matched with exceptional service from its staff.

However, what I had a lost for words for, was describing the feelings that was associated with each dish. There is something to be said about consuming really good food after it has been made to order especially for you. The euphoria you will experience at the Cast Iron Pot cannot be simply explained. I guess if I had to compare this feeling, I would compare it to the feeling of knowing the love of friendship, or falling in love, or simply finding the peace within. Love is hard to describe, and there is so many levels to it, but we’ve all experience it, and definitely don’t, or cannot, live without it.

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The cuisine at Cast Iron Pot not only tells the story of the people of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, it tells the story of every Caribbean family and the story of friendship. It tells the stories of traditional recipes passed on from generation to generation, it evokes memories of Sunday dinners past and Sunday dinners to come, it speaks the universal language that brings us together at the dinner table. The experience here is quite unlike anything else you will experience on the island. You will also find plenty of local favorites at the bar, along with some non-alcoholic refreshers that uses ingredients like passion fruit, limes, tamarind juice, and of course, you will find local favorites, Maubi and Ginger Beer.

However, if you’re looking for an adult cocktail, then try Peterson’s specialty drinks like the Cast Iron, Crucian Confusion, and Calypso Zackary, just to name a few.
For dessert try my favorite, Homemade Cruzan Rum Cake. But don’t forget to try the Old Time Red Grout dessert, a favorite of many locals on the island, the main ingredient in this favorite dessert is guava. And if its ice cream you’re looking for, the Cast Iron Pot also serves Armstrong Homemade Ice Cream.

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But no matter what you decide to have during that romantic dinner, family dinner, or happy hour, “the food at Cast Iron Pot is cooked with love” said Peterson. If you have only one chance to visit this laid-back island and want to visit a restaurant that speaks to the soul and spirit of St. Croix, Cast Iron Pot is it.

Cooking with love and with only the freshest and finest ingredients source from the island is the key to an unforgettable dish” says Peterson. And since my palate feels that it was just involved in a world wind love affair, I think Peterson might be on to something here.

You will find no shortage of love, good food, warmth, and hospitality at the Cast Iron Pot. If this was a romance novel, then the Cast Iron Pot and the Executive Chef and Owner, Burton Peterson, would be two lovers seducing all five of your senses in this love story. This is a restaurant that everyone should at least experience once in their lifetime

House Rules: A New Taste of St. Croix with Chef Digby Stridiron

After years of playing the rules, Celebrity Chef Digby Stridiron has put his cards on the table and has changed the game and the status quo of what is considered fine dining in the Caribbean with his new restaurant balter in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.  And yes, the cliché is true, Virgin Islanders don’t really need a reason to have a party. As long as there is good food, music, and people… it’s a party. So just in case you were wondering the meaning behind the name balter, it means to dance artlessly, without particular grace or skill but usually with enjoyment.

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Stridiron who is well-known to the global community of food enthusiast around the world, has orchestrated eloquent events for a client list that includes, but not limited to, celebrities like NFL star Kerry Rhodes, Vivica Fox, and Basketball Wives of LA. Stridiron who eventually went on the road with recording artist Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry, ultimately succumb to his true calling of becoming one wicked Caribbean Chef, as well as, the Culinary Ambassador to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Stridiron, who once upon a time had humble beginnings as chef de partie of the highly acclaimed upscale restaurant Luma in the Park located in Orlando, Florida, returned to his native land of St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands with a culinary bag full of tricks. Trading in the hustle and bustle of the mainland for the tight-knit community of St. Croix, Stridiron brought with him a new way of dining that illuminates a dimension of Old World Caribbean cuisine with a modern twist, along with a farm-to-table and farm-to-glass concept, taking the concept of farm-to-table to an entirely new level in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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And although the concept of farm-to-table may not be new to some, the concept of farm-to-glass will be new to many. Signature cocktails at balter use only the best local vegetables and fruits grown on the island. Together with his co-owner, Sommelier Patrick Kralik, both Stridiron and Kralik are determined to use the best of what the land and sea has to offer, creating a forever changing menu both in the kitchen and at the bar that reflects the current season in St. Croix. So if it’s not in season… then it’s not on the menu.

 And when it comes to the past greeting the present, Stridiron is no stranger, balter  is located at the intersection of Company Street and Queen Cross Street in Christiansted in a 250-year-old build with a unique history of its own, and has been reinvented to meet the needs of the restaurant, while still conserving the key elements of the history of the building. The dining room at balter has a view into the kitchen, making you feel like you’re a part of the family and the culinary experience. The art hanging gracefully on the walls pays tribute to the people of the island, the mesmerizing culture, and local artists.

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Stridiron produces culinary experiences that are so alluring, and unique, there is probably no other chef that can lay claim to the charismatic culinary experience paying homage to Spain, England, Holland, France, the Knights of Malta, Denmark, and the United States; representing the seven flags of those who once governed and currently governed the U. S. Virgin Islands, while still preserving and honoring the diversity and richness of the Caribbean, African, Indian and Latin American people of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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balter should not be considered just your ordinary Caribbean restaurant, it’s an experience, not just simply a place to dine.  Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art, and you should think of Chef Digby Stridiron as your artist, and your plate…Your Masterpiece.  You have to experience balter with an open mind and an empty stomach ready for an gastronomical journey. The menu has an eclectic take on traditional Caribbean dishes with a fine dining setting, as well as, a less formal setting with a separate menu in its courtyard, which makes the culinary experience even more exciting for us food enthusiasts.

Stridiron’s signature fusion speaks loud and clear and is well reflected in balter’s menus. Order a bowl of  the popular dish kallaloo and fungi, a soupy stew that gets its roots from West Africaand you will receive a dish that takes you beyond the limitation and boundaries of the traditional kallaloo and fungi found in the Caribbean. Kallaloo and Fungi served at balter will leave you filled with love, pleasure, and guilt. Why guilt? I’m glad you ask. This is not your grandmother’s traditional recipe, even the local favorite pork belly gets to be the star of the show and is served with a modern twist.  And what can be better than grandma’s recipes passed on from generation to generation? Well… stop by balter in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and find out.    Just don’t tell Grandma.    Or better yet…take Grandma to balter for a special night out.  And don’t worry, balter aims to please with their made to order dishes, so I guarantee you,  Grandma will love balter just as much as you do.