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

 

Visit Orlando Offers Black Friday Savings on more than 50 Orlando Experiences

Deal seekers get ready,  In honor of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Visit Orlando, the official tourism association for the destination, will offer an extra 10 percent off all purchases of already-discounted attraction tickets, some even including free additional days at theme parks, during the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

Travel seekers can simply use promo code “GIFT” on VisitOrlando.com purchases from Nov. 22–28 to save an extra 10 percent on some of Orlando’s most popular attractions, including the world famous theme parks.

Hotels and resorts across Orlando are offering their own Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals for travelers, including:

  • The Grove Resort & Spa: Save 50 percent off best available rates for one, two and three bedroom residential-style suites at this new resort near Walt Disney World, when booking Nov. 24-27 for stays through September 30, 2018.
  • B Resort & Spa: Use the code “CYBER” when booking online to enjoy up to 25 percent off guest rooms, a 50 percent reduced resort fee and a free room upgrade from Chic to Captivating. This offer can be booked from Nov. 24–27, for travel dates Nov. 27, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018.
  • Coco Key Hotel and Water Resort Orlando: Use the code “CYBER” when booking online to enjoy up to 30 percent off guest rooms, a 50 percent reduced resort fee, a free upgrade to pool or waterpark view, 10 percent off food and beverages and a free-tokens $5 gift card. This offer can be booked from Nov. 24–27. Travel dates begin Nov. 27 and extend through Dec. 31, 2018.
  • The Villas of Grand Cypress: Book online from Nov. 24-27 to save 15 percent on a two-night stay through December 20, 2018. Save an additional 5 percent per added night, up to 5 nights, for a maximum savings of 30 percent.
  • Orlando World Center Marriott: An exclusive Cyber Monday sale provides 15 percent savings when booking Nov. 23–27 for stays from Dec. 7 to Jan. 15, 2018.
  • Rosen CentreRosen Plaza and Rosen Shingle Creek: Book a getaway at any of these Rosen properties Nov. 24–27 for stays between Dec. 1-27, to receive 30 percent off the best available rate, plus 30 percent off select on-site restaurants.

Orlando is home to seven of the world’s top theme parks, and is the No. 1 family vacation destination, Theme Park Capital of the World®, and most visited destination in the United States.

Visit Orlando is the official tourism association for the most visited destination in the United States, with representation in more than a dozen countries around the world.

 

MARGARITAVILLE RESORT ORLANDO CELEBRATES HOTEL GROUNDBREAKING

Swimming Area

A vacation oasis awaits you in the heart of Orlando along U.S. Highway 192 near Toll Road 429 in Western Osceola County. Scheduled to open in late 2018, Margaritaville Resort Orlando will definitely put you in a vacation state of mind. The 300-acre Margaritaville Resort Orlando will boast 1,000 Margaritaville-inspired units including a mix of resort vacation homes, villas, cottages, and timeshare units.

The amenities include a dining and entertainment district, 12-acre waterpark, 30,000 square feet of function space, 200,000 square feet of festive retail space, wellness center, miles of wooded fitness trails, a water taxi system, and a three-acre swimming area.

Welcoming more than 250 attendees, a groundbreaking celebration took place this week. “This is an exciting day for Margaritaville Resort Orlando and sharing great food, drinks and fun is the best way to celebrate breaking ground on our Margaritaville-branded hotel,” said Jim Bagley, project developer of Margaritaville Resort Orlando. “Soon travelers from all over the world can escape to paradise with an unforgettable Margaritaville vacation in the heart of Orlando.”

Attendees of the groundbreaking celebration enjoyed an island-inspired buffet and entertainment by stilt walkers and steel drummers. The celebration reinforced the “no worries” vibes guests will be sure to experience as soon as they enter the Margaritaville Resort Orlando.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama Was A Keynote Speaker At The AIA Conference on Architecture

AIA-Michelle Obama (group)

Former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and American Institute of Architects Executive Vice President Robert A. Ivy and President Thomas Vonier welcomed a large crowd in the ballroom of the Orange County Convention Center at the AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday.

The former first lady was a keynote speaker, with her keynote taking place on the first day of the three-day conference, making the AIA Conference her first post-White House public appearance. Other keynotes on the first day of the conference included architects Alejandro Aravena, Diébédo Francis Kéré and Elizabeth Diller.
During Michelle Obama tenure as First Lady, she launched several initiatives that include, but not limited to, ending childhood obesity, promoting higher education, and education for adolescent girls around the world.

Mrs. Obama also worked for the city of Chicago as an assistant to the Mayor, as well as, Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development. Graduating cum laude from Princeton in 1985 and receiving a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1988, her primary focus has always been the betterment of the communities she serves.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama discussed life after leaving the White House, race and gender equality in architecture, her hesitancy to run for a politic position, the need for architects to consider taking on projects in lower income neighborhoods, mentoring, and the presidential library. Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were selected to design the presidential library back in June.

Enjoying her new-found freedom as a civilian, the former first lady reminded the audience that she doesn’t have to be a first lady to be influential. Mrs. Obama believes that she can be just as productive away from the political baggage and spotlight and will not be seeking a political position. The AIA Conference on Architecture runs from 27 to 29 April 2017 in Orlando, Florida.

STRAIGHT OUT OF FLORIDA: A Taste of The Sunshine State with Chef Justin Timineri And Exploring The Diverse Culinary Scene

 

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Any direction you choose, the road will take you to a dining experience that simmer and stirs your soul, leaving you breathless and yearning for more, and definitely bringing you back time and time again to Florida. There’s no shortage of amazing cuisine when it comes to the Sunshine State, from Daytona Beach, to the Florida Panhandle, this is a lover affair that is going to happen, no matter what.

Traveling throughout the country creating new recipes to inspire consumers, educating  children on the value of healthy food choices and proper nutrition, and performing cooking demonstrations while highlighting the amazing produce and seafood of Florida with the Fresh From Florida movement, I had an opportunity to catch up with the 2006 Food Network Challenge Great American Seafood Cook-off winner, Culinary Ambassador of the State of Florida, and the Executive Chef of the Florida Department of Agriculture, Chef Justin Timineri.ChefJustin

Wearing many hats, award winner Chef Justin Timineri is also an author, teacher, and resident chef on the award-winning television series How to Do Florida, and is no stranger to high-profile events. In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Timineri showcased Florida’s cuisine to medal winners and Olympic legends at the USA House.  Timineri is also well-known for his elaborate creation for the likes of NASCAR, PGA, the Kentucky Derby, as well as national and international premier hospitality and catering companies.

Chef Justin and I, had the opportunity to chat about his passion for food, while I sampled his impeccable take on the best of what the land and sea has to offer in the State of Florida with his world-renowned cuisine.  Honestly, I don’t know what was more exciting, watching Timineri’s enthusiasm as he prepared simple  and flavorful dishes of Florida… Or listening to him talk about the not so new movement in Florida, the farm-to-table movement. Timineri talked about his passion for food, using simple ingredients, and healthy cooking as if he was a poet writing a love sonnet.  When asked what was his favorite dish to prepare in his cooking demonstrations, without hesitation he indicated “Pink Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche.”

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Timineri, raised in Florida and exposed to many cultures and cuisines at an early age, has a passion for creativity while still staying true to the culture and the originality of the cuisine, and it was quite obvious in his culinary presentation. When asked why Pink Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche was one of his favorite dish to make during cooking demonstrations, he replied “You haven’t had an avocado until you had an avocado from Florida, we are known for our citrus, and honestly have you eaten shrimps from Florida, nothing compares to it.”  Timineri credits the amazing Florida agriculture and the growing changing seasons as the primary inspirations behind his unique creations.

An agriculture that is responsible for providing a plethora of options when it comes to the culinary scene and attracting award-winning chefs to many parts of Florida.  Just ask Chef Emeril Lagasse, Lagasse moved to the Sunshine State in 2009 and created the Emeril’s Florida TV series launched on the Cooking Channel in 2012. The show is now in the fourth season and the Emeril who is known for kicking it up a notch, doesn’t give any indication of slowing down when it comes to giving the people what they want, which is highlighting the amazing culinary scene and agriculture of Florida.

A culiNerisaRedShoeProjectphoto (4)_edited.jpgnary scene that I had the pleasure of exploring while visiting different parts of Florida. If you’re a BBQ lover, then saddle up and head over to Central Florida for the most mouth-watering, melt in your mouth, sizzling cuts of meat seasoned and cooked to
perfection.  When ranchers in the 1800s refused to give cattlemen the choicest cuts of meat, the cattlemen were left with tough cuts of meat that took 10 hours or more to cook, hence the tradition of barbeque was born in Florida. Every year 150 teams from around the United States, and all over Florida, participate in the Lakeland Pig Fest in January for the coveted Kingsford Grand Champion Spot.

If you are looking for the juiciest fry chicken to make love to your palate, then head down to Sarasota. Here in Sarasota, you will find a Midwestern Amish Community that has been able to maintain their culture and beliefs in self-sufficiency by relying solely on the land and their community.  The cuisine of the Amish tells the history of their heritage while fostering a continuing relationship with the land that surrounds them. A restaurant that is worthy of an honorable mention, is family owned and operated, Yoder’s Restaurant.

Orlando, the home of Mikey Mouse and Walt Disney World, will take you on a trip around the world without the pricey cost of a plane ticket.  The food scene is so extensive that we were unable to visit all the restaurants on our bucket list. But if you want a simple way of tasting the international cuisine of Florida, every year Disney World play host to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, a gift from the culinary gods. The event kicks off this year from September 14 and runs through November 14.

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However, if there are only two restaurants you can visit while in Orlando, may I suggest Morimoto Asia. Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s new Pan Asian restaurant is everything that fantasies are made of for diehard food enthusiasts.  This two-story restaurant has unique kitchens designed to showcase traditional dishes highlighting cuisines from across Asia.

If Pan Asian is not your heart’s desire, then try Txokos Basque Kitchen.  James Beard nominated Chef Henry Salgado entices your taste buds with a Spanish fare and a seasonal menu that immerses you in the culture of Basque with wine, small plates, and an outdoor Asador for grilling.

Daytona Beach, synonymous with fast cars, NASCAR cars that is, teaches us how to cook amazing cuisines with Owner and Chef Bobby Frappier of Frappes Italian Grille. While Miami takes you on a food crawl like no other. There are not too many places in the world that can transport you to different countries by simply walking or driving from one neighborhood, to another. I don’t think that there are any words in the English dictionary that can define the diversity and amazing cuisine and culture you will find in Miami.  I found myself in the world of Cuba, learning first-hand how to prepare the perfect Cuban coffee while snacking on Cuban delights. Another neighborhood took me to Peru and taught me the proper way of making Peru’s national drink. South Beach, stuffed and grilled a lobster to perfection.

Key West helped us recover from the fast paced of Miami with a laid back casual atmosphere and plenty of libation.  If you are a do it yourselfer, Key West gives you plenty of opportunity to catch your own seafood and bring it home and fry up in pan…or throw it on a grill.

St. Augustine transported us to the culinary world of Columbia and its fine wine. And if you’re not a wine lover, then follow the trail! The St. Pete-Clearwater Craft Beer Trail is like Christmas and your birthday rolled up into one happy beer tasting.

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Dunedin Brewery offers tours, meet and greets with brewers, and beer tastings of its hand crafted brews. The brews at Dunedin Brewery are all hand crafted in small batches, 15 barrels at a time. Try favorites like Mango Makrut Paradiso, Apricot Peach Ale, or a Florida Weisse, a low alcohol beer that’s a unique spin on a Berliner Weisse style beer, with the added touch of fresh fruits like mango, key lime, raspberry, dragon fruit, passion fruit and pineapples.  But this is no ordinary brewery there is also a menu that includes traditional pub style food, and the not so traditional food. If you happen to try the shredded pork style tacos with the in-house snackbite sauce, beware, just like Florida, this sauce lives up to its reputation.

Update: Since our food crawl in the beautiful Sunshine State this year, the restaurant Txokos Basque Kitchen has permanently closed their doors.

 

 

Paper Art-With A Caribbean Flair

What happens when you put a stack of newspaper and Hawaiian Native Dani Settle in a room together? Well…You get Paper Art that tells the stories of the Caribbean.  I was able to get a sneak peak of Buddha Girl Art fabulous creations during my visit to Orlando.

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Dani Settle is the brain child of Buddha Girl Art and you can find her in her Orlando, Florida studio creating art from ordinary newspaper. However, if you’re not in Orlando, never fear, you will soon be able to shop Buddha Girl Art online…don’t you just love technology.

However if you have a chance to see the work in person, you really should, the craftsmanship is Amazing! I really had a hard time choosing my one of kind masterpiece but in the end I was drawn to the two that represented my alter ego…and my wanderlust spirit.