Florida; the prettiest state in the south, the front door to the Caribbean, the only state that is a peninsula and sits on 2 coasts: the Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast, thousands travel here to visit the happiest place on Earth, and the art capital of the world is located at the bottom of the peninsula in Miami.
The Florida peninsula is a place that can be the seat on a journey that takes you all around the world. From Brazil to Ethiopia, from Asia to Paris, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian Sea; Florida will take you there by way of plate. The Caribbean flair reigns supreme here but, the whole world can be found here. Florida is my home, and home to a delicious gem located in Central Florida: DaJen Eats.
Vegan with Jamaican flair, Dajen Eats is serving irie meals packed with flavors that will drive your taste buds to a happy place. The vegan restaurant taking you to Jamaica by way of plate is located 6 miles north of Orlando, FL, in historic Eatonville; the first incorporated all black city in the nation. DaJen Eats is owned by Jenn Ross, a Jamaican born and raised woman, who is dedicated to making the restaurant home of the “irie, happy vegan”.
The vegan restaurant can be a place to gather, work, feast, and vibe. It’s not only a vegan restaurant, but also a vegan ice cream shop. It’s serving meals and words with poetry night happening on Sundays. It’s giving island vibes and giving back to the community. I had an experience that I’ll never forget at Dajen Eats.
I ate so good, I vibed with Jenn and her staff, and I danced in my seat while feasting on:
- Identity Crisis Sammich (half jerk, half buffalo)
- Build-A-Bowl (totally customizable). My bowl had Jamaican rice and peas (red kidney beans), rainbow broccoli slaw, hoax tail, sweet and spicy cauliflower, jerk chick’n, crispy chick’n, and grilled pineapple.
- The Irie Ribs Sammich, whose full government name is Mango Scotch Bonnet Boneless Spare Ribs Sammich.
- Chick’n Biscuits: Original Crispy, Spicy, Buffalo, and Island Jerk
- A loaf of hard dough Jamaican bread.
I had food for days. It was delicious as heck even the next day, and those I shared with that aren’t even vegan were ready to jump on board with this lifestyle, if DaJen Eats promised to be their chef at all times. The experience was magnificent!
In my 6th where to eat vegan feature, it is my pleasure to introduce you to DaJen Eats through Jenn Ross: founder, owner, and executive chef.
Q&A with Jenn Ross of DaJen Eats
Where are you and your family from; and what’s one thing you want to share with readers about your family tree?
“I am originally from Jamaica. I grew up in a tiny fishing village called Old Harbour Bay. That’s actually what’s depicted on the mural at the cafe. In the cafe mural, the lady shown is my grandmother, carrying home a basket of fruits on her head. She was a fishmonger and would often bring home a basket of fish. But we are a vegan restaurant, so we depicted fruits instead. My grandfather was a fisherman.”
What did you do for work; or other businesses did you own and work prior to DaJen Eats?
“DaJen Eats is my first business. It is really a reflection of my love affair with food. My ex-husband and I started a software development company together called DaJen Group. He was a developer, I was not. DaJen Eats, in its true form, really grew after we separated (out of necessity – really) to what it is today.”
Tell us about 10 year old you; what were your hopes and dreams?
“When I was younger, I wanted to be an authoress. I was very specific – not a writer, not an author but an authoress. I was that kid. I still want to do that, though. I have a cookbook and short life stories collection that I’ve been working on for years. One of these days….
Interestingly enough, there was nothing in my 10 year old self that remotely resonated with anything food related. Yet, here we are.”
When did your love for cooking and meal creation start for you?
“I came to America at 16 for college. I was in a new country having this grown-up experience by myself. I realized that I was very quickly going broke eating out. So, in order to continue enjoying certain luxuries, like eating and living inside, I needed to learn how to cook.”
When did you know you wanted to feed others?
“I resisted feeding others for a long time. When DaJen Eats first started, I did cooking classes. I light up when I teach. In the beginning though, teaching was the safe route for me. I wasn’t putting myself on a plate, so the risk of rejection was small or non-existent. Teaching was all reward, no risk; however, my students kept asking for my prepared food.
Eventually I did that on a small scale, but always steering clear of anything that resembled restaurant life. It wasn’t until I was invited by Starex Smith – The Hungry Black Man, to be the guest chef for his inaugural Black Vegans Rock dinner parties. I remember walking into the room to introduce the first course and saw a sea of people who looked like me, who were there to partake in my take on vegan food. It was at that exact moment I knew I wanted to do that again. I opened the restaurant in the gas station a few months after that.”
What’s your favorite thing to create and feed others?
“I looooooooooooove making our Jamaican hard dough bread. It is so hearty, fluffy, and delicious. It’s also a great base for a seventyleven other things. It really is the star of any sandwich, a day later it makes the perfect bread pudding but it is delicious enough to stand on its own. I love you, I make you bread. It really is that simple.”
When was the concept born and what was the reason(s)?
“DaJen Eats is my ode to food, all things food science, and an extension of who I am as a person. When I started learning how to cook, I realized the secret was in understanding and mastering basic food principles. I realized cooking is as much science as it is an art.
You can have some predictable outcomes by using specific techniques. So I studied food science in great depth. The more I learned, the more I shared on my personal Facebook page. Because I just couldn’t fathom a world where someone wouldn’t want to know why you add salt at x point in the cooking process or the magical things fat can do. I mean, they just don’t know that they want to know, right?
Eventually I started a Facebook page called At Home With Jenn, that was really just sharing new things I learned and dishes I made. That led to a blog, then the eventual renaming to DaJen Eats, which started out as cooking classes.”
What was the official birthdate of DaJen Eats?
“The official birthdate of DaJen Eats is October 22, 2016. This was at Central Florida Veg Fest. I did a food demo of our Jamaican hard dough bread. Go figure!”
What inspired the menu and offerings?
“The menu is very much a reflection of me. It is Jenn on a plate. The foods we serve at the cafe are dishes my grandmother used to make for me as a young girl growing up in Jamaica, just now in a plant-powered way.”
What kinds of plant proteins do you use?
“We use lots of different things. We use seitan, soy, cauliflower, mushroom, and jackfruit.”
Are any of your products locally sourced?
What is the mission and core values of DaJen Eats?
“Our mission is to show that vegan food has many different cultural expressions, and that getting delicious vegan food can be as mundane as pumping gas. It is also important to us to include people of color in the vegan conversation. We’ve always been a part of that conversation but – as with many other things – we are underrepresented.”
What are 3 things people should know about DaJen Eats?
“1. We are vegan food with a Jamaican flair.
2. We are beyond proud to call historic Eatonville our home.
3. Our aim is to drive community through food. We get you through the door with food, and then we offer so much more.”
How do you all feel about cannabis for wellness?
“I don’t know enough about cannabis to have an informed opinion. I have heard second hand of its healing properties but I have not used it. Perhaps it’s time to do some research.”
Any hemp offerings on your menu/as an ingredient (hemp seeds/milk/protein)?
Have you learned anything about cannabis recently that surprised you?
“I haven’t really been in the space to have any cannabis discussions, so I’m really out of the loop. Tell me all the things!”
Veronica Castillo is a published writer known as the Traveling Cannabis Writer. She was born and raised in Miami, and recently retired from road life after 5 years of traveling the United States and the Caribbean on a mission to learn and educate on all things plant medicine. Though her body of published work is mainly in cannabis, Veronica is passionate about plant based lifestyles. She lost 95 pounds, began her healing journey, and treated her migraines with a plant based lifestyle. Her Where to Eat Vegan Series explores vegan menus and plates, helping travelers navigate their plant based lifestyles on the road. Follow her on IG at @vee_travelingvegcannawriter and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vee-traveling-veg-canna-writer/