Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Eatonville's DaJen Eats keeps hauling forward, with food truck debut on Tuesday night

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2020 at 1:35 PM

click to enlarge Chef Jenn Ross - PHOTO BY MAYA JAMES
  • Photo by Maya James
  • Chef Jenn Ross
Chef Jenn Ross of DaJen Eats & Creamery has been serving up Jamaican-inspired classics since 2017, first out of a Citgo gas station on North Orange Blossom Trail and then at her Eatonville eatery starting in 2018. Now she's bringing her all-vegan meals to the masses, with a new food truck debuting at Tuesday's Tasty Takeover.

Born in Jamaica, Ross, whose first name is short for Jenneil, is known for her eclectic spin on vegan food, incorporating what she calls a "Jamaican flair." We've written a lot about Ross before, including when food critic Faiyaz Kara reviewed her gas-station beginnings, and later spoke to her about her values and commitment to eliminating single-use waste. Since then, she's been welcoming thousands of hungry guests and plant-focused cooking students, along with sharing her blog and podcast, "Irie Thoughts Radio."
click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAJEN EATS/INSTAGRAM
  • Photo by DaJen Eats/Instagram
Ross first showed off her new set of wheels on Facebook on Feb. 10, but Tuesday night's Tasty Takeover will be its first outing in public, at the weekly Milk District gathering from 6:30 to 10 p.m.

While she is excited to show Orlando what she has quite literally been cooking up, the journey of getting a food truck up and running for the first time was anything but easy. Ross was faced with the reality that there's more to food truck ownership than finding the vehicle itself.

"We got the trailer back in October. And in my head I’m like, 'Oh, this is gonna be really easy because we're just gonna rent a truck when we're ready to haul it, and we're gonna get it nicely wrapped and marketed,' said Ross. And we’re good to go. Boom. Right?"
click to enlarge (Left to right) DaJen's ackee and "saltfish" taco, "hoaxtail" taco, and curry "goat" taco - PHOTO BY MAYA JAMES
  • Photo by Maya James
  • (Left to right) DaJen's ackee and "saltfish" taco, "hoaxtail" taco, and curry "goat" taco
Needless to say, the reality was different for Ross and her team. While the truck was acquired in October of last year, it was only finally wrapped Feb. 9, the day before her online post. Ross called getting the food truck wrapped "its own incredibly difficult nightmare."



"We found someone who we managed to convince to come out here and wrap the trailer, and we're excited," said Ross. "He comes up one Saturday, and he starts wrapping it, and my heart’s beating and I’m like, 'I’m going home, I can’t watch this, this is too much!'"

When Ross called the restaurant later that evening to check on the progress, she learned the wrapping she had paid for was in the garbage.
click to enlarge DaJen's fried "crab" cakes - PHOTO BY MAYA JAMES
  • Photo by Maya James
  • DaJen's fried "crab" cakes
"The guy said, because it wasn’t a controlled environment, he was wrapping the truck and the dust was flying up, and it was compromising the integrity of the finished product." said Ross. "So he ended up taking the wrap off of the truck and putting it in the trash. And I was heartbroken."

She could overcome that hurdle by bringing the truck to the wrapper's garage, but Ross was faced with the task of finding a vehicle to haul the trailer itself.

"I’ve never had such a difficult time spending money. Like, we had the money, couldn’t find a truck. And I’m like, look, I’m literally trying to get rid of this money, I need a truck. You know?” said Ross.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY MAYA JAMES
  • Photo by Maya James
With preparations for Tasty Takeover officially underway, Ross gave Orlando Weekly a sneak peek of the menu. Guests can expect delicious dishes like her best-selling "sammich," the Identity Crisis, aptly named for its half-jerk, half-buffalo flavor combination, served on bread that Ross bakes every morning.

Because of Ross' commitment to healthy vegan cooking, the food served out of her cafe has not been fried. The food truck, however, has double fryers, so Ross is changing up her menu to take full advantage.

At Tasty Takeover, Ross will be serving golden brown "crab" cakes, vegan popcorn chicken, and "build-a-fries," where customers can add their own toppings like boneless spare "ribs" with mango scotch bonnet, jerk "chicken," jerk mushroom, sweet and spicy cauliflower and curry "chicken," among other dishes.
click to enlarge DaJen's Island Mac Bun-Bun bowl - PHOTO BY MAYA JAMES
  • Photo by Maya James
  • DaJen's Island Mac Bun-Bun bowl
Ross even shared a "happy accident" that resulted from Ross accidentally scorching a batch of spare ribs.

"I burned my ribs beyond recognition – like beyond recognition. And it was an entire pan of ribs, so the financial side of me was weeping, the creative side of me was weeping," she said. "And then I tasted it, and it was delicious."

Ross also created what she calls the "Island Mac Bun-Bun Bowl," a new food truck item that will feature creamy vegan mac and cheese, crispy spare ribs, corn, roasted Brussels sprouts, black beans and fresh pineapple.
click to enlarge The Identity Crisis sammich - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
  • The Identity Crisis sammich
Finally, Ross plans to serve breadfruit tacos with an interesting twist. Rather than using the breadfruit as the filling, Ross will cut and peel the fruit, soak it in hot water to make it malleable, and fry it to create the perfect gluten-free taco shell. Toppings include DaJen's famous vegan oxtail, called "hoaxtail."

With Ross' food truck officially ready to bring the people of Orlando yummy veganized Jamaican dishes, that's not the only big plan in DaJen's future. Ross shared to Orlando Weekly that she is working on opening another location in Miami. Stay tuned for more updates.

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