A few weeks ago we were invited out to the Riverside Arts Market to talk to John Andescavage, the owner of Food Unchained. John grew up in Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish country and attended Johnson and Wales. Post college, John decided to go out and explore the world outside of where he grew up to see what opportunities he could find. This led him to working for Club Med as the food and beverage director, which allowed him to travel and cook for ski resorts, venture to tropical Turks and Caicos, Cancun, and then establish himself later in Florida. Following his career with Club Med, he became the executive chef for Duval County Schools, In this role he was tasked with working alongside nutritionists and dieticians to create meal plans for 160 schools, including prepping up to 80,000 meals per day. Working so closely with nutritionists gave John experience with understanding vitamin saturations, protein levels, and the science behind food. To further his experience even more, John worked for Celebrity Cruise Lines as a cruise ship food and beverage director. He worked with two ships and learned the delicate balance of working with hundreds of employees to serve people beautiful, and delicious foods. His new venture, Food Unchained, is an aggregate of all his accumulated experience in the food and beverage field, as well as a passion for nutrition and making healthy food taste luxurious. Food Unchained’s ingredients are purchased directly from local farmers and crafted into the creative fare that Food Unchained sells weekly at RAM. Food Unchained can also be purchased throughout Florida at JB’s Nutrition, Nature’s Den, and Nutrition S’mart.
John was kind enough to invite us to sample what he describes as “high quality culinary dishes using farm fresh localized ingredients.” We could tell by looking at John’s booth that his food was going to live up to that goal. Every available dish was vibrantly colorful, clearly fresh, and artfully displayed with samples of every prepared item he had for sale that day. We loved the ability for all customers to try the food. It clearly indicates that John is proud of his product and is open about the flavors and freshness of his items. On to the sampling! We tried so many of Food Unchained’s dishes that we will break it down in a list.
Salmon Salad: Fresh salmon, black pepper, Himalayan pink salt, olive oil, garlic, Greek yogurt, dijon mustard, chives, mayo ($9.50 per container). Wow was this good. We could probably live off this salmon salad. There was a rich smoked flavor to the salmon that was well complimented by the creamy greek yogurt and mayonnaise. The freshness of the salmon was immediately evident. There was no fishy flavor or smell. The seasonings used were light and showcased the natural flavor of the salmon without overwhelming it. This was a clear favorite of ours and we highly recommend picking this up! Even my 15 year old son was over the moon for this one.
Greek Goddess Chicken Salad: Fresh chicken breast, sea salt, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, mayo, garlic, parsley, oregano, tarragon, chives, and basil ($8 per container). Chicken salad at it’s best is simple, and while the seasonings sound complicated for Food Unchained’s version, they’re not. This is 5-star chicken salad and some of the best we’ve had around Jacksonville. The chicken is so tender it falls apart as you chew it. The tarragon and chives add a flavor profile that isn’t normally seen in chicken salads and gives it a distinct ritzy feel. We loved the addition of the fresh herbs as well. This chicken salad feels like half of the ingredients were picked straight from a backyard garden. I’d love this for lunch every day.
South American Red Quinoa Salad: Red quinoa, vegetable stock, carrot, red pepper, garlic, corn, cilantro, scallion, lime juice, olive oil, cumin, salt, agave nectar, red wine vinegar ($6.50 per container). I’m not normally a huge quinoa fan, but if it tasted this good all the time I might eat it more often. The flavors that came through for me were garlic, lime giving each bite a hint of sourness, agave adding sweetness, and the vegetable stock bringing things together. Quinoa fans will enjoy this one. Those who are not so hot on quinoa still might enjoy it.
Hummus with Za’atar: For those unfamiliar with za’atar, it is a spicy mediterranean spice blend that seriously kicks up hummus. Food Unchained’s hummus is creamily blended with olive oil and topped with the za’atar blend so you can mix in the appropriate amount of spice for your tastes. This hummus would be an excellent base on a pita sandwich or alone on bread or crackers. For spicy food fans, forget the store bought boring garlic hummus. This hummus is what you need!
Roasted Red Beet Mimosa: Red beets, sea salt, olive oil, mint, valencia orange, champagne vinegar, orange juice, agave nectar, pistachio, feta cheese ($6.50). Poor beets are such an underappreciated vegetable. In my eyes, they’re the candy of the fall season. I wait year-round for these things. Food Unchained roasted beets are spectacular. Tender, sweet, and juicy beets are lightly tossed in the champagne vinegar and agave to make this seem nearly like a dessert until you get a bite of tangy feta cheese. This offering is so unique from any way I’ve ever had beets and may be my favorite preparation of them I’ve ever had.
Dynamite Guacamole: Avocado, tomato, red onion, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, sea salt ($6.50). We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Chef John Andescavage’s guacamole. This is the thing he tells us folks at Riverside Arts Market have come to know him for. We can see why. This is clearly some of the better guacamole in town. Fresh. Simple. Refreshing.
Food Unchained is on a mission, and that mission is to highlight the natural flavors of high quality foods. Nothing that we tasted was over-seasoned or cooked incorrectly. The ingredients complimented each other and any seasoning served only to amplify the natural flavors of the seasonal vegetables or fresh meats used. When I think of wholesome, nutritious food, this is what I want to be eating. Fresh and healthy foods don’t have to be bland or tasteless. Food Unchained provides an excellent local alternative to prepared foods found in grocery stores. Plus, this food is prepared fresh. And we mean fresh. It’s coming from local farmers and immediately readied by John to sell to his customers. The years of culinary experience shine brightly through John’s foods. We could taste the love and care put into each dish that he makes. This is the food our bodies need and want to be eating, and Food Unchained has made us raving fans.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to taste new menu items. This meal is usually comped, as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.