Chef Rosaria Cammarata has only been living in Jacksonville for a year but she’s making a lasting impact on the Jacksonville food scene under her This Chick Can Cook brand. Rosaria’s catering and personal chef business is primarily vegan, but don’t let that scare you. Her unparalleled understanding of the ingredients she uses turns vegan cuisine into haute couture. Her creativity and vision with food is nothing short of fine art. You can enjoy a sampling of her vegan meals at Tea Haus or the Green Market on Saturday, where she sells small grab and go gourmet vegan meals. Prior to our vegan food adventure with Chef Rosaria on May 8th, we wanted to introduce Rosaria to our readers.
I scheduled a meeting with Rosaria at the weekly Green Market in Atlantic Beach at Bull Memorial Park. I arrived a few minutes early and strolled through the local farmers’ booths filled with gorgeous fresh produce. This is where Rosaria does a large portion of her shopping for her food preparation. When Rosaria arrived, she was on a business call but still walked around and warmly greeted each person working the tables. I had never met Rosaria before and immediately felt a sense of comfort with her once we spoke. She started to shop while I listened to her share the story of how she got to the point she is at today. Chef Rosaria approaches her craft with a focus on community. As a result, my interview with her was fast paced. a 25,000 word article wouldn’t do her justice.
When Rosaria was a child she lived the first few years of her life in Sicily on her grandparent’s senia, which is essentially a self sustaining orchard. She woke up every day and ran out to the orchard to pick her fresh fruit. Her grandmother would guide her as to what was in season, and she’d impatiently wait for the day that her favorite fruits were ripe and ready to eat. She moved back to the United States speaking no English. To help her learn, her parents had her watch cartoons in the afternoons at their house. She loved watching Sesame Street, but as soon as Mr. Rogers would come on she’d change the channel (Rosaria said that Mr. Rogers is way too creepy) and watch Julia Child. Instead of learning English, Rosaria ran around her house yelling Child’s catchphrase “Bon Appétit!”.
She temporarily followed her father’s advice, working corporate jobs opening resorts and eventually becoming a social worker. Her passion for cooking was calling to her, so she packed up her family and moved to Jacksonville having only been here one time before. She arrived on the morning of her birthday and stood in a friend’s living room. The light was streaming in from outside and Rosaria described the moment she realized everything that led to coming here was meant to be. “I’ve always been in the right place at the wrong time, the wrong place at the right time, and the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew in that moment that finally I was in the right place at the right time.” Rosaria explained to me, as she examined squash and potatoes at the Alvarez Farms booth. She paused from telling me her story to explain how she shops at the green markets. “I never negotiate with farmers. Their price is the price I pay. That onion right there, the price on that onion helps send their kids to college. Plus, everything they have is amazing. You barely need to prepare it, the food speaks for itself.” Charles Alvarez, the owner of Alvarez Farms, quickly corrected her, “No, what Rosaria does with the food is what’s amazing. All that credit goes to her.” As she figured out the tomato supply she’d need for the next few days, I asked her how she prepares her menus. Rosaria replied that she buys ingredients first. Whatever is in season she purchases and takes it home and begins to create. There is no “grocery list” or “order form” like many chefs compile where the food gets delivered prepackaged on semi-trucks. Rosaria lets the ingredients speak to her and she assembles them in whatever way will showcase their natural flavors.
Our next stop was the Dig Local booth, which sponsors the Green Market. Rosaria is very active in Dig Local and teaches culinary classes once per month showcasing how to use farm fresh ingredients while still maintaining a food budget. Rosaria is also in charge of outreach to expand the recognition of the Dig Local program. Dig Local takes EBT/SNAP cards and doubles the amount redeemed, up to $20, for people to purchase local, Florida grown fruits and vegetables. This program can be redeemed at the Midweek Market at Bull Park or at the Beaches Green Market at Jarboe Park. Devin, who is the director of Dig Local, couldn’t praise Rosaria’s efforts enough for bringing real food to people who wouldn’t normally have access to fresh produce. Devin and Rosaria work together to promote the ability to create a fresh, seasonal meal for only $2.50 per meal. This perpetuates Rosaria’s ongoing mission to give access to pure food to everyone, Rosaria repeated several times throughout the interview that it was essential for people just to share their meals and that no one should go hungry.
At this point I realized that between catering, working the green markets, creating her grab and go items for Tea Haus, and teaching these classes she must never have an “I” commited minute in her day. I asked Rosaria “Do you ever stop?” She laughed and replied “I like to drink my coffee outside in the mornings and watch the birds. That’s my quiet time.” It seemed very fitting to me that watching and enjoying nature was how she prefers to relax. After she finished shopping she said she wanted to show me a few places, so we drove over to Tea Haus for her to give me a tour. This is where I got to see Rosaria’s passion for using food for healing light up. She showed me dozens of dry teas and listed off all their medicinal benefits and healing properties. I also got to try several of her grab and go items, and let me tell you, her hemp balls (full of protein and B vitamins) are my new addiction. I’ve had hemp balls before that were chalky, hers melt like caramel. I’m not even close to vegan, but her cuisine is so fresh and the different flavors are so vivid that it can make anyone appreciate vegetables in an entirely different light. She emphasized that there is a purpose to food. Each herb, vegetable, and fruit sync together to provide for your body. This is why Rosaria feels at home as the chef for Tea Haus, their missions and purposes are exactly the same.
Our final stop was the BEAM (Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry) center in Jacksonville Beach, where Rosaria volunteers. We walked through their huge garden which includes dozens of community beds and also hydroponic towers. BEAM uses these gardens to help stock their food pantry. In fact, the BEAM gardens produced 10,000 pounds of fresh produce last year. I could hear the emotion in Rosaria’s voice as she described the great lengths BEAM goes to in assisting the beaches community. While at BEAM, Rosaria shared with me that she also teaches classes on how to eat healthy and fresh affordably. Rosaria explained, “If I can even teach one person or child how to sustain themselves or get through a hard time, then it’s completely worth it for me.” Some of the younger students call her “Chef RoRo” out of affection and they enjoy trying to find exotic produce to challenge Rosaria to prepare. This woman is impacting the Jacksonville community so quietly, but in such a profound manner.
In just a few hours with Rosaria I received the perfect snapshot of her life. She is a dedicated giver to our community—she gives her business to the local farmers, she gives her energy to fighting hunger, she gives her emotions to caring for those in need, she gives her experience to teaching. She also provides a unique and necessary gift to Jacksonville of pure, fresh, and 100% local cuisine. She is much more than just a local chef,she is an essential part of our Jacksonville community, and an inspiration and example to everyone on how to use your talents for good. We encourage everyone to stop by the Green Market in Jarboe every Saturday to meet Rosaria, taste her creations, and learn from her. Thank you Rosaria from all of us at Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews for your dedication to our community!
For more information on Rosaria’s catering: https://www.facebook.com/thischickcancook
For more information on the weekly green markets: http://www.beacheslocalfoodnetwork.org/Pages/BeachesGreenMarket.aspx
For more information on volunteering for BEAM: http://jaxbeam.org/gracegarden/