SIGNATURE DISH:Chef Ena at the opening of her new restaurant serving her famous
By K. BARRETT BILALI
South Florida Times
SUNRISE, Fla. – If you arrive for lunch or dinner at Chef Ena’s Kitchen you will be quite taken by the beautiful high ceilings and Afrocentric art. The restaurant is pristine clean, colorful and welcoming.
“It’s a miracle,” says Chef Ena every time she walks through the doors. The business has only been open a few months, but Ena Linares has had a beautiful and amazing journey to arrive at her successful venture. And the journey is far from over.
From the time she was a little girl Ena said she loved cooking. The first thing she learned how to cook was rice. Her mom, who was born in Cuba, introduced Ena to so many flavors and cooking traditions from her native island.
Ena spent time in the kitchen with women from all the islands in the Caribbean Sea who taught her to cook real good, she said. She even spent time in Alabama where she learned the true meaning and tastes of soul food.
With her knowledge of different styles and traditions and all her cooking skills well set and seasoned she began working in restaurants all the time learning and applying more to her abilities.
“Cooking is what I do, it’s my passion,” said Ena. “I worked at King of Diamonds from 2010 to 2012 until they changed owners,” she said. What is King of Diamonds? A strip club, she said without hesitation.
“I was then referred to a job working at G5, a gentlemen’s club, and started working in their kitchen.”
One day she went to the club owner with a proposal to rent his kitchen during the off hours for catering events. The club owner agreed. From there she picked up some side jobs catering events for celebrity parties.
“Some people may look down on me because I started out in a strip club,” said Ena. “But I didn’t have to entertain them. I just want to feed the customers.” Ena instinctly knew that developing name recognition was key to business success. “Marketing is everything,” she said.
“I would do catering gigs for 300 people and only charge $200,” she boasted. But once they tasted her food, she said, the referrals would come in and she would get more clients.
One of Ena’s most recognized culinary inventions is her Jerk Chicken pasta. Be ready. This signature meal is served on a plate almost as wide as the table.
When she decided to open the doors to her restaurant she looked around at all the other dining places. She realized that most restaurants -Chinese, pizza, seafood – are basically the same.
“We needed something different around here,” said Ena. She studied the demographics and found that a large number of Muslims live in Sunrise and neighboring communities. So she made most of her menu items with halal meat. Halal for Muslims is like kosher for Jewish people. The meat is slaughtered and cleaned in a ritual manner and everyone can enjoy it.
Between her marketing and offering of a unique dining experience, her business model is starting to grow.
“I came from nothing,” said Ena. “I’ve been homeless, I’ve slept in my car.” But her passion for cooking has never stopped, she said.
Ena’s best advice for people in dire straits and a strong desire to succeed?
“Surround yourself with positive people,” said Ena. She points to her events coordinator Sherry Carey who has been with her through thick and thin.
With this much positive energy, there may be a franchise for Chef Ena’s Kitchen in the near future. Chef Ena’s Kitchen is located at 3856 North University.