The Culinary Accelerator is a Training Ground for Chefs

For the budding entrepreneur who dreams of a food service career, the cost of real estate and equipment can be prohibitive. Enter the Culinary Accelerator at Immokalee, which opened in March with a mission to provide opportunities and level the playing field. Its facility features a full professional kitchen complete with walk-in refrigerators and freezers, a University of Florida food lab, and process stations for hot and cold food, bakery, and confection. Members schedule appointments online and pay for the time they use.

“I just love the place,” says Naples chef Daniela Craciun. “They have all the technology and equipment I need, and it’s the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen.”

Craciun (pictured left) operated Daniela’s Restaurant in Naples for eight years, focusing on her unique fusion of Italian, Romanian, and Hungarian dishes. Since selling the business in 2017 to spend time with her husband and newborn, she now concentrates on catering and prepared food. Originally from Transylvania, she worked with top chefs in Italy before moving to the U.S. in 2008.

Craciun participates in many of the community outreach programs offered through the Culinary Accelerator, such as cooking classes designed to teach the Seminole tribe the techniques and benefits of healthy eating. Those initiatives dovetail with her true passion: the intersection of food and wellness. Most of her produce comes from her own 2-acre organic garden, where she has planted more than 70 trees in the past several years. She also makes her own line of organic, vegetable-flavored pasta. In the kitchen, she employs a technique called modified atmosphere packaging, which allows food to stay fresh without the use of preservatives.

“We have everything we need on this earth to live a better life,” she says. “You just have to utilize what nature gives you. I believe people need to become more aware of what they’re eating. Food is medicine—and we should pay the farmers, not the pharmacy.” 

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