Chef Daniela aims to boost health with locally grown vegetables, essential oils


By Aisling Swift

A year and a half after closing her popular Daniela’s Restaurant, Chef Daniela Craciunhas reinvented herself as a private chef, caterer, cooking instructor and thriving healthy food business entrepreneur.

Craciun, who is now creating unusual vegetable pastas and infusing them with moringa and essential oils, is selling her products at Oakes Market, the Vanderbilt Farmers Market, Neighborhood Organicsand through produce deliveries by Krazykrops.

In the works is a healthy, locally grown meal-plan service.

Craciun, who started cooking as a child in Romania, operates out of the Florida Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee, a partnership between the Collier County Office of Business & Economic Developmentand non-profit Economic Incubators Inc.

“I love the accelerator’s kitchen,” Craciunsays. “It has all the technology I need — and it has very good support, so it’s helping me grow my business. Having people I can trust and who support me is very important.”

After the accelerator opened last year, Craciun was one of the accelerator’s earliest members and was voted the top chef by visitors to Immokalee Culinary Connection Day, earning her dinner and an overnight stay for two at Seminole Casino Hotel.

Craciun’s journey to opening a food startup began two years ago, after she closed her 8-year-old restaurant, which featured Italian, Romanian and Hungarian home-cooked meals using locally grown and sourced ingredients. She then began working on her next culinary chapter.

She’s inspired by nature, specifically organic food, and many of her ingredients come from her 2½-acre property in Golden Gate Estates. During the 1½ years she’s lived there, she’s planted more than 65 trees, including banana and moringa, as well as vegetables, lavender and a butterfly garden.

“I’m still planting every week. I think I need more land. I wanted to help my family and Mother Earth because we need to get back to that, Mother Earth,” she says of eating healthy, organic, plant-based ingredients.

“I started doing my own research because my husband has Type 1 diabetes and my little one, who is 3 years old, is a very picky eater,” she says.

Craciun carefully researches spices, plants and herbs that can boost the nutritional value of her products and make them stand out from the competition. Moringa, also known as the Miracle Tree or Tree of Life, rose to the top of her list because it’s high in vitamins and minerals and is a good protein substitute for vegetarians.

Studies show it has 25 times more iron than spinach, seven times more vitamin C than oranges, 17 times more calcium than milk, nine times more protein than yogurt and 15 times more potassium than bananas. It’s also rich in anti-oxidants and lowers blood sugar, inflammation and cholesterol levels. In some countries, it’s used to treat diseases, and is known as an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-microbial agent.

“This is the superfood,” Craciun says, noting that many health problems can be cured by eating a healthier diet. “Why do we not use the natural way, the natural medicine God gave us? Before you put something in your mouth, do your research.”

When she was a chef in Italy, she started blending vegetables into pasta dough through juicing and purées. Now, out of necessity, she does that for her family. For finicky eaters, like her youngest daughter, vegetable pasta “works like a charm,” she says, adding, “I thought there had to be a way for moms and dads everywhere to benefit from the trick without having to do all the work themselves.”

So she created Chef Daniela’s “Pasta Sana” to help parents raise children with healthy eating habits.

“It may seem daunting, but exposing them to a wide variety of foods at an early age is the easiest way to help them develop a liking to foods that they initially reject solely because they are new to them,” she explains.

The Pasta Sana line features moringa, beet root, carrot, lavender and THC-free hemp, all made with non-GMO semolina flour and organic eggs, and many home-grown garden ingredients. The lavender pasta features purple potatoes and finely ground lavender; the moringa pasta includes ginger essential oil and grated ginger; the carrot pasta’s color is boosted by another spice powerhouse, turmeric, as well as basil and basil essential oil; and her beet pasta features detoxifying cilantro and cilantro essential oil.

Craciun’s culinary talents are recognized by health and wellness professionals, including Dr. Svetlana Kogan, who operates a downtown Naples concierge practice and shares her passion for healthy cooking and ingredients.

“I highly recommend her food to anyone looking for home-cooked food made from natural, locally sourced ingredients,” says Kogan, the author of the “Diet Slave No More” weight management program book and app. “This is so much healthier than the powders, shakes and supplements that most of the weight loss industry is bombarding you with.”

“There is nothing like sinking your teeth into a wholesome, textured meal,” she adds.

Many of Craciun’s customers have followed her from her restaurant to catering, and now her food business.

“We’ve used her for our office parties,” says Lori Cockley of Naples, who dined at Daniela’s Restaurant every week. “I love that she is farm-to-table and gets everything locally.”

Her favorites are the stuffed cabbage and eggplant spread, as well as her pastas, with beet root topping the list. She also loves that Craciun is willing to concoct a meal if you ask.

“She’s just awesome and straightforward and her cooking is down-home delicious,” she says. “I’m glad that she continued after she closed her restaurant because her food is about 30 percent of what I eat.”

Judy Tate, who flies back and forth from Birmingham, Ala., to Naples, loved the home-cooked food at the restaurant and hired Craciun to cater several events. Now, she gets the pastas mailed to her.

“I love all the pastas,” she says. “The beet and carrot are two of my favorites.”

“Her background is so varied. Everything she does is excellent,” she adds. “It’s a skill to put things together that are so tasty and wonderful.”