Lily Bell's catering, food truck mixes Jamaican, Southern food – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

After she recovered from a brain aneurysm in 2008, Shawn “Ms. Shea” Jackson’s doctor prescribed a vacation. She headed to Jamaica and quickly fell in love with the food. She returned time and again, learning recipes each time. 
Those dishes and Caribbean influences go hand in hand with the homestyle Southern cooking she learned from her mother and grandmother. 
Today, flavors from the Milwaukee native’s roots and travels pepper her cooking, making up the bulk of her menu at Lily Bell’s IS Fine Dining. 
She’s known for her Tennessee honey cake and caramel cake as much as her lasagna or fried chicken. She’s also making conch, alligator, gumbo, collard greens, buffalo chicken mac ’n cheese, Greek salads, and her favorite, Cocolily.  
Jackson, who also does catering and private events, works out of The Neighborhood Kitchen, 8103 W. Tower Ave., offering delivery, takeout and meal prep from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Her food truck will be at various locations throughout the year. Later this year, Jackson and Lily Bells IS Fine Dining will have a space at the Granville Connection, 8633 W. Brown Deer Road. Currently it is on track to open in August. For menus and food truck locations, go to To order call (414) 459-1376.
The full legal name is Lily Bell’s IS Fine Dining Cuisine LLC. I didn’t know when I did this, that it was the worst thing to do to have such a long name. Now I just call it Lily Bell’s Fine Dining. Lillian is my mother. Bells was my grandmother, Annie Bell Jones …
My mother was from Mississippi. Much of my childhood I traveled there and spent the summertime with my grandmother. We would travel down South every year and stay the entire summer. I learned a lot from my Aunt Ruth, a very good cook and a nurse. I learned a lot of my Southern traditional cooking from Mommy, Ruth and mother. You get up in the morning, you don’t just have grits and eggs, you need steak, ham, homemade yeast rolls! The yeast rolls and rice (on the menu), I got those from my grandmother. I also learned her oxtails and brussels sprouts. Her Brussels sprouts were so good, but I caramelize mine. 
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I retired from a career with AT&T to do this. Creating this business, it was my bucket list. I want to have a restaurant for handicapped people. That is my main goal. … When I retired it was December. I broke my leg and knee in April. That was horrible. There I am in this kitchen in my wheelchair rolling around still cooking. The struggle was real …
I purchased my food truck in 2019. I found it on Facebook, purchased it and by July I had it running. My husband ended up getting cancer, and he had a hard time hauling it, so then I purchased a truck that I can drive. That’s what I use now.
I was born and raised here. … My mother taught me to cook caramel cake and banana pudding. She taught me everything I know, but I put my own twist so it is a little different than hers. She passed in 2012. Back in 2009 she moved back down South, I’d call her and ask her questions while I was cooking. Now I can’t call her, but I talk to her as I’m cooking. “You think this is right?”
I traveled. That’s how I got my influences. My Caribbean food, I learned that from Jamaica. … I’d travel there at least three or four times per year for a while.
In 2008, I had a brain aneurysm. Once I got better my doctor prescribed a vacation. We went to Jamaica. I got myself back in order. It was a healing process. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t wash my face. I was healing. I started going back every three months. I was a mess. I had staples in my face, and in Jamaica nobody cared about that. They helped me and showed me how to make octopus, conch fritters, salmon.
That is so simple. My food is a taste of love in every bite. I have to love it, like it, this is really, really good before I serve it. I season everything. Not just salt and pepper. It is the garlic, the peppers, give it flavor. I use  a lot of wine and amaretto in my dishes. My food is not bland. 
Fried chicken. I almost burned the house down! Mother cooked all the time after getting off work. I’m home during summer break, and I wanted to surprise her.
I make the one with Nilla wafers, but also my banana pudding the scratch version with the cream and sugar. I add strawberries, caramel, chocolate, pecans and pineapple. That is called banana pudding delight. 
Cocolily. It is coconut and fresh pineapple and scotch bonnet and amaretto, a coconut curry. It is a beautiful dish and you serve it with fufu or rice, it is sometimes called “run down.” It is also vegan friendly. Most vegans love it. You can add chicken, salmon, steak, red snapper. It is a beautiful dish. When I did my pop restaurant, I’d serve it in a pineapple and called it the Cocolily pineapple chicken bowl.
People need to know what Lily Bell’s is and how I make tradition more up to date. My fried chicken is not just fried chicken, it is buttermilk and hot sauce, and it is marinated and the flavor goes deep down. You don’t just taste the seasoning on the batter, you taste it on the meat …
Also, I don’t use regular salt. I use pink Himalayan salt. I have spicy food, but it is not all spicy. 
First of all, I do alligator filets. I fry my alligator like I fry my fried chicken. I use a lot of Cajun seasonings, but I batter it like battered fried chicken. I serve it with barbecue sauce.
I have an alligator sausage. I marinate it in red wine and Cajun seasonings, grill it, then I saute it with onions and peppers and put it on a bun with my special mayo. I do use Duke’s, but the rest is a secret. It is served with buffalo macaroni and cheese. 
My mother would do butter pound cakes and put on homemade caramel from scratch. That’s how I do mine. 
I sell my cakes by the slice and whole cakes. For my food truck, it is usually sliced. People love the caramel cake, but the one they really, really love is the Tennessee honey cake. I ship those out, too. I have had people travel from Illinois for those. They just love the spiced rum glaze on top. I created that one with my daughter. My mother had nothing to do with that one. 
August is the planned opening for Granville Connect, 8500 W. Brown Deer. I will have my own space, and there will be I think five different vendors there. It is the old Target building.
Between my food truck and the kitchen there are two different menus. The kitchen has a large menu of choices. The food truck I usually keep it simple with jerk nachos, spicy chicken sandwiches, wings, rice, Cocolily, Tennessee honey cake, caramel cake, and my famous mango passion sweet tea. 
This year for the truck I’m booking up pretty fast and doing a lot of events. … I will be near 85th and Brown Deer at TruCannaBliss, that’s where I’m usually parked when I don’t have events on weekends. I’ll be at Fondy Market Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Washington Park Wednesday summer concerts for the jazz events (6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays July 13 to Aug. 31)
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