110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 18, 2012 - 6:51:26am
When Hari Pulapaka and his wife, Jenneffer, opened Cress restaurant in Downtown DeLand a little more than four years ago, they promised to take diners on a global excursion, sampling tastes from various countries and ethnicities, with a focus on flavor and freshness.
Judging by the reviews, the Pulapakas have succeeded with panache. The latest in a succession of honors they have received is being named the No. 1 restaurant in the Greater Orlando area by Zagat.
Zagat develops ratings for top restaurants worldwide, using thousands of surveys in the eateries’ local areas. The company provides rating information for local city guides.
The survey, released this month, covered 360 restaurants in the Orlando area, with 5,614 surveys.
Tagged as the restaurant with the top food is the “eclectic” Cress, scoring 29 out of 30 points on the Zagat scale. The restaurant at 103 W. Indiana Ave. beat out high-status and more pricey Orlando restaurants, such as Victoria & Albert’s, which came in second.
“Yay for DeLand,” Hari said, laughing.
It used to be that people went to Orlando for fine dining, Jenneffer noted; now, people are traveling from Orlando to DeLand for the food.
Hari is a 2011 James Beard Nominee for best chef in the South, and a 2012 Food and Wine Magazine nominee for best new chef. The Zagat rating is caviar on the cracker.
Chef Hari hasn’t always been cooking. As Dr. Hari, he has been a professor of mathematics at Stetson University for the past 12 years.
But growing up in India, Hari developed a love for good food and cooking. Just about everything in his native country was cooked fresh.
So, when he saw an opportunity to attend culinary school, he did, grateful that Stetson let him take a sabbatical to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando.
That led to the opening of Cress about four years later, after Hari honed his culinary skills.
Jenneffer is also a doctor, with a day job as a podiatrist at DeLand Foot & Leg Center.
At the restaurant, she manages the front — and the wines — while Hari cooks.
Along with the foods, which run the gamut from chicken to ostrich, Cress prides itself on an excellent wine selection.
“Not many people served ostrich in DeLand before,” Jenneffer said.
She selects the wines, and recommends particular wines to customers, based on customer tastes and the foods that will be served.
The two lead very busy lives, going from Cress to their other jobs, then back to Cress.
“It’s a personal passion first, a business second,” Hari said.
The passion is what has made Cress successful, he added.
People appreciate the personal touches and the fresh, mostly organic foods.
Hari said food is ordered several times a week, to assure the freshness of the ingredients.
For example, if fish is on the menu, Hari will tell you when and where it was caught, and whether it was line-caught or net-caught, Jenneffer said. People seek out that food and service.
“We’ve never been safe in our menu,” Hari said, “We’re always pushing our boundaries.”
Of the award and the attention, Hari said, “It’s definitely flattering, all this,” but, he added, “We’re very proud of DeLand.”
It’s DeLandites who have made Cress, by being willing to be adventurous and try new tastes. DeLandites are now the trendsetters, Hari said.
The Pulapakas give back to the community that has nurtured them, supporting local organizations such as The Neighborhood Center, and taking part in the Food Stamp Challenge in support of Hunger Action Month. They sponsored their fourth-anniversary Charity Dinner in September at the restaurant.
Along with their passion for fine food well-prepared, the Pulapakas are passionate about helping the homeless, the hungry and the needy.
“Always, you have to give back,” Hari said.
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