Ten people making Orlando a better place to be 

People we love 2018

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click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Hari Pulapaka

Chef, mathematician, sustainability advocate

"Helping hands are better than praying lips." The quote from Saint Teresa of Calcutta resonates with Cress Restaurant's Hari Pulapaka, a Mumbai native who's called DeLand home for the past 18 years. There are talkers and there are doers, and Pulapaka is most definitely a doer.

Pulapaka is a Stetson mathematics professor by day and a chef by night – a stint that's earned him four James Beard Foundation Award nominations and, along with wife Jenneffer, high-profile invites to various food advocacy initiatives. Their dedication to social causes, particularly in light of benighted Trump administration policies, has placed the pair in the limelight at a time when many chefs and restaurateurs shy away from it. They've demonstrated unapologetic defiance, but have done so in a manner that fosters discourse through the universal language of food.

"We want to emphasize the power of food in bringing opposing views to a common table for dialogue, celebration and mutual understanding, as well as to highlight problems and injustices in society," says Pulapaka. "We want to empower business owners to be true to their values, not just in their private lives, but also while running their businesses."

Last year's 7 Courses, 7 Countries event offered a response to Trump's Muslim travel ban, and a Native American Dinner held on Trail of Tears Commemoration Day honored the sacrifice of American indigenous people. This year's Solidarity Sunday will showcase foods from nations Trump referred to as "shithole countries." Cress has hosted numerous charity dinners, be it in support of area farms or the hurricane victims of Puerto Rico.

And if that weren't enough, Pulapaka is at the forefront of the country's sustainability movement, participating in the James Beard Foundation's Impact Programs (Smart Catch, Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, Chef Action Network), the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, and the American Culinary Federation's educational programs.

Transitioning Cress into an events-only restaurant in its 10th year has afforded the Pulapakas time for such active involvement, and letting go of the daily grind has also allowed them to stage various fundraising events which they find to be "soul-satisfying."

"I feel privileged that I can engage in very active and meaningful ways to support these initiatives," Pulapaka says. "My aim is to make our region's food systems sustainable, equitable, just and delicious. Today I'm doing what I can in this regard as a restaurateur, chef and academic, but I'll continue to do so until the very end as a citizen."

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