Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chef Hari Pulapaka's (Cress Restaurant, Deland) book launch and signing event at the Elusive Grape

Greater Orlando is blessed with a vibrant and growing foodie scene that is being fueled by innovative, young (and some not so young) chefs such as Kevin Fonzo (K Restaurant), Scott Hunnell (Victoria & Albert's), James Petrakis (Ravenous Pig), Norman Van Aken (Norman's), Brandon McGlamery (Luma on Park), Henry Salgado (Txokos Basque Kitchen), Hari Pulapaka (Cress Restaurant), and Dustin Haney (Scratch). These chefs understand their role in growing the culture in the city and work cooperatively in many areas to keep the ball moving forward.

I love the food that these gentlemen prepare and admire the effort that they are putting in. This admiration and, in the case of Chef Hari, friendship, prompted my attendance at the launch party and signing event for his first book.

In emails, and in person, Chef Hari frequently mentioned writing a book but I would smile and nod knowingly because this guy does not have time for any other activities. He is, as he says, "the hardest working man not in show business." He is a Math professor at Stetson University in Deland, a full-time chef, and he and his wife are continuously initiating and managing myriad charity events. Where would he find time to write a book? Smile and nod.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I received the announcement email regarding completion of the book and an upcoming signing ceremony to be held at the Elusive Grape. Cress would be closed for the evening to allow Hari to give his full attention to the persons who showed their support by purchasing the book.

Subsequent Hari emails notified recipients that the event was sold out. In order to gain a close-in parking, we arrived way before the scheduled start time and that strategy was rewarded with a spot just outside the Elusive Grape back door. We parked and walked through the establishment to the front where attendees were being registered. Names were checked off on a list after which you were presented with a copy of the book, a T-shirt, and a glass of wine.

After registration, I re-entered the building, found a nice spot, and settled in for the long haul. As I looked around the crowded room, filled with smiling well-wishers, each with one or more of Hari's books clutched tightly under their arms, I thought how fitting it was that this milestone in Hari's life was being celebrated here at the Elusive Grape. Because these two entrepreneurs, and their respective establishments, are the culturotainment lifeblood/infrastructure of the city. They have taught the residents what to expect and demand -- in terms of high-quality food, wine, and social atmosphere -- and they have ensured that they themselves deliver to this self-defined bar.

After a while I began thumbing through the book. It was titled Dreaming in Spice. I would later get to know that 200 copies had been printed on this first run. That it had been printed locally. That the design and layout were all done by Hari. And that all the pictures were taken by Jenneffer and two other individuals. The book was primarily intended to share Hari's recipes with readers but presents them within the context of his evolving life journey, a journey which began, as detailed in the book, in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai). The book also has a section on wines (written by Jenneffer) and many of the recipes are accompanied by a banner on the bottom with suggested wine pairings.

After Harry had made the initial rounds, and signed most of the books in the room, he welcomed the attendees and thanked them for their support. He encouraged us to socialize and to partake of the hor d'oeuvres which would be passed around, recipes for which could be found in the book.

Hari exhorting, Jenneffer adoring
And fun was being had by all
It had been cold in the greater Orlando area for a while and this was the first nice evening (by Orlando standards) in a long time. So they took the party outside. Because that's what it had now become. A party. A chance for Hari and Jenneffer to sit back and enjoy themselves without having to worry about whether this plate was hot enough or if that customer was still gluten-free, etc.

Hari and Dustin Haney (Scratch)
Bram and Geraldine Fowler (longtime Orlando Chefs)
Two of my favorite chefs in town
Sposa, Fred, and the boys from Scratch
As per usual, the 4 of us were the last to leave the building
A great night was had by all. Friendships restored and/or re-invigorated. The cameraderie of Deland residents was on full display as well as their responsiveness to, and support of, the Pulapakas. I plan on reviewing the book on this site sometime in the future.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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