conway cafe damage

Conway Cafe, the little diner on Hoffner Avenue in South Orlando, has closed. Lenny Mosse, the owner since 2012, said that he has been under heavy debt for some time, but the problems caused by Hurricane Irma were "the last straw."

LIke many residences and businesses, Conway Cafe lost power during the storm. The cafe did not get it back until Sept. 13, but the air conditioning system was damaged and could not be repaired for two more days. Mosse said that he threw out approximately $4000 worth of food and estimates total damages at $8000 to $10000. At top is a photo of the damage that was posted on the restaurant's Facebook page.

"I couldn't exactly run a generator there," he said when reached by phone Thursday. "You can't run it indoors and it would have been stolen in that neighborhood as soon as I fell asleep next to it."

Mosse said he had been trying to sell the restaurant since March through a broker but had not had any interested buyers. 

He said he will declare bankruptcy and "get a job for a corporation and let someone else worry about" the business.

Murphy dinner cupcakes

Earlier in the summer I received an intriguing invitation from an assistant to U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy: "Congresswoman Murphy would like to offer an invitation for you to tour downtown Sanford's exciting restaurants," the note read. "She would be honored if you would join her on this food tour." The honor would be mine, I replied, and we set up a date.

Murphy, a Democrat representing Florida's 7th Congressional District, is the first Vietnamese-American woman -- and only the second Vietnamese-American -- elected to Congress. Her family fled Communist-controlled Vietnam when she was six months old. She, her parents and brother were rescued by the U.S. Navy when the boat they were on lost power. She defeated the 23-year Republican incumbent, John Mica, in the 2016 election.

Murphy, 39, lives in Winter Park with her husband, Sean, and two children. But she wanted to showcase the burgeoning restaurant scene in Sanford, so we arranged to meet at The Corner Cafe near her Sanford office.

Magical dining month logo

Visit Orlando is extending the dates for its annual restaurant promotion, Magical Dining Month, to October 12. The reason, of course, is the loss of momentum for the popular event that occurred as people prepared for the possible impact of the hurricane earlier in the month and the cleanup and loss of power and supplies that prevented an immediate return to business as normal.

Historically, Magical Dining Month has been confined to the calendar days of September, though in recent years it has started with a "preview week" beginning in 

The extension is voluntary for the participating restaurants, more than a hundred spread out over the Central Florida region. So far, more than half have indicated they will offer the special menus through Oct. 12.

Magical Dining Month restaurants offer a special menu of three courses for $35, often representing quite a savings over a restaurant's regular prices for the same meal. Restaurants pledge $1 from every MagDinMo meal sold to a charity chosen by Visit Orlando. This year's beneficiaries are Freedom Ride and BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation.

It would be surprising for any restaurants to reject the extension -- Magical Dining Month is a boon to business during a historically slow time for restaurants. And with the hurricane -- possibly hurricanes -- causing a disruption, more business would be a good thing.

In case you missed it, here's a tutorial on how to get the most out of Magical Dining Month.

urbain40 fountain

I took the occasion of Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month to revisit Urbain 40, which recently changed chefs. I needn't have waited because I ended up setting the MagDinMo menu aside and ordering from the regular menu anyway.

Urbain 40 opened in late 2015 at the Dellagio plaza on Restaurant Row. Despite some issues with service, I liked the restaurant very much, especially the decor and atmosphere, which is classic French brasserie on a par with Bofinger or Le Procope in Paris, and the food, which was under the direction of French native Jean-Stephane Poinard. Poinard's menu reflected his Central France and Lyon upbringing, classic French fare.

But Urbain 40 and Poinard parted ways.

Just a few months after Urbain 40 opened, Tim Keating and Flying Fish Cafe also parted ways when the Disney restaurant closed for the months-long renovations that would rename it Flying Fish.

Keating is now overseeing Urbain 40 and has instituted a menu that is less classically French and more reflective of an American brasserie (which he told me was always the direction the restaurant had meant to go).

harithumbHari Pulapaka, executive chef and co-owner of Cress restaurant in DeLand, has been selected as a candidate for the American Culinary Federation's certified master chef title.

Pulapaka and nine other candidates from across the country will participate in an eight-day exam that will test their skills in a variety of areas, including healthy cooking, buffet catering, classical cuisine, freestyle cooking, global cuisine, baking and pastry, continental and Northern European cuisines. It will conclude with a mystery basket of ingredients from which the candidates must prepare a five-course meal.

"I'm excited, I'm anxious but I'm not scared," Pulapaka said Monday. "It's been a long time coming." He said that he sent his first letter of intent to pursue the certification over two years ago.

The candidates will be judged by a panel of current CMCs on Kitchen skills, plate presentation and taste. There are currently only 65 chefs with the CMC designation. All candidates must have passed the certified executive chef or certified culinary educator level to be eligible to compete for the CMC. Pulapaka received his CEC in 2012. That process also included written and practical exams, though not as rigorous as the CMC test.

Although the ACF is based in St. Augustine, the exam will take place at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich. The exam runs from Saturday, Sept. 30 through Oct. 7. It is not a competition among the contestants, Pulapaka said, but any candidates that don't receive a score of between 75 and 100 points each day will be eliminated.

Besides Pulapaka, two other Florida chefs will compete: Gerald Ford, executive sous chef, The Everglades Club, Palm Beach; and Seth Shipley, The Gasparilla Inn & Club, Boca Grande. Of the other candidates, only one is a woman.
Of course, anyone can call himself or herself a chef. You might even get away with calling yourself a master chef. It's when you start claiming a title from a certifying agency like the ACF. (There are other culinary organizations that also offer certification).

It's similar to the term doctor. If you want to, you can start calling yourself Dr. So-and-so. But you'd better be able to back your claim up with a diploma if after your name you add the initials MD or even PhD.

And Pulapaka knows something about that, too. He's Dr. Pulapaka, PhD, to his students at his day job teaching math at Stetson University.