Hari Pulapaka, who along with his wife, Jenneffer, built his DeLand restaurant, Cress, into a destination for Central Florida food fans, has stepped away from day-to-day operations and is no longer listed as the restaurant’s chef.
The new majority owner is Tom Brandt; the Pulapakas are still listed as co-owners and Jenneffer continues to run Cress’s wine program.
Brandt quietly bought a majority of the restaurant last summer with the understanding that Pulapaka would eventually step away fully. In a message, Brandt wrote, “Was a little sooner than expected but Hari is focussing on a new cookbook and other ventures...”
In a phone conversation Wednesday, Pulapaka said he had remained involved as chef at Cress when it reopened as a full-time restaurant last August after a time as a special events venue. He stayed on for about nine months. “Up until just before Covid hit, I was running the kitchen,” he said. “When we were hit with this calamity,” Pulapaka said referring to the pandemic and the forced shutdown of restaurants, “I helped them in reorganizing.”
But he saw the downtime as a chance to work on his next cookbook, “Sinfully Vegetarian,” a sequel to his first book, “Dreaming in Spice.”
The Cress kitchen is currently staffed by sous chef Phil Pierce and Sam Bove, both of whom were trained by Pulapaka. “As far as I know,” Pulapaka said, they’re “still practicing scratch cooking and sourcing their ingredients from local producers.” He said the cooks, and Brandt, consult with him from time to time.
“My stamp is still on the menu, if you read it,” he said, but noted that it may go “in more French directions.”
When it reopened in August, Cress celebrated its 12th year in business. During that time, Pulapaka has gained national recognition as a chef with multiple nominations for a regional James Beard Foundation Award, and the restaurant has won numerous awards, including two Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.
In addition to completing his cookbook, Pulapaka will return to his other full-time job as a math professor at Stetson University in the fall.