Chef Hari Pulapaka is a university mathematics and computer science professor by day and executive chef and co-owner of Cress Restaurant in DeLand, Florida at night. His wife meanwhile has an equally full professional plate as a practicing physician and restaurant general manager/sommelier. Hari earned his PhD from the University of Florida, graduated at the top of his class from Le Cordon Bleu: Orlando, is a four-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee for Best Chef: South, is a founding advisory board member of the Chef Action Network, blogs on the Huffington Post (From the Ivory Tower Kitchen), and last year published his first book, Dreaming in Spice. He is also a contributor to The Local Palate and in the March issue of TLP gave his expert picks for where to dine in the Sunshine State. His recommendations span the state from Miami to Saint Augustine and include five not-to-miss Florida dishes. We asked him to share his version of one of those recommended best sellers—Shrimp and Grits.
Globally inspired flavors using locally sourced ingredients are the hallmarks of Chef Pulapaka’s cuisine and he brings that influence to his recipe for Shrimp and Grits. “Most restaurants in the Southern USA have some version of this staple. The grits have been a Cress signature since the day we opened. Not knowing any better, I treated the grits as if it was polenta and infused it with shiitake mushrooms, bay leaves, and lots of fresh thyme. The key is to brown the butter at the beginning stage for a deep nutty flavor in the grits. This holds up to the strong flavors generated by the Creole spices and Andouille sausage,” says Hari.