Dinner raises funds for immigration and refugee charity
Digging in — This is just part of the crowd assembled for “7 Courses 7 Countries,” an international meal featuring dishes inspired by the cuisine of countries in the Middle East and Africa that were identified in a temporarily blocked executive order issued by President Donald Trump restricting immigration.
BEACON PHOTOS/JOE CREWS
Hard at work — Hari Pulapaka toils in the kitchen at Cress Restaurant, getting ready to send out another course in an international dinner inspired by seven Middle Eastern and African countries.
Some 300 people this past weekend enjoyed international cuisine while raising funds for a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants and refugees around the world.
Dubbed “7 Courses 7 Countries,” the meal — everything from appetizer to dessert — consisted of dishes inspired by cuisine from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Not coincidentally, those are the predominantly Muslim countries specified in President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order restricting arrivals from overseas. (The executive order is on hold pending a review by federal courts.)
“We wanted to open a discussion about diversity and inclusion, and to welcome everyone to the table,” said Jenneffer Pulapaka, one of the co-owners of Cress Restaurant, which staged the dinner. “Eating food from another culture is a glimpse of their lifestyle, religion, family and land. I wanted people to learn about these countries, their culture and their crisis.”
The menu and preparation were overseen by her husband and fellow co-owner, Chef Hari Pulapaka, who noted he was given a lot of help from other chefs and volunteers to get out seven courses to 300 people in an hour and 20 minutes.
“I had tremendous help,” Pulapaka said. “I didn’t solicit volunteers; they just came forward … in a selfless spirit emanating from the idea” of the themed fundraiser.
Jenneffer Pulapaka said Cress hired about 10 servers from Encore Catering, who were supplemented by nearly 20 volunteers who helped serve the family-style meal or assisted in the kitchen.
The diners, who paid $40 apiece for the privilege of sampling the international cuisine, sat around 34 tables on West Indiana Avenue under a cloudless sky and slightly cooler temperatures late Sunday afternoon. They dined on such dishes as split-pea and cici hummus (Syria), wagyu beef and potato kubba (Iraq), camel-duck kebab (Libya), and saffron rice pudding (Iran).
Leftover food was donated to First United Methodist Church of DeLand.
While most of the guests were from West Volusia, many came from outside the area — places like East Volusia, Orlando and Winter Park, and Mount Dora, Jenneffer Pulapaka said.
Net proceeds from the ticket sales will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that, according to its website (www.rescue.org), “responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.”
Jenneffer Pulapaka said that agency was chosen because it does its work both internationally and within the United States.
In addition to the price of their tickets, diners also were able to make separate donations to the IRC. Charity Navigator gives the IRC a 4-Star rating, while CharityWatch grades it A+.
Save for one man who shouted “Trump, Trump” as he walked down a sidewalk, the dinner went off without any protests or similar trouble. Hari Pulapaka was pleased with the turnout.
“Anybody who says we’re in trouble in this country needs to just look at this gathering of 300-plus people and say maybe we’re not in trouble,” he said.
- Joe Crews, email@example.com