By Erika Webb
Too much snow prompted Chef Chris Pruneau to move his family from Michigan to Florida five years ago.
His creativity and culinary expertise -- including an ability to put new spins on classic dishes -- landed him at Byte Fragments, Spirits in downtown DeLand just about a year ago.
Local restaurateurs Bill and Frank Jennings had their usual success-prone vision, and Chef Pruneau, who's been around long enough to understand what works and what doesn't, shared their certainty that the "upscale casual, contemporary American restaurant" would offer discerning diners the oft sought something different.
"There wasn't a concept of this nature in downtown DeLand," Chef Pruneau said. "Our goal in the beginning was to create something not so upscale it's not approachable on a daily basis, but unique enough that it's still an experience when you dine here."
With guests rejoicing because they "don't have to drive to Winter Park anymore," the ever-striving chef feels the concept is being embraced.
Growing up in Colorado and hunting with his dad, Chef Pruneau developed an appreciation for plated game.
Training under five master chefs at Schoolcraft in Lavonia, Mich., taught him the techniques needed to help others acquire a taste for something out of the norm.
"I wanted to incorporate a friendlier way of introducing game than just seared with vegetables," he said.
Just because you don't ordinarily wake up in the morning craving Antelope Osso Buco doesn't mean you won't love it once you've been introduced.
The same goes for Pheasant and Duck Fettuccine, Teriyaki Braised Ox Tail and Stuffed Kurobatto Pork Chops.
"These are classic techniques," Chef Pruneau said. "When you do it like that instead of putting a bunch of unfamiliar gastronomic techniques together with food people aren't familiar with, they might be less shy to order the dish. People can identify what Osso Buco is and that gives them a sense of what the dish is from the preparation."
Byte doesn't demand patrons throw any familiarity to the wind, however.
Seared scallops, char-grilled filet, pan seared snapper, stuffed Airline chicken breast, braised short rib and pork tenderloin also are on the menu, written primarily by Chef Pruneau and tweaked by his bosses.
Sandwiches include bison and Angus burgers, a couple of Panini selections and a fried green tomato BLT to name just a few.
Four different Naan Pizzas come decked with pear and Gorgonzola, Ahi Tuna, Heirloom Tomato and Duck Confit.
Salads and tapas-style "Fragments" also are included on the vastly optioned menu.
Chef Pruneau said he fell into the profession, "like everybody else does."
"My mom was ill (as I was) growing up so I took on a lot of the cooking duties at home," he explained.
He's been cooking professionally for 22 years, and has been a chef-manager for 15 years.
As executive chef at West Shore Golf and Country Club in Michigan and at several Hyatt and Ritz Carlton hotel restaurants in addition to time spent as Sous-chef at Mosaic -- ultra fine dining -- in Detroit, Chef Pruneau learned the ropes in a variety of settings.
"I also had the opportunity to work in a AAA Three Diamond restaurant under Chef Takashi Yagihashi," he said.
Chef Takashi has been "lauded by consumers and critics alike for his exquisite ways of melding contemporary French, Asian and American cuisine," according to Bravo TV.
Combining his culinary and managerial skills, Chef Pruneau owned and operated a chef-for-hire company for five years.
He was executive chef, simultaneously, at Caffeine Bistro and Wine Bar and its sister restaurant (formerly) Rose Villa, now Fusion 43, in Ormond Beach before deciding to commute from Palm Coast to DeLand to help create and oversee Byte in addition to managing the kitchen at the Jennings' other downtown eatery, Bill & Frank's Brickhouse Grill.
Making up for lost time Chef Pruneau, his wife, Alisa, and kids Tori, 12; Tara, 9 and Matthew, 2, are "very outdoors people." They enjoy life in the Sunshine State.
Even the Flagler to Volusia commute doesn't bother him.
"I relax, mellow out and listen to sports podcasts while I drive," Chef Pruneau said.
The easygoing, down-to-earth culinary cleric isn't a big fan of the television shows in which temperamental or self-elevating chefs flex their muscles.
His appetite leans more toward Unique Eats and Man v. Foods that inspire new ideas.
"I like shows that make me hungry," Chef Pruneau said, smiling.