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An American Chef in Orlando, Via France

Written By Scott Joseph On April 1, 2013

Ben and Melanie SchrankBenjamin and Melanie Schrank in their Reims restaurant in July 2012.Benjamin Schrank, the Central Florida-raised chef who found himself owning a restaurant in Reims, France, is back in his hometown. Schrank accepted a position as executive chef at Christini’s on Restaurant Row. 

Schrank said that late last year someone came into his restaurant, L’Autre Table, in the Champagne district and made him an offer to buy the business and the apartment upstairs that he and his wife, Melanie, lived in. The Schranks  talked it over and decided it was time for a new adventure. Schrank found the Christini’s job listing online and applied for it. His background with French cuisine was a plus. He was hired.

Actually, Schrank had more experience cooking French cuisine before he opened his restaurant in Reims. He had been working at Cafe de France in Winter Park when the owner suggested he take a vacation in France to learn more about the cuisine. It was while he was on that vacation, in Paris, that he met his future wife. They took a trip out to Reims and decided that’s where they would like to open a restaurant.

L’Autre Table, however, featured the food that all of Europe currently clamors for: burgers. Schrank presented the all-American foodstuff with a French sensibility, including making his own ketchup. I visited L’Autre Table last July with a group of students from the University of Central Florida following a tour of one of the local Champagne houses. The Schranks closed the restaurant for our visit and served what several of the students said was the best meal they had on the entire trip. Here is my account of our visit to L’Autre Table.

Schrank returned to Central Florida, where his mother and father and other family members still live, in January. Melanie remains in France for the time being until Schrank can get things settled, including the paperwork necessary for the French-born Melanie.

Schrank, who learned to speak French by deep immersion (his wife refused to speak to him unless he used French), said there has been some readjusting to life back in the States. In France, he said, “They’re not big on central air conditioning,” so he’s always cold when he goes into an air-conditioned building. On the other hand, it was snowing when his flight left Paris, and he had to change clothes as soon as he got to Miami because it was so warm.

I asked Schrank if he had any plans to open a restaurant like L’Autre Table in Orlando. He said he’s thought of it, but for now he’s happy with the steady paycheck his current restaurant gig offers. “I started from zero,” he said, without a car or many of his other possessions.  So there’s plenty of rebuilding to be done.

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