Gluten-Free Chef has the Right Beet

Gluten-free chef Franklin Becker spends his days inside and outside of the kitchen. As a chef and partner in two completely gluten-free restaurants in New York City, The Little Beet  and The Little Beet Table, Becker’s days take him from the office to the kitchen and if you are lucky, right to your table.

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Chef Franklin Becker has two Little Beet restaurants and is opening a third.

Becker has a unique perspective on the connection between food and health. After a diagnosis with Type 2 Diabetes in his late 20s, he rethought his approach to food. Becker started cooking with simple, wholesome ingredients to prepare healthy, delicious meals. His thinking changed again after his son was diagnosed with autism and began a gluten- and dairy-free diet. He says he saw firsthand how the diet helped improve his son’s behavior. More broadly, he gained insights into gluten-free dining and the need for restaurants where gluten-free diners didn’t have to worry about cross-contamination.

Even before opening The Little Beet in January 2014 and the Little Beet Table in November, Becker had an impressive resume. He was previously the corporate chef of the EMM group and oversaw menus at three New York restaurants— Abe & Arthurs, CATCH and Lexington Brass. He was also the executive chef at Capitale, Brasserie and Trinity at the Tribeca Grand Hotel.

Located in Midtown near the theatre district, The Little Beet focuses on seasonal dishes made with a combination of local and natural ingredients. The menu currently includes winter soups such as cauliflower leek and yellow split pea, a barbeque chicken bowl and the option to create your own plate by combining proteins and side dishes. Becker is currently in the process of expanding, with plans to open a second The Little Beet this month on Long Island. From there, he hopes to open additional locations in New York and other cities.

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The cozy, gluten-free Little Beet Table

The success of The Little Beet, coupled with requests for a sit-down restaurant where gluten-free patrons could enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail, inspired Becker to open The Little Beet Table on Park Avenue South. Its extensive menu includes two types of flatbreads and entrees such as grilled skirt steak with roasted fingerling potatoes and chimichurri.

During the lunch hour rush at The Little Beet Table, Becker shared what his typical day is like on both sides of the kitchen, all the while keeping a watchful eye on his newest restaurant.

What time do you wake up?
I wake up between 6 and 7 a.m. Today, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. because I was filming to promote the restaurant all morning.
What’s for breakfast?
I really love our quinoa oatmeal at The Little Beet. I have diabetes so I have to be careful. It’s usually something as simple as a banana, or I may have a piece of toast. I really don’t eat that much breakfast. I tend to snack a bit more.
What’s an average day like for you?
I stop off at the office at 8 a.m., and I tend to get to one of my restaurants by 9 a.m. Throughout the day, I check on service, work lunch service, and I have meetings in the afternoon. We are opening up more Little Beet locations, and I am involved in everything taking place with growing a company. Every day I spend time with diners, the media and even celebrities. In the evening, I work dinner service and usually leave the restaurant at 10 or 11 p.m. I have a very full day.
Right now The Little Beet Table is in its infancy. I kind of liken it to being a parent with a baby. It’s important to make sure you don’t mishandle that baby and you cuddle it and protect it so it grows up to be a strong young man or woman. You really have to nurture that child. So I am here all the time and cooking all the time. As time progresses and we open up more restaurants, I do the same thing over and over again with each new one.
Is there anything surprising about your day?
Well, there are different surprises every day. That’s what I love about the restaurant business. There is always a curveball. Everybody can hit fastballs all day. You train your eye to learn the speed of that fastball and you take your bat and you swing. To hit a curve ball every day is a little bit more difficult, but that’s what makes my job so interesting.
Do you taste test throughout the day?
Absolutely, that is part of my control of my blood sugar for diabetes. I am constantly grazing throughout the day so I don’t spike my insulin.
Is there one gluten-free entree or appetizer you enjoy preparing?
I don’t know if there is any one thing I love cooking more than the next. But I really love vegetables in all shapes and forms. I love discovering new ways to highlight those vegetables. I also love the simplicity of fish.
What’s your favorite part of the day?
My favorite part of the day would have to be right before dinner service. I just like to get into that dinner mode when I know I am about to feed people. I just start to relax a little bit because all of my prep work is done. It’s the time I like the most.
What’s for dinner?
I eat dinner, but I don’t eat big portions. I don’t go out and eat a 6-course meal or anything like that. I generally nibble throughout the day. I often eat in the kitchen standing up, which is not necessarily the healthiest.
How has overseeing two gluten-free restaurants changed you?
I feel like everywhere you turn there is someone you hear about with a new diagnosis. It’s made me more aware of what a good service we are doing for the gluten-free community.
What do you hope gluten-free diners leave with at the end of meal at your restaurants?
I don’t want diners to be cheated because they require a gluten-free diet. I wanted the food it to be just like the food I would serve in any of my previous restaurants. I hope our patrons leave with a feeling that they went to a great restaurant and that they enjoyed their meal.
What does being part of the gluten-community mean to you?
It means that I am doing good for someone else, and that is important.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Susan Cohen is the author of the Day in the Life series. She is a freelance writer based in New York and also contributes to Gluten-Free Living magazine.

A Day in the Life – Gluten Free in Paris

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Frederique Jules working at NOGLU

Frédérique Jules is a pioneer for gluten-free cuisine in Paris. She is the owner of NOGLU, one of only a few completely gluten-free restaurants in the city known for its love affair with wheat.

To understand why Ms. Jules is a pioneer, you have to consider the gluten-free landscape in France. While awareness of celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity has been progressively increasing in the United States, both are still under the radar in France. As a result, restaurants are not yet catering to gluten-free diners in the same manner that many have begun to here.

Ms. Jules recognized this void because she has celiac disease and understands the difficulties of dining gluten free in Paris. The lack of options inspired her to open NOGLU, where she has been providing a gluten-free dining experience for two years. The word “experience” is important. Dining in Paris in not just about eating, it’s intended to be an experience.

NOGLU is a 30-seat farm-to-table restaurant in the passage des Panoramas. The menu changes daily based on availability at the market. There are always fish, meat and vegetarian options and of course, pastries. The three weekly menu staples are pizza on Tuesdays, burgers on Wednesday and lasagna on Thursday. “As a celiac, I know that we want pasta, the crunch of [a crisp] pizza [crust],” Ms. Jules explains. She also understands the importance of dessert. “At the end of lunch I always have dessert.”

noglu 2I had the privilege of dining, or should I say “experiencing,” NOGLU in February during a vacation in Paris. It was a Saturday night and the restaurant was packed. From start to finish, my meal was exceptional: potato and leek soup into which I dipped my gluten-free bread, lamb with pureed potatoes and glazed carrots and a moist lemon tart.

I left NOGLU physically full, but hungry to learn more about Ms. Jules and what it takes to run a gluten-free restaurant in Paris. I had the opportunity to find out about her day while she was in New York City for the opening of her husband’s new restaurant.  Over tea at the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, Ms. Jules graciously shared the day-to-day workings of her restaurant.

NOGLU is her first restaurant. “My husband has many restaurants so that was why I was thinking to open one,” she says. Through watching her husband’s restaurant operations she learned firsthand how to run one. However, there was still a learning curve.

“At the beginning it was really hard to find products certified,” she says. Even finding chefs was difficult. “I met a lot of people and I found one chef and one pastry chef and I said, ‘Ok we can try, the challenge to do gluten-free.’” It’s been getting easier.  NOGLU is quite busy these days and serves up to 80 on some Sundays for brunch. Ms. Jules is even preparing to open a take-out version of NOGLU with sandwiches and pastries. Here’s what she says about her typical day, though it’s hard to imagine an average day in Paris.

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Diners at NOGLU

What time do you wake up?

I wake up at 7:00 a.m.

What’s for breakfast?

Breakfast is light because at the restaurant I have to test a lot of things.  Every day I am testing either a cake, muffin or another dessert. I also test vegetables and soup. I have a light breakfast that is usually a smoothie made with almond milk and a little bit of fruit, gluten-free toast and tea. We have wonderful bread at NOGLU.

I arrive at the restaurant a 9:00 a.m. I have to check the telephone messages. I am in charge of the products. My chefs are Japanese and American and do not speak French well. I have to take care of expenses. I’m doing the service for lunch. In the afternoon we have a meeting with the team.

What are your daily responsibilities at the restaurant?

I have to check the menu to be sure it’s what I want – it’s what people want. We have some orders each day. Sometimes we have journalists who call. I have to check the stocks. Between noon and 3:30 p.m., I am serving. I like the contact, it’s important.

What’s surprising about your day?

It’s really physical. I didn’t think about the physicality when I opened NOGLU. We have steps in the restaurant. I think it’s good that I was a runner when I was younger.

What’s your favorite part of the day?

I love the morning because the day is starting, and we don’t know what will happen. We have a lot of work preparing for a nice lunch. Everyone is concentrating. It’s the most important part of the day. If something is bad in the morning the day is off.

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An entree at NOGLU

How late do you work?

I’m in the restaurant until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. At home I work from 9:30 to 11:00 p.m. handling online reservations and working on the menu. The menu depends on the market. We call the night before for fish and vegetables and arrive from small farm every week. It’s really nice.

What’s for dinner?

Dinner is light. I have it with my two daughters. It’s always veggies and rice or cereal. No meat, no fish. For my daughter there are always cookies from NOGLU.

How has owning this restaurant changed you?

I have to manage a lot of people. I had to change. I always was a hard worker, but now I think I’m harder with my employees. I am the boss and they see me as the boss. It’s not always easy. My relations with people changed. I also have to be passionate with the clients.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I wanted to say that celiac disease is a way of life now. We know it’s important for us. Some people say it’s a mod [trend]. It’s not a mod. It’s a way of life. I see so many children. The parents say, “We have a big problem she is celiac.” I say, “You are different, but you will be happy. Have you seen all the good pastries?” I just want to say it’s not finished when you are celiac. It’s not sad. It’s different. There has to always be a positive message. You can have a good lunch and dinner. You have to cook. You have to be interested in cooking.

Guest blogger Susan Cohen regularly writes the New for You column for Gluten-Free Living and also contributes to the In the Mix column.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)