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.
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.
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.