Franklin Becker knows firsthand about practicing a healthy lifestyle. The chef of New York City's new health haven Little Beet reveals that his cooking has become progressively healthier since he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1997. Formerly the corporate executive chef of EMM Group restaurants — and thus, the man behind city hotspots Abe & Arthur's, Catch and Lexington Brass —Becker has noticed a large-scale transformation in people's eating habits. And in just one afternoon, we've noticed as well. We're interviewing him upstairs at his fast casual spot in Midtown, which just served a whopping 620 customers during lunch rush hour. That's a lot of Little Beet Salads. Here, he talks about how we got to a place where it's cool to eat healthy and, apparently, "in vogue" to follow a gluten-free diet. Yes, we've certainly come a long way.
What is your goal at Little Beet?
My goal is to provide healthy alternative lifestyle food for the masses. Hopefully, we will have many units spawn out of this. We’re looking for more locations currently. People are a lot more conscious [of] what they are putting into their bodies nowadays.
How did this consciousness come about?
When I was a kid, there were no organics because everything was organic. There were no pesticides put into foods — our mothers cooked everything at home and it was a privilege to eat out. Families were much more conscious [of] what they were putting into their bodies. The '70s and '80s brought with them microwave dinners and a lot of GMOs and modifications. People started to get unhealthy and there were higher instances of diabetes and cancer and autism.
What changed all of this?
Tom Colicchio started the whole farm-to-table movement and people started to become more conscious in the restaurant business, but it was still cost-prohibitive. When Whole Foods came about, it started to open it up to more of a mass clientele. Now, everything is, “I went to the health food store! I went to Whole Foods!”
It’s cool to eat healthy now.
Correct. All of a sudden, gluten-free eating is becoming “in vogue” right now. It’s unfortunate, but I think it tells us that we need to get back to grassroots cooking and to wholesome ingredients.
What are the ingredients you’re seeing pop up more and more in restaurants?
More farm-to-table sourcing, no pesticides, grass-fed meats, sustainable fisheries. Everybody is more conscious of the environment.
Do you think any of these terms are overdone sometimes in popular culture?
Yes, I do. There is an overdone aspect to it. But if you look at Tom’s camp or Dan Kluger or Michael Anthony, they take it to heart and are doing it on an upper level.
What do you foresee in 2014 for healthy eating?
I think we are going to see more and more chefs take on fast casual. There are chefs like Spike Mendelsohn and Mike Isabella who are doing it in DC, and I think we are going to see more chefs who are serious about food getting involved in this movement.
What do you think about juice cleanses?
I think everything is good. When you’re juicing, you have to be careful since you are getting your nutrients — and sugars — in very quickly. It’s great that you’re using that energy right away, but I think you still need solid foods to balance things out.
Editor's Note: The article has been edited to reflect the chef's referring to gluten-free eating being "in vogue" and not Celiac disease.
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