Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Franklin Becker: I started cooking out of necessity. My mom became ill when I was 7 and my father was an awful cook. When my mom started to get better, I was constantly assisting her with holiday dinners and such. When I was 14, I joined the staff of a neighborhood restaurant and have not looked back these past 21 years!
AB: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Why or why not?
FB: I attended the CIA and highly recommend school provided the student has a full understanding of the demands the industry puts upon us. School gives clarity, provides students with the basics, and gives a sense of community. Community and teamwork are key factors to succeeding in the kitchen.
AB: Who do you consider to be your primary mentor?
FB: I guess looking back on my career, Bobby Flay comes to mind.
AB: How has he inspired you?
FB: Bobby’s bold palate and plate presentations inspired me most. Having worked at several run-of-the-mill restaurants prior to attending school, I had never seen such elaborate presentations before. It was 1993 and Bobby was hot!
AB: What did you find most rewarding working under him?
FB: He had a chef de cuisine, Jan Sendel who was a pit bull; he’s since passed away. Nothing got past him. He was organized and ran the kitchen with grace and dignity.
AB: What did you learn from him about the following:
FB: a. cooking - That sky’s the limit and if you like the way it tastes, someone else will too.
FB: b. managing a staff and leadership – He was efficient and he spoke to everyone with respect. He did not stifle anyone’s ideas, but rather encouraged free thought.
FB: c. running a business – It’s a balancing act. Everyday a monkey wrench gets thrown into your plans. You have to roll with the punches.
AB: How would you describe your leadership style?
FB: I lead with a firm hand, but always encourage free thought. If someone wants to show me something, I’ll see it--provided their mise en place is done first. I am very even and fair, but by no means a push over. I guess my style is very much like Bobby’s was back then.
AB: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned over the course of your career thus far? What about greatest challenges so far?
FB: Do not burn your bridges--this industry is way too small. And, in order to be on top, you cannot sleep! Raising two children and not really having enough time to spend with them is tough.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool, and why?
FB: For me, the vita prep blender by vita mix. I love the variable speed feature that enables me to create smoother purees and cleaner infusions.
AB: What are a few of your favorite cookbooks?
FB: Essential cuisine by Michel Bras, The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, and Fish and Shellfish by James Peterson. These are three of my favorite cookbooks. They all have influenced my style of cooking.
AB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
FB: Sweet and savory together in desserts, crustaceans and creme fraiche, grapefruit and avocado, orange and fennel, rhubarb and fennel, mushrooms and crustaceans, and citrus and anything.
AB: Have you traveled to other culinary destinations? Have you completed any stages abroad?
FB: I traveled to Italy and Greece and staged in Positano and Ischia, two islands off the Amalfi coast of Italy.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? What are your goals for the future? Do you dream of owning your own restaurant? Why or why not?
FB: Hopefully, I will be in a better position with the company. My goals have always been to own my own restaurant. But if it does not happen, a slice of the pie wouldn’t be so bad. It’s tough owning your own place, I don’t sleep now, imagine if it were my place?
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
FB: Why do you want to cook?
AB: What’s the most important piece of advice or tip you have to share with young, aspiring chefs?
FB: Be patient, work hard, and do not worry about what the next guy is doing, concentrate on yourself.