A Gluten-Free Popup Makes Celiac Dining Easy
Kings County Supper for Queens and Paupers is a new gluten-free popup run by Molly Franklin, a celiac chef. Franklin had been doing a five-month popup at Cake Shop in the Lower East Side when the opportunity to do a popup at Café Ghia in Bushwick arose. Franklin’s next popup is a benefit for Say Yes to 722, a group working for affordable artist space in Williamsburg.
GP: What’s the benefit to both you and the restaurant of doing a popup?
Molly: In both cases it’s a mutually beneficial situation. Costs of running small businesses in New York are prohibitive, and looking for new ways to maximize your abilities to generate revenue, while not running your self and your staff into the ground are valuable to existing businesses. For new businesses, like mine, it’s a way to work in a fully permitted space and let people see what we can do.
GP: What do you like about doing a popup versus working in a restaurant?
Molly: I love having time to spend with my boyfriend, friends and family. In the restaurant industry the weekends, evenings and holidays are where you make your money. It can be pretty isolating. Doing a popup event is an immense amount of work, but you can squeeze in some normalcy! It’s also exciting to be able to push the parameters a bit. You need to move a burger or a reliable chicken dish to keep a restaurant’s doors open. To focus on two different tasting menus for an event where you can let your creativity fly is thrilling.
GP: What is your food philosophy?
Molly: My goals are always to make an approachably beautiful plate of food that leaves you feeling sated and ready to face whatever the world is about to throw at you. Food can be a form of expression, a source of comfort, but ultimately it is the fuel that feeds your machine. I work on layering spices and playing on themes of a single ingredient taking multiple roles in a dish, not only the all important additions of fat and salt to get the pow and oomph. I try to give vegetables as much love and attention as proteins get. I want you to leave a meal in state of bliss that helps you focus on the actually hard parts of life.
GP: How did you become a chef?
Molly: I had avoided being in the kitchen for years. I have been in the industry for many years, and the quality of life for kitchen staff is brutal. For women, the culture of misogyny adds a whole other layer of frustration. The front of the house was where you could at least make a living. I worked as a bartender for many years, and created cocktail programs as well as managed several different restaurants and bars. This allowed me to work with and learn from great chefs, and I loved entertaining at home, on my own terms. Once I found out I had celiac disease, going out became tougher to manage. I remember the last cross contaminated french fry I gobbled at a birthday lunch and having to run home. It gave me the desire to want to share food that would be safe for folks that suffer from auto immune disorders, but it would be so crazy delicious that norms would chow down and never even think to complain that there wasn’t a bread basket on the table.
GP: What do you think about the gluten-free food scene today, in New York and elsewhere?
Molly: I am blown away when I travel around the US. Other markets seem to have really embraced clarity in menu labeling, and valuing the gluten-freecustomer. We were in Durham, NC and were going to visit a friend working at a spot called Dashi which is a ramen bar downstairs, and an izakaya upstairs. I initially assumed I would be having a drink and nothing else. Wrong! They have tons of options, and the bulk of the izakaya menu was gluten free. I almost cried, it’s been so long since I had been able to eat freely like that. S
oy sauce is a no go for a celiac, and Japanese food is one of my favorite cuisines. Boston is great about providing information, too. I went to the original Toro, the great tapas spot from Ken Oringer and Jaime Bissonette and they hand you a separate gluten-free menu at location. At Toro here in the meatpacking district, the staff is super well informed and very kind and accommodating, but the culture in New York doesn’t call for separate menus.
I think we’re making a mistake. Clarity makes life easier on your staff as well as your clientele. I don’t walk into a boulangerie and expect a gluten-free baguette that rips like the real deal, or that every Korean BBQ joint is going to be able to feed me safely, but one out of every 100 people is a fair chunk of the population. We can do better.
GP: The popup scene has really flourished in New York and across the country. What are a few popups you’d really recommend checking out?
Molly: Adventurous eaters love being ahead of the curve, and what’s more exciting than trying a new concept before it even has a new home?
I always look to my friend Erin Norris, who owns Grindhaus in Red Hook — she’s often hosting neat popups. They’ve had a great Korean concept and a vegan roti lunch popup in recent memory. And Chiang Mai, also recently in Red Hook is now looking for a permanent home after a residency at Home/Made.
A buddy of mine just collaborated with Heatonist to put out a stellar looking menu. Some of the best popups are completely underground, and you can’t really blow up their spot without putting people in jeoprady with city agencies.
GP: What are you top five gluten-free dishes to make at home?
Molly: For an easy breakfast that keeps me going and doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m missing out, I often dice skin on sweet potatoes, toss them in a cast iron skillet with some coconut oil, diced onions and whole garlic cloves, I’ll add a little bit of water as I go to make sure the sweets cook through without scorching, and throw in slices one of the many great gluten-free sausages on the market and usually some kale. Alone or with a couple of sunny side up eggs it is a great all day breakfast.
I live for my spiralizer, and use it on squash and sweet potatoes and anything else i can twirl. Most GF pastas are lackluster at best.
I also LOVE turning the sweet potatoes into a riff on cold sesame noodles, which is comfort food at it’s finest. Plus, when you can make a vegan, real food gluten free dish eat like drunk comfort food, you know you have a winner. This was my biggest seller at Cake Shop.
I miss cuban sandwiches, they are such a great treat. There are no gf breads that come close to holding up to the memory of a Cuban loaf. I had a friend turn me onto jibarito’s, similar to patacones, which are sandwiches on fried plantains. It pretty much has that period of mourning kicked — it works like a dream with all of the fixings and I like to add a fresh citrus and herb hot sauce, too. It will take you to church.
While I don’t have any problems processing dairy, many celiacs do. I’m from New England, and clam chowders and fish chowders really spell comfort for me. I love using coconut milk in place of dairy and no roux, it gives me all of the satisfaction and comfort, but has a great lighter feeling for your body.
GP: What’s the most surprising food that has gluten in it, that you didn’t know about until you discovered you were celiac?
Molly: At first it’s all a surprise! I had never been one to really eat that much processed food, but it’s everywhere. The real whammy for me was slow smoking a pastrami a few years back. I was using a grill in a friend’s amazing backyard, and went with the briquettes on hand. What I didn’t know then is that in many briquettes wheat starch is the binder. I was really ill for three days, likely because I was handling them all day. Now I only use hardwood charcoal! Everyone else was fine, and the pastrami was a huge hit!
GP: Tell us a bit about the experience of being celiac. What are the struggles, or the benefits? Has your health improved since you discovered that you had celiac?
Molly: I probably always had it, but no one was really testing for it in the seventies. Giving up pizza sucks, as well as almost all great grab and go bites. I miss dollar dumplings, Xian Famous Foods, getting a bialy with lox from Russ and Daughters, so many things. Sending back the burger that arrived on a bun after you were clear about having celiac, and then having it brought back when you know they just re plated it, stinks.
Because I’m in the industry, I used to try to go with the flow and eat it anyway, but the repercussions aren’t worth it. I’ve paid full price for many plates that are nearly empty by the time everything I can’t have has been taken off of it. It makes dining out not as fun as it used to be.
The advantages are how much more it has made me learn about food. I look for inspiration in cuisines that wheat doesn’t rule the school in. The diets of the Caribbean, South and Central America, as well as much of Asia all bring opportunities to make great food that is great without wheat because it never was dependent on it in the first place. Food industrialization adds subsidized grain to so many things to save money, period. Many traditional recipes were abandoned for progress. Now, I have an excuse to nerd out and ferment my own gochujang.
My health has improved in many ways, and fidelity to gluten abstinence is easy when you’re violently ill when you slip up. I have friends that have intolerances, or are testing to see if they do, and are frustrated when they slip up. A couple have expressed envy at my fortitude. Trust me, I have none. If I could eat a whole pizza from a neighborhood slice joint tomorrow, I totally would!
GP: When you travel, is it difficult to maintain your gluten-free diet?
Molly: When on the road, we usually use Airbnb so I can cook for myself. I love getting to know a place by shopping as the locals do. It’s so fun!
There are also these great free travel cards that you can download, as it’s often impossible to not eat a few meals out. They’re in a bunch of languages, and so helpful in communicating when your grasp on another language isn’t so great.
GP: What do you hope to do in the future, and what gluten-free trends do you see coming?
Molly: What I’d really love to do in the longterm is to have a catering company with a customer base of offices and private clients around the city and bring great tasting fuel to move workforces through a productive day, as well as providing event catering for special diets at competitive prices. I want to be the one who helps you shake off those shackles and embrace all of the things you can have.
As far as the horizon of gluten free goes, I’ve read pieces saying that a gluten pill is in the works, that will let you eat whatever you want for an hour or two. That would be great, sure, but I hope that we move more in the direction that I see some vegan and vegetarian chefs who are moving away from fake meat and thrilling in the bounty of vegetables.
Instead of hoping for a perfect batard, or a good thin crust pizza, we should continue to work to celebrate the qualities of the ingredients within our safe zone. Make things that are so good in their own right that doubt and longing for the standard fare never get a seat at the table.