Franklin Biggs has been around. His parents were teachers and they plied their trade globally.
As a child, he moved from San Francisco, to Mexico, on to Spain, and at the age of 18 to Poland prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain.
He didn’t plan on being a chef. He acquired the skill as part of his life’s journey. He was going to be a classical guitarist, then a political scientist and ended up as a chef.
The road to chef was also earth-spanning. He got a job in the faculty club at UC Berkeley to help support his way through college and ended up as the manager. After attending college in the ’70s, he followed a girl to Paris and while there he bummed around and got work cooking in some restaurants. As luck would have it, an opportunity arose to work as an interpreter in La Varenne, a Parisian cooking school. From there, he caught on as an intern at a three star French restaurant, Taillevent, and got a taste for working in an organized volume kitchen. He recalls the breakthrough evening when former President Richard Nixon came to the restaurant and the chef called out to the kitchen staff, “This one is for Franklin.”
He followed his girl back to Berkeley and got a job once again in the faculty club at UC Berkeley, this time as the head chef. For the next decade and a half Biggs had stints as head chef at a bevy of well-known hotels including The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, The Silver Lake Lodge at The Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah, and The Buttes Resort in Tempe, Arizona.
So, the would-be classical guitarist became a renowned Chef with French training and influences that included Spanish, Mexican, American and European cuisine. What did he do next? He came to Birmingham.
When, in the '90s, his wife Susan was hired by UAB, he once again followed. After spending some time working in a number of restaurants around Birmingham, Franklin Biggs opened Homewood Gourmet in 1997.
“I like to teach,” Biggs says, “That was the main reason for opening Homewood Gourmet.” In the ensuing 13 years, he has passed on his unique skills to many cooking enthusiasts around Birmingham, and has been involved as much as any chef in the burgeoning food scene that has put Birmingham in the national spotlight as one of America’s great food towns. Until recently, he served as the president of Birmingham Originals, the local restaurant association.
Sadly, for the second time in the last decade, Franklin was diagnosed with cancer and has been literally fighting for his life. He is divorced, no longer owns Homewood Gourmet and has had to step down as president of Birmingham Originals. Things are not all grim, however. Biggs says that he learned this week that the cancer is in remission.
So what does he do now? Open a restaurant of course.
“Pizza is the world’s most perfect food,” Biggs says with a laugh, quoting his girlfriend Ellen Falkenberry. Pianeta 3 will open in November in the old Browdy’s location in Mountain Brook Village, and he describes it as an upscale Pizza Parlor. “We will serve pizza, pastas, and sandwiches,” Biggs adds, “with an Italian and Mediterranean bent reflecting the influences of those involved.” The main partner is George Sarris, owner of The Fish Market and Dodiyos.
At this point Franklin gets an impish look in his eyes and proclaims that they will have a Nutella dessert pizza. He goes into a lengthy description of Nutella history and describes it as “heathen in nature.”
We are sitting in The Red Cat Coffee House and the afternoon is growing old as we converse about many things. Franklin didn’t know up until two weeks ago that he would be plying his trade as a chef once again. He didn’t even know if he would be alive. The physical wear and tear on his body from the cancer treatments is evident, but his eyes light up when discussing the things that matter to him. He would like to get back to teaching, but for now he is grateful that he will be around and that he has a new challenge in front of him. “It’s nice to be wanted”, he says with a wry smile.
We talk about the last 10 years in the Birmingham restaurant scene and the remarkable progress in locally grown, fresh food that has been one of the very positive developments in Alabama. We talk about the next 10 years and the continued organic growth of agriculture, restaurant culture, and progressive thought in Birmingham. As he freely shares the wealth of knowledge and experience he has acquired during his life, the fact that he has been an integral part in all of this is evident.
Chuck Leishman is the publisher of Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to email@example.com.