Photos by Sasha Israel
“FOOD DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COMPLICATED,” says chef Frankie Cox on a bustling weekday morning at the cheerful, uber-hip Tribeca restaurant Two Hands. “You just need really fresh produce and you don’t have to do much to it to bring out the flavors. Just celebrate and enjoy it.” Since opening a full-fledged restaurant in 2016, Two Hands’ fresh, inventive menu has become a cult obsession for style bloggers and foodies alike who flock to the Australian eatery ready to Insta-shoot any camera-ready dish Cox puts out. (Cases in point: the Brassicas bowl and vegan mushroom toast she whipped up for us. See above.) As for the plant-focused menu? “Everyone needs more vegetables in their diet,” says the 26-year-old Aussie expat over the restaurant’s green juice of the day. “I’ve always had access to fresh vegetables in Australia so that’s what I wanted to achieve here. What struck me the most when I was showing friends the menu I’d written, everyone was like, ‘Oh there are so many vegetables. You’re eating peas for breakfast,’ I was shocked. For me, eating this way was ingrained into my head my whole life.” We caught up with Cox below who talked secret weapon ingredients every home cook should have, her favorite way to cook veggies and her foodie phenom prediction that will ultimately replace the oh-so-ubiquitous avocado toast.
What was your first foray into the New York restaurant industry?
I first came here when I was 21 and did some courses at the Institute of Culinary education. Then I did a stage with SILKSTONE, the Fat Radish’s catering company.
What attracted you to SILKSTONE and working with The Fat Radish guys?
The kind of food that they were cooking. It was wholesome and approachable. I was emailing restaurants being like, “I went to this cooking school. Can I come and do some work experience with you?” I wasn’t hearing back from any of them. I went into the Fat Radish and Ben was there making coffee. I knew who he was because I’d researched everything about them. I asked, “Can I fill out an application here?” And he was like, “Yeah, I’m the owner, when do you want to start?” I went to an event the next day with them. That was a good eye opener to see what could happen in New York.
Were you always interested in healthy, whole foods?
In Australia, it’s ingrained in our culture to eat that kind of food. It’s so accessible. It’s all about the environment that we live in. We’re very active all the time and you want to eat good food to sustain yourself and be mindful while you’re doing that.
When were you first exposed to a plant-based diet?
I went to this health retreat called Gwinganna when I was 17 with my mom, which is in Queensland. You go for a week and eat all fresh produce.
That’s cool you did that at 17 because kids aren’t thinking about that kind of thing at that age.
No, not at all. That’s when I was exposed to a lot of the whole grains and I’ve been cooking with quinoa and frika since I was 17. That taught me a lot about well-being as well as opposed to fad diets. It’s about everything in moderation, eating mindfully and knowing where the food comes from.
How do you find the balance of making healthy food but also delicious food?
Something that is also a part of Australian culture is the ability to access so many different things that come from the rest of the world, so different spices and things like pomegranate molasses. I always ask, what is going to heighten each dish? I start off with the basics, but then inject a lot of flavor through spices, herbs, acid and creating that balance through a lot of things. I also like to pickle things, so that’s always my element of acid. It also adds good texture.
What would you use pomegranate molasses in?
In dressings because it has that sweet note. I do this “3-2-1 dressing.” It’s three tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and one tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. You can put it on anything. It’s so good.
What is an unconventional ingredient every home cook should have?
I love harissa. It’s nice and spicy but because it has that cumin and caraway in it, it has a lot of depth of flavor as well. So it’s adding seasoning but also a little bit of heat. I put it on anything and everything. Also—there’s no sugar in it—so it’s not like people throwing hot sauce on everything these days. There’s so much sugar in that and that’s why it becomes addictive. Whereas, if you us real, natural spices and blends, that’ll steer you away from sugar. I also love a ras el hanout spice mix.
What would you use that on?
Roasted vegetables. I’m all about roasting and charring everything. It gives more depth of flavor. Gone are the days when people used to blanch everything or boil everything. If you roast it, you’re getting crispy edges and a bit more flavor penetration through the vegetables.
What other spices do you love?
Urfa chili or isot pepper. I went to Turkey when I was 21 and that was the first time I tasted it. It’s a little bit sweet, a little bit smoky. It’s actually on a few of the dinner dishes here including the squid. The black speckles bring out so much color in the rest of the dish and then when you’re eating it, it’s like this sticky, chili flavor. It’s so good.
Thanks to Instagram, avocado toast has become more than ubiquitous. What’s the next avocado toast?
Everyone always asks me, “what’s the next on toast?” The trend of the avocado toast is about eating food that’s really good for you because it makes you feel good. That’s why people are going back and eating more. Subconsciously, they’re like, “Oh great. I feel great when I keep eating this.” Now I think people are going to be more socially accepting and welcoming more salads for breakfasts. So the next avocado toast is a bowl. It’s about eating whole grains and eating vegetables. When I was younger, I used to have toast every morning for breakfast and I thought that was a really good meal. Now, I can’t not have vegetables for breakfast. Most days I eat the Brassicas bowl right when I come in. I want to have all those good, nutritious, high in vitamins, high in antioxidants foods that are going to sustain me for the whole day. That’s where I think this is going to go in the future.
Take me through a typical morning.
I wake up at 6:30 A.M. and I check my phone to make sure all the cooks are at work. When I know everyone’s at work, I’ll get up at 7 A.M., and then I go to the gym [The New York Sports Club on Mercer Street]. Sometimes I do just an incline walk on the treadmill. Other days, I’ll do a workout thing. Then I eat a banana on the way home, get dressed and come down here. I always make a conscious effort to have a brassicas bowl as soon as I get to work because if I don’t, I don’t eat for the whole day, and then I start snacking on things like banana bread and chicken wings. Last year, the majority of the year, I never really ate and I never really knew when my next meal was going to be. So this year, I’m trying to make more of an effort. Like when I come in, I have a meal and that sees me through for most of the day.
Do you drink coffee?
I’ve ruled out coffee. I love it, but I didn’t want to rely on another source of energy. I knew that I’d be working so much and coffee is so accessible here. If I wanted to, I could have eight cups a day. But without it, I always push through. When I did [drink coffee], I’d hit a wall around 3, 4 o’clock and want to have a coffee to keep going, but that’s not a natural source of energy for me. Without drinking it I’d like bounce off the walls.
How do you find your natural source of energy?
I’ve always had a lot of energy, my body just takes over because it’s not looking for it anywhere else. In the morning, I jump out of bed. When I was drinking coffee, I would always be tired waking up and I’d get headaches. So, it’s better for me not to drink it, but I love the taste of it. So every now and then I’ll have a little cup. Instead I drink tea. I’ll either have English Breakfast black tea and an herbal tea in the afternoon. And I just drink lots and lots of water. Sometimes I swap and change between sparkling or still. Normally at 4 P.M., I’ll have a sparkling water and that’s a little bit of an exciting drink to get me motivated.
What’s the next meal?
The next meal isn’t really until 5 or 6 P.M. We have a family meal, which most of the time is a marinated and roasted chicken. A lot of times the salad is leftover brassicas bowl and fresh greens. We’re very big on no waste. I hate people throwing any food out, so when we’re trimming the broccolini, there are little end bits that we make part of family meal. All the scraps—like the mushroom stems, the broccolini, everything. We just throw them in, mix them all together and make a salad with that.
You have amazing skin. How do you take care of it?
Water, lots of water, and I actually never wear makeup. Last year, I started doing face masks. I started learning that people actually do things to make their skin look good all the time. I was just drinking water. So I started doing all these face masks, and now I’ve starting going to Skin Laundry to have their laser facials. I’ve had four and they’re amazing. They just give you a lot of clarity in your skin and make you glow.
What about makeup products?
Chantecaille foundation, Nars bronzer–everyone generally wears Laguna, but I prefer Casino which is actually darker, but a little bit goes a long way, which is nice and Chantecaille mascara.
Is there anything in your diet that you avoid?
I usually don’t eat dairy because my body doesn’t handle dairy very well. That’s why a lot of things on the menu are with cashews and because I personally break that down better. But I say everything in moderation. I never recommend anyone to cut anything out because we actually need all those nutrients. Now that a lot of people are going gluten-free, it’s actually not very good for you. You need to take in a little bit of gluten because your body needs the carbohydrates for your mind to keep ticking over these long days. I eat so healthily while I’m at work so that if I go out for dinner, I know that I can have whatever I want and enjoy it. That’s so fulfilling to me as well. I want to have a meal that is so delicious that I don’t have to worry about what’s in it.
Is there a meal in the city, other than Two Hands, that you crave?
I love the Miso Ramen at Mister Taka Ramen on the Lower East Side and the green curry salmon at Lovely Day.
The menu is heavy on vegetables, why did you focus on vegetables?
Exposing this amazing way of eating has so many benefits, short term and long term, holistically, but also for the future of agriculture. Eating vegetables produces a lot less greenhouse gases. For yourself, for short term and long term sustainability, it can have a big effect. If people can eat more vegetables, they’re going to be feeling better, they’re going to be happier, but also they’re going to source more vegetables. Who’s making the vegetables? The farmers. The better they’re produced, the better they taste. So it’ll start a cycle where we’re craving better produce as well. Unfortunately, there’s so much GMO in America. There’s such a big population, so the farmers have to feed a lot of people and people don’t want ugly-looking fruit anymore. They want fruit that looks good. But people can start tasting real fruit again. Hopefully they’re going to start trying to create better relationships with farmers and sourcing really good produce.
What vegetable are you obsessed with right now?
It might sound boring but I’d say carrots. I’ve done a couple different things to it on the menu. There’s a carrot purée, roasted carrots, shaved carrots. It’s celebrating everything that one vegetable has to offer a d showing the different mixtures and flavors. Just find one ingredient to celebrate and show how many ways you can create something great with that.
What do you do to het grounded?
I’ll have a massage. I’ll either go to Chinatown or Soho House in the Meatpacking. On Mondays I get 50% off there, so I like to take advantage of it and they have a steam room. But just reading to me is kind of like meditating.
What book are you reading?
I’m reading three hospitality books at the moment: Danny Meyer’s, Setting the Table, one is Kate Edwards’, Hello!, and Generation Chef. And I love all of the Ottolenghi cookbooks.
Is he one of your chef icons?
He’s a big inspiration to me. His first cookbook was one of the first cookbooks I was ever given. Then I actually went and worked with him in London. He’s there every day—it’s so inspiring. There’s another chef in Australia called Matt Wilkinson who does beautiful salads and things like that. I love the Gjelina cookbooks.
Two Hands Brassicas Bowl by Frankie Cox
4 large eggs
1 bunch broccolini trimmed
5 tablespoons olive oil divided
1 small shallot finely chopped
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
½ bunch curly kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
8 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, thinly sliced lengthwise
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup unsalted, roasted sunflower seeds, divided
½ cup hummus
1 avocado, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Crushed red pepper flakes (for serving)
Cook eggs in a large saucepan of boiling water for 7 minutes (whites will be set and yolks still slightly soft). Drain; transfer to a bowl of ice water and let sit until cool. Drain; peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 500°. Toss broccolini with 1 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet and season with salt. Roast, turning occasionally, until crisp-tender and charred in spots, 8–10 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
Whisk shallot, vinegar, mustard, and remaining 4 Tbsp. oil in a large bowl until emulsified; season with salt. Add kale and brussels sprouts and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper.
Massage kale until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add roasted broccolini and 2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds; toss again. Swipe some hummus along the inside of each bowl with a spoon.
Divide salad among bowls and add an avocado wedge and 2 reserved egg halves to each. Top with chives, sesame seeds, and remaining sunflower seeds; sprinkle with red pepper flakes.