For the venerable Alex Stupak, chef and owner of Empellón Taqueria and Empellón Cocina, 2013 was a big year. Celebrated by Food and Wine magazine as a “Best New Chef” and nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef, NYC, Stupak also unveiled the successful Push Project at his Empellón Cocina, inviting guest chefs such as Enrique Olvera, Grant Achatz, and Chris Consentino into his kitchen for culinary collaboration.
We get the draw; Stupak is someone we’re equally enthusiastic about. The reserved former pastry chef is slowly changing the face of Mexican cuisine in New York City, and garnering a following of both national and international fans as he achieves each new success. With rumors of a new project on the horizon, we were thrilled to catch up with him as he prepares to head south to Miami (first time!) for Food Network’s South Beach Food & Wine Festival. Here's the first part of our interview with Stupak himself.
What drove you to become a chef?
When I was around 9 years old, I had a cookbook for kids, and I made the recipe for Russian dressing: ketchup, mayo and relish. I dressed a salad with it, and handed it to my mom for lunch. This made her happy, and that was a really cool moment for me. I’m pretty shy, and I learned early on that cooking was a great way to express yourself without being an extrovert.
You started as a pastry chef in incredible kitchens like Clio, wd-50 and Alinea. What drove you to pursue pastry as a vocation?
I actually started out as a chef, but two things pushed me toward pastry. First, I fell in love with the work of Albert Adria. My boss at Clio, Ken Oringer, gave me Adria’s first cookbook. Through that, I realized that the work of El Bulli was driven by the pastry kitchen, and that inspired me. Second, being a pastry chef is about independence. If you’re a pastry chef at a small restaurant, you’re somewhat left alone in your own little corner of the kitchen. Plus, it’s the quickest way to having your name on a menu -- pastry affords a feeling of ownership without the liability of actually owning anything.
Next up, Chef Stupak's unexpected culinary curveball...