An Interview with Alex Stupak

An Interview with Alex Stupak

This week, Chefs Feed met up with renowned chef Stupak at his restaurant, Empellón Cocina, in New York City's East Village.

March 25, 2014
CF: I'm best known for my _______ style of cooking but I can make one hell of a _______.
AS: modern Mexican; three-fold French omelette. No wrinkles, no color. I'm very proud of my egg cookery skills.

CF: A few words your sous chef would use to describe you.
AS: Annoying, hands-on, and paranoid.

CF: Which chef would you drop everything to stage with?
AS: Albert Adrià. He was the one who made me want to become a pastry chef while he was working at El Bulli, and even though he's not doing that anymore, I still want to stage with him. He shifted from hyper-modern, innovative, and highly mimicked to a great restauranteur. I admire him so much. And in a much lesser way, I feel like we have a lot in common. We've both been pastry chefs, but we're also both very entrepreneurial. I just think I could learn a lot from him.

CF: Message to professional food critics.
AS: At one point, I had it in my head that someone shouldn't be allowed to be a food critic unless they had worked in restaurants, but I've actually changed my mind. I think a food critic's job is to look out for the customer. If a chef is eating at my restaurant and the Department of Health is there, they know what that means to an establishment, but a regular customer doesn't know about those industry things, nor should they. Customers want great food and great service, and that's exactly what they should get. They shouldn't have to be mindful of other things going on in the restaurant.

CF: Thick or thin patty?
AS: Thick. I like my burgers screaming rare.

CF: Is there anything you don't like?
AS: I'll eat everything, but I dislike foods that try to be macho or are based on a dare. For example, I really don't see much point in balut eggs and stuff like that. I could be wrong, but I don't think it's about flavor.

CF: One piece of advice for aspiring young chefs.
AS: My advice would be to wait as long as humanly possible before owning your own restaurant. Once you do, the learning doesn't stop, but what you have to focus on learning changes in a major way. My second piece of advice is if you like to cook, my attitude is, well, then cook! I did everything from catering to dishwashing to working at Denny's, and all of that knowledge has become a part of who I am, even if someone thinks that working at Denny's is beneath them. Part of it is making intelligent selections of where you work, but the other big part of it is just putting your head down and working your ass off.

CF: What has been your most epic family meal?
AS: I'm biased because I'm from New England, but it was when we did steamed clams, rock shrimp chowder, sweet corn, deviled eggs, and lobster rolls.