World Chefs: Modernist Alex Stupak turns to Mexico for inspiration

Tue Oct 1, 2013 3:26pm EDT
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By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As a promising chef known for his inventive pastries, American chef Alex Stupak took an unexpected turn and sought Mexican food as inspiration for his two restaurants in New York City.

After working for chefs like Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne, both leaders in molecular gastronomy, Stupak opened Empellon Taqueria in 2011, followed by Empellon Cocina. His spins on traditional Mexican fare such as tacos and a melted cheese dish called fundidos have won praise.

The 33-year-old, who grew up in Leominister, Massachusetts, spoke to Reuters about striking out on his own and his desire to own a three-star Michelin Mexican restaurant.

Q: You were known for your ultra-modern desserts. Why did you decide to open two Mexican restaurants?

A: For me to open up a restaurant of third-generation molecular gastronomy, I would be doing what people were expecting me to do. I would have considered it a tremendous failure. I believe creativity is about doing something that's unexpected. For me, rather than opening some pastry-driven, modernist restaurant, I found it far more compelling to focus on the cuisine I honestly love eating the most, which is Mexican cuisine.

Q: Were you surprised by the reaction to your decision?

A: It was difficult at first because everything I had expected to happen happened, which was people critiqued me for it or didn't understand why I would do that. They thought I was taking a step back or thought it was me taking the easy way out. There was a ton of absurdity to it. I'm very much an anarchist and a nihilist and I believe that people are basically sheep. They govern most of their decisions out of fear. I try my hardest to fight against that.

Q: Why do you think some people reacted that way?   Continued...

American chef Alex Stupak poses inside his first restaurant Empellon Taqueria in New York in this undated 2011 handout photo provided by The Door Online. REUTERS/Daniel Krieger/The Door Online via Reuters