Yesterday, writer Steve Plotnicki took to his blog to criticize chef Alex Stupak's recent decision to leave the pastry department at wd~50 to open his own straightforward Mexican restaurant Empellon. He wrote that "what he has done is the equivalent of Picasso deciding he was going to paint by numbers instead of creating major works" and recounted the tale of going into the Empellon kitchen to tell Stupak just that. Oh and then he mentioned that Stupak would not accept his friend request on Facebook. Stupak, unsurprisingly, was not so psyched to read the tale and has asked us to post his response. Below he explains exactly why he left pastry and what he hopes to accomplish at Empellon. Those more bloodthirsty in the crowd can skip to the end (last four grafs) where he addresses Plotnicki directly.
Alex Stupak, chef/owner Empellon:
Ultimately I decided to leave the world of pastry for several reasons. First off you have to understand that I have zero training as a pastry chef and never cared about desserts until Ken Oringer gave me a copy of Albert Adria's first pastry book. This was when I was 19 years old and and doing my externship there on the garde manger station for culinary school. The book was a game changer for me a planted a seed in my brain that finally sprouted three years later.· The Strange Case of Alex Stupak [OAD]
I love desserts but no more than I love any other phase of a restaurant. I chose to push my way into my first pastry position simply because I wanted immediate freedom and control of my own menu. Being a pastry chef was the only way. This was before Clio. I enjoy making desserts and was fortunate to be able to do it. Every new job I took gave me a bit more freedom than the last. I finally hit several walls simultaneously.
When something underground and rare becomes well known and praised the band wagon comes along with it. I thrive on the new, uncomfortable and alien, and as much as I love the work I was a part of, it simply lost that glimmer to me. Things are different now. The same way you would expect to eat pasta at an Italian restaurant, you now expect to get liquid nitrogen poured over something at a "molecular gastronomy" restaurant. I still to this day have no idea what molecular gastronomy is and have major beef with the way the term is used. If some idiot with a faux hawk and tattoos starts mindlessly dumping xanthan gum into something for a while they would get press and be lumped into this label a couple of years ago. In the meantime I bet there are traditional bread bakers and noodle makers and etc. who actually do understand their craft on a molecular level and never get any press for it.
I argue that few chefs actually know how hydrocolloids work on a molecular level. You can bet your ass Wylie Dufresne does though! The whole thing has become a format and once something is formatted it is no longer creative and interesting in my opinion. Ferran Adria says that creative people try to do the things they don't know how to do. Wylie is still pushing. Grant is still pushing and you can bet that I'm pushing harder than I ever have in my life. I'm trying to find beauty and my own voice within a system of cooking that I think rivals any other in terms of technical complexity and pure dynamic flavors.
I'm doing this at great risk. I know I'm not the best at it and I knew that opening this restaurant would be a shaky proposition but I'm ignoring the imminent risk of failure and destruction of what little reputation I have because I really do love this cuisine that much. I have high aspirations for myself and the point of this restaurant was the same point that Ken made when giving me that book. It's a change in trajectory. Cooking is unique in that by simply deciding what you cook on a daily basis you have the power to change your life drastically.
I don't want to change Mexican cuisine. I want it to change me. To put it in an alginate capsule or freeze it in liquid nitrogen actually seems like the antithesis of being creative. It seems like taking the easy way out and trying exploit something rather than show the greatness of it for what it is.
The point of Empellon is to be solid and straight forward and serve food that's worthy of craving rather than pondering. I never had that opportunity as a pastry chef and for me its extremely liberating. I do hope that this restaurant will someday be a catylyst to help me bring out the more obscure parts of this cuisine but in the meantime its all I can do to make sure the basics are being executed properly.
And by the way to come into my kitchen as if you own it and have no regard for the fact that both I and my wife and my brother in law have probably collectively slept 8 hours in 3 days is insulting to me. And further, to begin to tell me how I'm taking a step back when you have no clue what it takes to do what I just did is also equally insulting. If another restaurant owner told me that at least I can absorb it because I know they have been through a similar set of experiences.
I respect the opinions of journalists as well even if they speak against me. They had to also work hard off both in school and in the field to gain credibility and earn a position where they can express educated and informed opinions that actually benefit readers. These people dreamt of writing the same way I always dreamt of having my own restaurant.
On a side note you didn't have enough courtesy to check the spelling of a very prolific chefs name nor do you realize that he runs his own gardens in order to supply his restaurants with incredible product. To say I'm more "market" driven is another indicator of ignorance and careless writing.
You also misspelled fundido. Writers actually fact check or at least have someone do it for them.
As a rule I don't like to respond to B.S. like this because by doing so I'm bringing you more attention than you typically get which I'm sure is exciting for you and why you post in the first place.
We are not friends on facebook or otherwise.
· All Coverage of Alex Stupak [~ENY~]
[photo credit: Gothamist]