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Suzanne Cupps

Meet Suzanne Cupps, the Only Female Executive Chef at Union Square Hospitality

She introduces her new menu at Untitled in the Whitney Museum today

Two years after opening, Danny Meyer’s sunny Meatpacking District restaurant on the ground floor of The Whitney, Untitled is ready for change. Starting today, the opening chef de cuisine Suzanne Cupps, an alum of Gramercy Tavern and Annisa, will take the helm as its new executive chef and will introduce a fresh menu at the restaurant.

It’s a big moment for Cupps, who’s been working at Union Square Hospitality Group since 2011. And it’s big for the company, too: As chef Michael Anthony steps aside, Cupps will become the only female executive chef among the hospitality group’s nine full-service restaurants — a factor that makes the announcement “especially satisfying,” says Anthony, who remains head chef at Gramercy Tavern.

Many aspects will remain the same, like a burger and an adoration of vegetables inspired by Anthony. Cupps’ delicate style has also always been on display in the cooking since the restaurant opened.

Suzanne Cupps wearing a grey chef apron at Untitled

But under her leadership, visitors can expect some changes. Cupps, a former math major who appreciates cooking so she can exercise precision, plans to add more fish — a protein she loves for the technique and finesse required to cook it.

Cupps will also serve raw fish, along with flavors and ingredients more common in Asian cuisine — an influence from Cupps’ time at Annisa and her appreciation for Japanese food. And although the half-Filipina Cupps had limited access to Filipino cuisine while growing up in Aiken, South Carolina, she hopes to bring in some flavors from her heritage as well.

Still, Untitled, which gained a reputation for its deft use of produce, will remain a vegetable-centric modern American restaurant, Cupps says. Asian touches will largely be used to complement what’s already there. Carrots are roasted with miso, and a beef tartare is dolloped with Korean chile aioli. Her spring onion and potato chowder uses dashi instead of cream or meat stock, for a lighter version of a chowder that will simply have “characteristics you can’t quite place,” she says.

Rising to executive chef wasn’t her goal when she first started cooking. When she graduated from Clemson University, Cupps considered being a math teacher before landing a job in human resources at the Waldorf-Astoria. While she liked hospitality, she didn’t want to deal with paperwork of HR. A friend’s recreational visits to the Institute of Culinary Education inspired Cupps to try out the kitchen instead.

It turned out Cupps had a knack for it. She did her externship at Gramercy Tavern under Tom Colicchio, and shortly after, started working for Anita Lo at Annisa. Cupp’s talent, intelligence, and eye for detail was apparent, Lo says. She hired Cupps on the spot, the only time in Lo’s nearly 30-year career that she has done so without checking references or asking for more than one audition. “I just knew I had it with her,” Lo says.

Suzanne Cupps

Cupps’ time working with Lo inspired her to keep cooking and to stay in New York. After more than four years, it became clear she couldn’t ascend any further at Annisa, and she went to Gramercy Tavern to work under Anthony. She initially didn’t plan to stay for long, but she was hooked by Gramercy Tavern and Anthony’s obsession with ingredients and seasonal produce. Soon, she decided to pursue a sous chef role and she more deeply considered her career goals.

Her desire to teach others in the kitchen also prompted her to keep moving forward. Anthony says it’s Cupps’ demeanor and approach to mentoring that made her an ideal fit for Untitled, where an open kitchen in a small dining room means the energy of the cooks transfers to guests. She’s calm and specific, and she reaches people without resorting to the “emotions and frustrations” historically present in kitchens, he says. “She’s the perfect combination of talent and humility. She has a natural ease with people,” Anthony says.

Cupps realizes that people will think about how she is the only female executive chef at one of New York’s biggest hospitality groups, and she knows it will be a big deal for many people. “There are a lot of women chef owners,” she says. “There aren’t as many female executive chefs that work for a company.” (USHG declined to comment on why they don’t already have a female head chef.)

But she says with the leadership of people like Lo and Anthony, she didn’t find her experience of navigating the kitchen to be particularly difficult. It’s still not something she thinks about in the day-to-day; her desire to be in the position at all is a recent development. For now, she hopes people come dine at the next evolution of Untitled. “It’s obviously on people’s minds,” Cupps says of her new status. “But I’ve always wanted to be known for what I create and not because of what gender I am.”


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