Major: Culinary Arts
Job Title: Chef/Owner Empellón Taqueria, Cocina, Al Pastor, and Empellón
Location: New York, NY
Alex Stupak has a well-deserved reputation as one of the top pastry chefs in the U.S., although he actually trained in the culinary arts. His innovative flavor combinations and confectionery masterpieces were featured by Ken Origner ’89 at Clio in Boston, Grant Achatz ’94 at Alinea in Chicago, and Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 in New York City. It was the cookbook Los Postres de el Bulli by Albert Adrià—a gift Ken Oringer—that started Alex on his journey to master the art of pastry. “That book was a game changer for me and altered my career trajectory,” Alex says. At Alinea, nine of the dishes on the tasting menu were Alex’s and the Alinea cookbook includes several of his recipes. “Alinea wouldn’t be where it is today without Alex,” Achatz says. “He got us off the runway.”
Alex caught the culinary bug early and was influenced by his grandfather who was a chef and his father who worked in the food business industry. By the time he was 14 years of age, Alex was preparing the entire Thanksgiving dinner for his family. Enrolling in an intense culinary program in high school, Alex participated in competitions on the national level, eventually earning a full scholarship to The Culinary Institute of America. “I think one of the most important facets of my time at the CIA was that every single instructor I had was willing to take the time and go more in depth on any number of subjects,” he explains. “As a student, you get as much out of the experience as you want. The CIA does a great job of reflecting the realities of food business. When you graduate and go into a professional kitchen, you’re not shocked at the level of discipline and commitment expected of you.”
Alex’s CIA externship experience was extremely beneficial. “A big part is the intensity of the program. That’s a real eye opener and shows you what it’s like after graduation,” he explains. “The industry is vast with many different professional avenues from which to choose. The externship allows you to identify what areas interest you and to know what to expect.”
In 2011, Alex decided to step away from the world of pastry and cook the type of food he loves to eat: Mexican cuisine. “The more I tasted and learned about Mexican cooking, the more I became preoccupied with the idea of opening a taqueria,” he says. Debuting in February 2012, Empellón Taqueria was profitable within two weeks, a feat virtually unheard of in New York City. Empellón Cocina followed in 2012 and Empellón Al Pastor in 2014. In 2013, Food & Wine magazine named Alex as one of the best new chefs in the U.S. Alex’s cookbook entitled Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, co-written with Jordana Rothman, was released in 2015. Alex’s latest project is his first newly constructed restaurant space located in Midtown called simply Empellón.
With a solid education from the CIA coupled with lessons learned from key mentors, Alex possess keen food business acumen and the ability to predict the changing palates of the populace—the perfect combination for a future of continued success.