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The Dandelion Chandelier Luminary Café is the place to find a series of personal interviews with fascinating people who are stellar achievers in their chosen field of endeavor. Our Luminaries are sharing their origin stories, life philosophies, secret songs, guilty pleasures and hidden talents. In this edition, we sit down with star New York chef and restaurateur Alex Stupak.

alex stupak’s biography

Born in Leominster Massachusetts, Alex Stupak made his first appearance in a professional kitchen (as a prep cook) at the age of twelve after convincing the restaurant’s owner that he was of legal age.

a start in pastry

After studying culinary arts in high school and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Alex joined the team at Boston’s prestigious Clio restaurant, working a pastry station for the first time. After stints at Tru in Chicago and The Federalist in Boston, he returned to Clio to become the restaurant’s first pastry chef and was awarded the title of “Best Pastry Chef” in 2003; the following year, Food & Wine Magazine hailed him as “a visionary.”

Subsequently, Alex served as the pastry chef at Alinea and at wd~50; he was victorious on cable TV’s Iron Chef in 2008. Pastry Art & Design named Alex one of the “Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America” in October of 2008 and 2009 and shortly thereafter, Vogue‘s food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten, deemed him “an unstoppable font of new ideas.”

creating the Empellón group

In March 2010 Alex opened Empellón Taqueria, taking as a source of inspiration the Mexican system of cooking. Not a year later he opened Empellón Cocina and was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine in 2013. In 2017, Alex and his team debuted Empellón Midtown, which has quickly become a new favorite – New York Magazine recently named it one of the Best New Restaurants in New York City, and this week the restaurant was the only one in New York City to be named as a finalist for the 2018 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Alex also received a James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef: New York City.

our interview with alex stupak

We conducted a life-changing tequila and mescal tasting at Empellón Taqueria a few months ago, and we’ve been frequent guests at Empellón Midtown since it opened.

Recently, our Food Editor Nicole Douillet arranged for us to have a lively and informative conversation with Chef Alex.

Tell us your life philosophy in 6 words or less.


How did you decide to do the work you’re doing now?

I got interested in cooking at a young age but I couldn’t explain why. I grew up watching cooking shows on PBS – In Julia’s Kitchen, Great Chefs of San Francisco. An early memory is reading my parent’s cookbooks even though we didn’t have any of the ingredients. At age 8, I made Russian dressing out of ketchup, mayonnaise and relish, dressed a red cabbage salad and gave it to my mom for lunch. I became keen on cooking as a way to make people happy and communicate with them.

Who lights you up?

Virtually any non-conformist, anti-hero or iconoclast. I tend to admire artists and creators the most.

How do you like to celebrate?

Often, and amidst great food, drink, music and people.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Where would you stay?

I have yet to go anywhere in northern Africa, and that is top of my list. The cuisines there are fascinating to me.

What’s the last new food item that you tried for the first time? Did you like it?

Nato – fermented soybeans. I loved them, but I am attracted to things that most main-streamers find repellent.

What song is on your playlist that people would be surprised by?

I’m a death metal/black metal kinda guy, but I study pop music often because I like how it is designed to get inside your brain and stay there via redundant/simple musical structures.

What’s your favorite form of exercise?

I don’t exercise.

Who is your favorite artist?

This changes often. Right now I’m into Andy Goldsworthy. Dionysian acts that you may or may not stumble upon…. there is something about the act of it all that is even more beautiful than the result itself. Nothing lasts forever and there is something about embracing the fleeting nature of it all that I find darkly beautiful.

What are you reading right now?

When Breath Becomes Air.

Tell us about your style.

I like the dark aesthetic. I wear all black every day. I’m a person who has their favorites so I buy a few universal pieces and wear them into the ground.

What is your favorite item of clothing? Who’s your go-to designer?

John Varvatos is a standby to me because it’s well-made and stays within the dark side of things.

What’s your dream car?

I don’t have one. I’m not a car guy. But I have a dream parking spot.

What are you looking forward to?

Watching my children grow up, seeing this unlikely brand disrupt everything.

What skill do wish you had that you don’t currently possess?

I wish I spoke several languages.

What’s your hidden talent?

I’m very good at seeming like I’m not paying attention but then recalling a detail. Really my talent is making people a little uneasy around me.

What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought?

A Sylvia Ji painting for my wife. That was very expensive to me at the time.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

Two healthy beautiful children is pretty tough to beat.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I have a very unhealthy relationship with mayonnaise.

What does luxury mean to you?

Luxury used to be a corner office and a suit. Now luxury is “I don’t have to go to the office, and I don’t have to wear a suit.”

see luxury in a new light

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Pamela Thomas-Graham

Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. She serves on the boards of several tech companies, and was previously a senior executive in finance, media and fashion, and a partner at McKinsey & Co.