Alex Stupak should stick to desserts. Pastry wunderkind at Alinea, mastermind of wd-50′s molecular sweets, Stupak ruled the dessert world. That is, until he decided to leave it all behind and open a humble taqueria, Empellon. Meaning “to push,” Empellon represents Stupak’s attempt to expand the conventional limits of Mexican cuisine in New York—to innovate and think beyond traditional boundaries defining the Mexican genre. Unfortunately, the food at Empellon feels far from unconventional; instead, Stupak plays it safe with Empellon’s fancified take on taqueria fare.
In June 2010, I was “fired” (click here for more details about my dismissal) after one night at wd-50. There, Stupak treated me like nothing more than a nerd—and although I am indeed a nerd, I choose to think of myself as a nerd with a right to dignity. I like to read obscure 19th century novels and esoteric literary theory; I wear glasses and sometimes (alright, a lot of the time) use unnecessarily big words. But once upon a time, I played football, soccer, and baseball—I understand the value of hard work and teamwork, the difficulties of laboring in a professional kitchen. My brief time at wd-50 taught me that a subsection of the population will always label me a nerd, and will do so to degrade me and strip me of my perceived intellectual power. And I responded to my dismissal in a truly nerd-like fashion: I wrote about the experience on my blog. Consequently, Stupak both knows who I am and what I wrote about him. Visting Empellon seemed like a dangerous proposition.
Yet, I needed to eat at Stupak’s new restaurant. I needed the catharsis, to meet my nemesis on his own territory and psychologically defeat him. When I visited Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark in October, I vanquished one of my food world foes. Now, I wanted to purge my past of its remaining blemishes, to do imaginary battle on the plane of memory. I would go to Empellon and beat Stupak on the basis of his own weapon: the word nerd. Continue reading