Remember Jason Bell, the Columbia Daily Spectator critic who trashed Colicchio & Sons to the chagrin of Tom Colicchio? Well, almost a year ago, he staged with Alex Stupak when Stupak was pastry chef at wd~50. Bell’s account of the short-lived internship didn’t paint Stupak in the most favorable light: “‘Why are you here?’ ‘Why do you want to work here?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ — all questions Stupak bombarded me with constantly, a look of disgust smeared across his face. ‘You clearly aren’t a chef.’” Bell claimed he was “fired” after just one day, though he also admitted he was invited to come back after Stupak returned from a weeklong trip. In any case, Bell now has returned to Stupak’s lair, via a review of the chef’s new restaurant Empellón that begins “Alex Stupak should stick to desserts.” Uh-oh.
Before we get to the review, let’s pull another bit from Bell’s account of his harrowing night at wd~50. Bell believes that “Stupak took one look at me after I admitted my lack of training, my school as Columbia, my profession as clumsy and novice writer, and wrote me off as useless, an utter waste of his time considering wd~50′s pastry menu.” And he writes:
Stupak seemed obsessed with forcing me to quit. From menial and repetitive labor (picking perfect lemon thyme leaves off the stem for two hours) to verbal attacks (“Funny how someone who can do logarithms has no common sense in the kitchen”-after grabbing a pint container instead of a quart) to cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning, my night of service wasn’t that far from an ordinary stagiare experience.
Which brings us to Bell’s review, “Revenge of the Nerds: Empellon Exposed.” As with his review of Riverpark, he goes undercover, realizing full well that “Stupak had actually seen me up-close, had spent a day observing my countenance and mannerisms. I even cleaned his station while he watched with scorn.” Afraid of catching “Stupak’s (scary) eye,” he trims his beard and hair (described as “mutton chops and a rapidly developing mullet”) and, having successfully avoided detection, goes on to savage the chilled octopus, “a repulsive concoction” that’s “disconcertingly textureless” and “tastes like a poisonous mushroom.” He admits that the tongue tacos are “superb” and the lamb barbacoa “isn’t bad” even if the lamb “feels two-dimensional, like the sketch of a masterful sculpture never executed in marble,” but he considers the carnitas tacos “a thoroughly unpleasant experience”: “I prefer Chipotle’s carnitas to Alex Stupak’s.” Ouch! Here’s the review’s dramatic closing paragraph.
Alex Stupak the nerd is dead. Just as I rejected my nerdly self to enter Empellon, Stupak needed to reject his tormented inner nerd in order to create Empellon. The very world of Empellon forecloses the possibility of nerdiness. This food exists to satisfy a crowd unconcerned with texturizers and esoteric ingredients. Avocado leaf sausage tacos? A last nod at the artist formerly known as Alex Stupak. The crowd clamors for carnitas. Tell them the pork comes from a local, organic, sustainable source, satisfy their shallow foodie cravings. But for goodness sake, keep the nerd in the closet. In this restaurant, he can’t come out to play.