Chef Cleanse

Chef Cleanse: Alex Stupak’s Exhaustion, Depression, and Exhilaration

“Whatever you’ve programmed your brain to expect after surviving the day; there’s none of that.” Photo: Melissa Hom

Today, Grub Street puts three “three-day juice cleanses” to the test via three stubborn, food-obsessed chefs. Unsurprisingly, Empellón Taqueria and Empellón Cocina’s Alex Stupak was the first chef to say yes to something so intense. But as an unhealthy eater to the core (even in his lack of nutrition, he’s disciplined!), it wasn’t going to be easy. Could New York’s favorite wunderkind withstand the caffeine, sugar, and alcohol withdrawal? Read what happened during his hard-core Liquiteria cleanse here.

Day No. 1
I have very unusual eating and drinking habits, and I have for a very long time. I typically drink four Red Bulls a day. I’ve done that I was since age 19 and I’m now 32. And that’s on top of other coffee-type things all day. I also typically end my night with two to three alcoholic beverages. I also don’t eat nutritiously, and sometimes in an entire day, I only eat the staff meal.

My seven daily juices were delivered each day fresh, so I had my first one at 10 a.m. It wasn’t bad. A combo of kale, cucumber, spinach, and romaine — a lot of protein. You’re not allowed alcohol or caffeine, but you can drink herbal tea and water. My wife is a Red Bull addict like I am, and the guys at work offer me Red Bulls all day, so I’m surrounded by enablers. I had my second juice at noon and then the strangest thing happened …

I can only chalk it up to complete lack of caffeine in my body, but I had to go home. I had to leave work and nap. I’ve never napped — like, ever. So there I was, promising myself a one-hour nap. Instead, I slept for six hours straight. That has never, in my life, happened. Woke up at 6 p.m. and still had five juices to drink.

From 6 p.m. until 2 a.m., I gorged the juices. I didn’t mind them. The hardest one is the All Greens, which is primarily kale juice. And kale is in the cabbage family. That night, I actually felt GREAT. I sat in front of the computer for all these hours just working and googling “health benefits of juice cleanses.”

Day No. 2
This was a really, really, really hard day. I was irritable and very depressed, and I had a terribly bad headache. I went online to look up symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Sure enough, I had them all. Vicious. I was yelling at people for things they were doing right. Everything felt horrible. I felt like burning down both my restaurants. It was a really long, bad day.

I was tempted to cheat because “breaking your routine” is not what someone like me does easily. Plus, all my cooks kept offering to buy me damn Red Bull! But I always finish what I start, and Brian at Liquiteria promised I would feel super-energetic sooner than later, and I didn’t want to miss that rush.

The best juice they give you is the last one of the day, because they all have little to no sugar, but this one, the Royal Flush, is pretty much pineapple juice and ginger and some aloe — and it’s really tasty. When you’re drinking things like kale juice, that’s a major dessert! But they make you drink it last, so you don’t crash. The Immune Rocket Booster, on the other hand, is particularly vile.

I forced myself to go to sleep by midnight, which I never do. I was so agitated with the day; it needed to end. Without the buzz of caffeine or the ability to have a drink, there’s no comfort. We typically eat late, chefs, and there’s none of that. You can’t have a beer after work. Whatever you’ve programmed your brain to expect after surviving the day; there’s none of that. Forget comfort.

Day No. 3
I woke up feeling extremely rested after only four hours of sleep. I mean, extremely rested. Like more rested than I’ve felt in a long time. Here’s why: Your body spends an incredible amount of energy just digesting food. So, with a cleanse, you’re giving your body more nutrients than you’ve ever given it, plus it no longer has the burden of digesting food. Therefore, the sleep you’re getting in extremely restful.

At work, I was tasting and spitting everything out. Kind of gross. I’d rinse my mouth out with water each time. Some people in the kitchen didn’t know I was on a juice cleanse and felt insulted. It’s extremely unnatural to taste something delicious and spit it out.

Then I added an extra day. I wanted one more day of feeling this great. Needed more of the high. I didn’t even crave food at this point. Your stomach shrinks … that’s how people do ten-day cleanses. I get it now. I’ll definitely do one again. Probably six days. I always like to raise the game.

The day I could eat, I made the best staff meal ever at the Taqueria: steak with Bearnaise sauce and French fries, and a Frisée Aux Lardons salad. I was craving bistro food! And the next day, I made everyone corn and rock shrimp chowder, open-faced egg-salad sandwiches, and tomato-basil salad. I was compelled to pig out, but actually I couldn’t. I took one little bite of food and felt full. I also tried to drink a cocktail and couldn’t finish it.

I’m disappointed in myself that I went right back to the Red Bulls after all that hard work. But I think it’s like what they say about drug addicts in the movies … the interventionist always says the longer they’re in treatment, the better their chances of staying sober. I wasn’t away from it long enough. Hence, relapse.

Related: Chef Cleanse: Josh Capon’s Delirious, Emotional Awakening

Earlier: Michael White is Devoted to His Juices, Derailed By Reality

Chef Cleanse: Alex Stupak’s Exhaustion, Depression, and Exhilaration