Alex Stupak & Lauren Resler spice things up
- Last Updated: 11:15 PM, August 15, 2012
- Posted: 10:44 PM, August 8, 2012
‘When we moved to New York, it was very abrupt,” Empellon chef Alex Stupak says from the loft-like one-bedroom in South Williamsburg that he shares with his wife, Lauren Resler, Empellon’s pastry chef. “We were in Chicago, and I was working at Alinea. I didn’t want to go back to Massachusetts, and she didn’t want to go back to California. It seemed like a logical move.”
It was 2006; they didn’t know the city very well and were unsure of where to live. “We’d never spent any long periods of time here,” Stupak, 32, says. He took a job as the pastry chef for WD-50, and she ended up making sweets at Babbo.
They found an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen online and signed a lease sight unseen. “That place was so tiny,” Resler, 30, says. “You couldn’t even open a drawer in the kitchen without hitting a wall.”
Within the year, they were looking to move again and widened their search to Brooklyn. “We started looking for places, and this was actually the first place we saw out here. We liked it here,” Resler says, standing in the big living room that features double-height ceilings and a massive window that floods the space with light.
And their kitchen stretches the width of the apartment — which Stupak estimates is around 1,200 square feet — so there’s plenty of space to open drawers and the doors of the two refrigerators.
The couple bought the second refrigerator when they were cooking meals for investors for Empellon Taqueria, their haute Mexican restaurant that opened in the West Village in March 2011. This February, they opened the Empellon Cocina spinoff in the East Village.
Both restaurants have received rave reviews despite the fact that Stupak isn’t Mexican and was known as a dessert chef before he opened Empellon. “He was just fascinated to watch women produce tortillas in the middle of the restaurant,” Resler, who is Mexican-American, explains of the places she took him in East L.A. while visiting her family in 2004. “Then he started researching and learning things on his own, especially when he went to Chicago, where he was able to get access to chilies and other things you can’t get access to in Boston.”
From there, he began experimenting with dishes at home and thinking about what the cuisine means to him. “I like the idea that nothing’s new — it’s just new to the person receiving it, and that’s what Mexican cooking was for me. I’m trying to find the obscure and visual elements in there and bring them to life,” Stupak says.
And it started in his home kitchen. “It was anywhere from six to eight people, and we would start the process the day before,” Resler says of the Empellon tastings in their apartment. “That’s why we have two refrigerators in the kitchen because we had them stocked to the gills.”
The kitchen space also holds a molcajete, an ancient Mexican cooking tool used for making guacamole and grinding spices. “It belonged to my great-grandmother, I believe,” Resler says. “It was given to my grandmother as a wedding gift, and then she passed it on to her oldest daughter, and she actually passed it on to Alex.”
“The investors were cooked a pretty elaborate meal out of that little kitchen, which is incredibly hard to do,” Stupak recalls.
Stupak and Resler also have a third refrigerator, in their lofted home office. The fridge is emblazoned with the Red Bull logo and filled with cans of the energy drink. “We were spending so much time in the office planning the restaurant. Sometimes, we would just fall asleep and wake up there, so it seemed like a convenient location,” Stupak says.
ALEX STUPAK’S FAVORITE THINGS
* His cats, Lee and Charlotte
* The Red Bull fridge
* The molcajete
* Photos that Lauren’s father took
* A bookshelf filled with cookbooks