© Marcus Nilsson
On Friday, F&W Best New Chef 2013 Alex Stupak of New York's modern Mexican restaurants Empellón Taqueria and Empellón Cocina hosts the third installment of The Push Project, his brilliant series of collaborative pop-up dinners with guest chefs. He'll welcome San Francisco’s offal king Chris Cosentino for two $150 seatings. “I wanted to cook with Chris because his cooking style is so different from mine,” says Stupak. “It's very bold and spontaneous. He changes his mind mid-dish and always has new items on the menu at Incanto.” During a live Q&A on Food & Wine's Facebook page today, Stupak shared a sneak peek of their menu: sweetbreads cooked in Rhode Island-style clam chowder. Here, more highlights from Stupak's chat with fans including his favorite boozy summer cocktail, the best chiles for at-home cooks, and the secret to really good flour tortillas.
What are five must-have pantry staples for making Mexican food?
Garlic, white onions (not yellow Spanish ones) tomatoes, tomatillos and chiles—masa and lard are crucial too but you only gave me five!
What's the easiest Mexican dish for an at-home cook to make?
Queso fundido. Find chihuahua cheese or another mild melting cheese and simply add delicious garnishes like spinach, mushrooms, chorizo etc. Serve with warm tortillas.
What are some good chiles for spice neophytes?
Start with the workhorse chiles. For fresh, that’s jalapeño and serrano. For dried, that’s chipotle, guajillo, pasilla and ancho. Cascabel and pasilla oaxaqueña are good ones to move onto after that.
What is a delicious vegan Mexican dish?
Ayocote beans. They are called runner beans here. They have a gratifying texture. Try simmering them with onions, garlic, roasted tomato and some chipotle chile. Heaped onto corn tortillas with a lime dressed salad and good beer—sounds like a winner to me.
Many of the best tortillas are made from corn, so what is the secret to your shockingly-good flour tortillas?
The ingredient usually missing from most tortillas is freshness. The best thing you can do is griddle a tortilla and then serve it immediately. Our flour tortillas are a simple mixture of flour, water, lard and salt. They are chef Lauren Resler's recipe and that's why they are so good. I'm a fan of good corn tortillas myself, but they take a different skill set to produce. We are looking at them for a third restaurant.
Hardshell tacos—pro or con?
I’m anti the hardshell U-shaped things. I love tacos dorados and flautas though, and those are crispy.
What are your favorite summer cocktails?
A fortified michelada. Take lager or any Mexican beer you like and pour it over a shot of tequila or mezcal on the rocks. Add a pinch of salt, a squeeze of fresh lime and a dash of your favorite Mexican hot sauce. I also love Lillet on the rocks with a splash of soda and a little simple syrup that’s been infused with an interesting herb like chamomile or anise hyssop.
What’s the best unsung food to cook on a grill?
Nopales are great grilled and I think they are way underrated. Rub them with olive oil first. They make a great salad or relish with some grilled onions, lime and salt.
What's your dream Fourth of July menu?
Lobster rolls with pickled jalapeño mayo, bacon-wrapped hot dogs and tongue tacos.