Alex Stupak
1723 N. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614-5501
(312) 867-0110

Biography »

Colleen Richardson: How did you get started in pastry?
Alex Stupak: It was out of necessity. I was working as a sous chef at The Federalist in Boston when the pastry chef quit. I became the permanent sous chef there.

CR: What is your philosophy on pastry?
AS: Creativity through technique. I’m a slave to format. It’s important to master format. Creativity comes from inventing a technique. It gives you a wider arsenal, a whole other set of possibilities.

CR: You have worked in pastry at Clio in Boston and as a line cook at Tru here in Chicago. How did these work experiences contribute to your current success at Alinea?
AS: At Tru I learned speed. As a line cook you serve 100 people a night. At Clio, it was my second pastry chef job, and I was working under Ken [Oringer]. There was more refinement and creativity. The sensibility there pushed me to ensure that dishes are delicious and make sense.

CR: Have you won any awards?
AS: Boston Magazine named me Best Pastry Chef in 2003.

CR: What pastry or kitchen tools can’t you live without?
AS: The freezer – it has the widest range of application. Also a laboratory-grade homogenizer – it’s like a hand blender on steroids.

CR: What are your favorite ingredients?
AS: Water is the most versatile. Also the summer, for fresh herbs. Agar-agar and gums. I’ve got a high-tech spice rack.

CR: What are your top three tips for dessert success?
AS: 1) Whatever you make, it needs to be delicious. 2) Be aware of trends and other people. 3) Be in the kitchen constantly.

CR: Who are your mentors and pastry heroes?
AS: I’m self-taught. I never really worked under anyone. In terms of heroes, Albert Adrià at El Bulli, Pierre Hermé. He’s a technical master, though he stuck to the classics throughout.

CR: What are your favorite desserts?
AS: I like comforting desserts. My challenge is to make them technically interesting.

CR: What trends do you see emerging in pastry arts?
AS: There’s a focus on mixtures. Food additive companies are looking at new effects – it’s a discovery race. There’s also a move away from the typical format in desserts and words like “tart” or “cake.”

CR: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
AS: With a business of my own. My background is savory. I’d like to be recognized and be more well known in 10 years. Right now Alinea is under a microscope, and you feel the pressure from the public. What are they expecting here? A great meal or are they looking for something unusual?


Alex Stupak
ALINEA | Chicago

Alex Stupak has always been drawn to the kitchen. As a precocious eleven year old, he began his career as a pastry chef selling his homemade confections to fellow classmates. While enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, Stupak completed his externship at Clio Restaurant in Boston under acclaimed Chef Ken Oringer. After graduating from the CIA in 2000, Stupak joined the kitchen of Tru in Chicago, honing his talents in a variety of roles. He returned to Boston to work at the Federalist, where he became Pastry Chef after just one month. The next year he returned to Clio as Pastry Chef. Striving for creativity while maintaining balance, Chef Stupak's pastries have been recognized as some of the most provocative in the country. Earlier this year Chef Grant Achatz invited Alex to be on the opening team at Alinea, where his innovative desserts complement and elevate Achatz' extraordinary creations.


Sponge Cake with Sour Cherry, Tonka Bean and Vanilla
Pastry Chef Alex Stupak of Alinea – Chicago, IL
Adapted by

Yield: 12 Servings


    Sponge Cake with Vanilla:
  • 7 whole eggs
  • 143 grams vegetable oil
  • 255 grams sugar
  • 15 grams liquid sorbitol
  • 3 grams salt
  • 228 grams cake flour
  • 6 grams baking powder
  • 120 milliliters milk
  • 255 grams Isomalt, for boiling
  • 30 whole vanilla beans
    Neutral Caramel Sheets:
  • 200 grams fondant
  • 200 grams glucose
  • 100 grams Isomalt
    Tonka Bean Cream:
  • 250 grams milk
  • 250 grams cream
  • 10 tonka beans
  • 150 grams sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 grams gelatin sheets (previously rehydrated)

    Vanilla Foam:
  • 450 grams milk
  • 50 grams marrasquino
  • 100 grams sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 vanilla beans, split and scraped
  • 2 grams lecithin

  • Freeze-dried cherry powder
  • Grated tonka beans


For Sponge Cake and Vanilla:
Preheat oven to 300° F. Combine the eggs, oil, sugar, sorbitol and salt and whip in an electric mixer at high speed. Sift in the cake flour and baking powder and fold to incorporate. Fold in the milk and bake on a half sheet tray for 25 minutes. Allow the cake to cool.

Cut the sponge cake into ½-inch by 2 ½-inch batons.

Boil some Isomalt and simultaneously dip the end of a sponge cake baton and the tip of a vanilla bean in the Isomalt. Quickly insert the vanilla bean ½-inch deep into the cake. Allow to cool and repeat the process with the remaining cake batons.

For Neutral Caramel Sheets:
Combine the ingredients in a copper pot and gently cook to 163° C. Immediately pour mixture onto a non-stick baking mat and allow to cool for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 300° F. Transfer pieces of the caramel to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Evenly sift the powder onto a sheet tray lined with a non-stick baking mat and a template with 2-inch by 5-inch rectangular cutouts. Remove the template and place the sheet tray in oven until the powder becomes clear again. Remove from oven and cool completely before removing the caramel rectangles.

Place one of the caramel rectangles over the sponge cake batons and melt using a heat gun. Flip the baton over and coat the other side with another rectangle. Repeat this process until all the batons are enveloped in caramel.

For Tonka Bean Cream:
Combine the milk, cream, tonka beans, sugar, salt and gelatin, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain and refrigerate the mixture. Once chilled, transfer the mixture a whipped cream siphon and charge with nitrous oxide. Reserve under refrigeration.

For Vanilla Foam:
Combine the milk, marrasquino, sugar, salt, vanilla and lecithin and bring to a simmer. Allow to infuse for 10 minutes and strain. Reserve under refrigeration.

To Assemble and Serve:
Fill the bottom of rocks glasses with the tonka bean cream. Place a sponge cake in each with the vanilla bean leaning out the top. Using a hand blender froth up the vanilla foam and place some in the glass. Garnish with freeze-dried cherry powder and grated tonka beans.


   Published: November 2005