In the Kitchen with Alex Stupak: The Empellon Push Project

[Photographs: Jacqueline Raposo]

"Is molecular gastronomy out? Are hydrocolloids and concepts like deconstruction passé? Let's bring it all back for just two nights and see what happens."

So said Chef Alex Stupak last week in his first foray into writing, explaining the inspiration behind his second incarnation of The Push Project. Thursday and Friday evening, he and Chef Jordan Kahn—Chef/Partner of Red Medicine in Beverly Hills and Stupak's former colleague at Alinea in Chicago—joined forces at Empellon Cocina, where for $125 per-person guests explored a nine-course menu.

"I suppose the point of all this for me is that I have the opportunity to relive a moment in time, and basically just try to top myself," Stupak said in the dramatic trailer for the dinner that came out several days before.

Stupak's dishes average seven components, Kahn's around 14. Together, around 88 items went into those nine courses, where the chefs alternated plates and then finished with a dramatic collaboration—vanilla ice cream, "the last thing you would expect for your last course."

Thursday night saw a dining room balanced between industry folk (Gail Simmons, Matt Duckor, Andrew Knowlton, Gael Greene), enthusiastic regulars, and curious newbies ready to delve into some complex food. But instead of sitting, sampling and dissecting, we slid our way around the very busy kitchen to watch the dishes in progress. Amongst Stupak and Kahn plating at the front window, calls for "service," counts of dishes flying through the air, and the occasional clarification of an allergy or an order for a VIP, beautiful things were happening: fresh herbs set aloft on wires of chocolate, brown butter sorbet nestled alongside jasmine custard, brushes and tweezers and piping bags in full force.

Click on the slideshow above to see them in action.