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How a World Class Chef Juggled a Newborn and a New Restaurant

When our second child, a little girl named Parker was born on May 27th, I was waiting for The New York Times to review my newest restaurant, Empellon, which had opened in March. Whenever anything is impending — a review, a child, a storm — I get a little bit angsty. I couldn’t concentrate on work anyway. As a guy, I went through a nesting period, like, “The kid’s room is a depressing color. We gotta paint it yellow!” or whatever. Simultaneously the in-laws were starting to circle like vultures. So it was a tough time.

I was there for the birth of both my children. I could also take some time off since I am not an employee. I have it pretty good but the most I’ve ever taken off is a week. But even when my children were born, I was on email the entire time. For me, what’s most important is proximity to my wife, Lauren. It’s really sad but it’s never going to be 50/50. Women bear most of the burden. First, you gotta carry the thing for nine months. Then you gotta rip it out of you and then the second you’ve done that it’s gonna suck on you. It’s kind of fucked up when you think about it. So really you’re there to support your wife. A husband’s nature is to try to fix things. “What’s wrong? Let me take care of it?” And the hardest things for me have been the psychological adjustment of realizing I can’t fix it. My wife is doing something that is very very hard for her but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to do it and it doesn’t mean I can fix it.

chef alex stupak

The hardest thing is that there’s no escape from having a child. When you have a hard day at work, there’s an end to that. With a child, it’s a different type of marathon. As a husband, the best thing you can do is try to be around to give little escapes more and more. My job now is to take the 2-year-old to the park for three hours every Sunday. The challenge is that as an entrepreneur you acquiesce to guilt. If you’re not at work you feel guilty. When you’re not at home, you feel guilty.

Pete Wells, the restaurant critic for The New York Times, came into Empellon on Father’s Day. I suspect he must’ve known I had just had a kid and wouldn’t be there. The rule is if he shows up to text me and chances are I will come in. But it was Father’s Day, which entailed hanging out with my kids and it was fucking awesome. Also, I basically hadn’t seen my wife other than going to sleep and waking up for six days and so I said no, I’m going to fucking cook dinner for my wife and help out with the diaper bag and the two kids and the stroller so we can get out of the house.When I heard Pete was there, I was like, “Cool. But I’m cooking dinner with my wife.”

chef alex stupak

For now, personally, it’s a matter of balance. For instance, despite my not being there for two out of his three visits,  Wells gave us three stars. That’s a critical indicator to me that I put the right team in place. So I threw a party.  I closed the restaurant at nine and brought in a DJ booth and made a speech. I partied with my staff for a little bit too. Now when my wife sees that on social media, how do you think she feels? She must be thinking, “ That’s awesome. You’re partying while I’m taking care of your fucking progeny? Cool!”

As a chef, having children has made me more empathetic. I have solidarity because deep down I’m a cook. On the restaurant side that’s hard, that’s not an easy thing. As a manager it’s like “Ok, we need you standing there and now you’re gonna leave for two weeks, what am I supposed to do?” But a person shouldn’t have to quit their job to have a kid so we work around it.

Being a father, though, has sparked deeper realizations about our industry.  I came from the whole 80-hour week shift pay, don’t-ever-call-in-sick-or-you’re-fired mentality. Now as a manager, part of me wants to cling to that with my own staff, like, “Fuck you! This is what I went through!” But you can’t be mad about the past. You have to look at the fucked-up nature of your own industry and be a part of fixing it.

— As told to Joshua David Stein