No one is more surprised than Suzanne Cupps that she has ended up becoming a chef. She didn’t grow up watching “Iron Chef” or “Chopped” or “Top Chef,” dreaming of being head chef at a high-profile restaurant.
“It wasn’t something I dreamed of doing or something that had even crossed my mind,” says Cupps, who took over last April as executive chef at Untitled, a contemporary American restaurant located on the first floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Cupps is the only female executive chef with Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates Untitled and 14 other New York restaurants. Her name and title is blind-embossed on the bottom left of the menu, an understated claim that fits her calm, understated demeanor. She hasn’t gotten where she is by being loud and overbearing, but by being precise and detailed and thorough.
And she’s gotten there by being a mentor and a teacher, which is somewhat humorous given that was her original career goal. A math major at Clemson, Cupps was dreading student teaching her senior year enough to know that wasn’t the right direction. So she moved to New York and eventually landed at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, working in human resources. When they needed extra help in the steak house, she pitched in and discovered a love of food preparation.
She didn’t know the difference between cilantro and parsley and had never held a knife properly, but she forged ahead and began classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. A lover of precision (a part of her math background, she says), she would take potatoes home every night and practice slicing and dicing until she got them perfect.
A series of kitchen jobs followed, and she landed at Gramercy Tavern (also part of Union Square Hospitality Group), learning from chef Michael Anthony. She moved to Untitled as chef de cuisine before taking the reins as executive chef.
She loves sourcing local seasonal ingredients and creating plates that are works of art. And she loves teaching, though in a very different type classroom than she initially envisioned. “My style is very much teaching,” she says, “and it’s funny that I didn’t become a math teacher, but I teach all day in the kitchen.
“I show cooks how to get better.”