Chef Suzanne Cupps on Opening 232 Bleecker with Dig
After leaving Untitled, which put her on the map in New York, the ICE alum is embarking upon an exciting new project.
Growing up, Suzanne Cupps (Culinary, ‘05) didn’t like to cook. It wasn’t until she moved to New York after college that she became interested in food. Here, she enrolled in ICE’s Culinary Arts program, which led to jobs as a line cook at Annisa, sous chef at Gramercy Tavern, and most recently, executive chef at Untitled. Her newest endeavor is a first as opening chef at 232 Bleecker, Dig Food Group’s first full-service restaurant.
“I moved to New York City in 2002 after college, and I just didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Suzanne says. “I had a couple of jobs in hospitality and found myself in restaurants in a front-of-house capacity. I became more interested in cooking and eating, and I went to go check out ICE. Once I saw the space, I was just hooked and really wanted to go to school there.”
Suzanne was immediately drawn to the type of teaching and the safe learning environment the school provided. “I’d never been in a professional kitchen, but it wasn’t intimidating,” she remembers, saying she deeply appreciated the opportunity to get an inclusive overview of techniques, skills, flavors and styles. While it was overwhelming to try to absorb such a vast amount of information, Suzanne was glad to dive into the cooking world rather than focus on just one part of it. Once ICE gave her the broad foundation, she was able to fine-tune specific skills on the job.
After an externship at Gramercy Tavern, Suzanne worked for and learned from legendary chef Anita Lo at her West Village restaurant, Annisa, for nearly six years. Then she returned to Gramercy Tavern, where Mike Anthony was executive chef, and worked her way up from line cook to sous chef. In 2015, Mike brought Suzanne on as his chef de cuisine to open Untitled, the Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s then-new location. Two years later, Suzanne was promoted to executive chef.
“I was responsible for hiring and training a team, running the restaurant financially and creating the menu,” she explains. “The restaurant evolved over the years, but we always stayed true to the idea of sourcing locally and working with seasonal vegetables. I continued that after Mike left but changed the menu to a format that I feel really tied to and excited by, which includes much more shareable dishes.”
Suzanne became known for highlighting both hyper-local ingredients and global flavors in the same dish. “I would use a Japanese technique and a spice from the Middle East, not in a way that created a fusion menu, but in a way that made it feel like you were really part of New York and all the different cultures that are here,” she describes.
At her new restaurant, Suzanne’s passion for locally sourced produce will continue to shine. Once she left Untitled, she was approached by Dig Food Group, the company behind the fast-casual, healthy chain formerly known as Dig Inn (now Dig). The opportunity to helm its first full-service restaurant was an offer that she couldn’t refuse. The people and the mission were exactly what she was looking for.
“Some people that I’ve worked with before were also part of this project, so I liked the idea of having common folks and a common language,” Suzanne explains of her decision. “I also connect with what Dig stands for and what’s important to them. Sourcing is at the top of their list, as well as wanting to change the food system. In my cooking, I feel very strongly about working with vegetables, showing them off and getting people excited about them. That was very much aligned.”
Suzanne also felt tied to Dig because her former employer, Union Square Hospitality Group, recently invested in the company. “The fact that they have similar methods of how to run a business was really important to me,” she says.
Now, the restaurant is on the verge of opening. Located on the corner of Bleecker Street and Carmine Street in the heart of the West Village, the spot takes its name from its address: 232 Bleecker. With about 55 seats, the space revolves around an open kitchen, the centerpiece of which is a giant, wood-burning grill with a hearth. “I’m so excited to cook a lot of vegetables along with meat and fish on that grill,” Suzanne says. “We have a range where we’ll be cooking other things like house made pastas.”
While fans of Untitled might recognize Suzanne’s cooking style at 232 Bleecker, the food will be noticeably different. “Using wood fire and making fresh pasta, it’s a little bit of a departure,” she explains. But in terms of her commitment to locality, the two spots have a lot in common. “It’s a continuation of what I’ve been doing and what I get excited about, which is the relationships I have with the farmers and purveyors and the relationship I have with New York and the food scene here.”
232 Bleecker will also take cues from the neighborhood, focusing on the energy and community of the West Village. With an emphasis on its wine program and December debut, the restaurant is bound to host many cozy nights this winter. Just a few blocks from Suzanne’s first restaurant job at Annisa, this project is something of a homecoming.
“The West Village is a return to where I was cooking before and also it’s a centralized food scene in New York, so I’m excited to be surrounded by other restaurants that are wanting to do things at a high level too and really wanting to cook delicious food,” she says. “I really couldn’t imagine a better location.”
Start your path to a career in plant-based cooking with ICE’s Health-Supportive Culinary Arts program.