My life as Jonah Reider’s assistant
He’s been cooking up a media storm since opening Pith
My desk is piled high with unfinished reading, my laundry hamper is more than full, and my texts to friends are peppered with promises that I will see them soon. Hardly ideal for midterms season, but this state of disarray hasn’t been caused by too much time spent in the library. In fact, I’ve had the best time getting here.
For most of this academic year, I’ve been working with up-and-coming chef Jonah Reider, who gained recognition after opening a supper club called Pith in his Hogan dorm room, serving gourmet meals for nothing more than the cost of ingredients. However, after a few local news outlets wrote about his entrepreneurial spirit, the whole thing kind of blew up. Soon he was getting profiled by the New Yorker, written up in Gothamist, and invited on to the Stephen Colbert show. Meanwhile, he has a senior thesis due this semester and a regular job as a tutor.
After meeting through our literary society, Jonah asked if I’d be down to help with the organizational side of things. Being an avid foodie, of course I said yes. He no longer lives in Columbia Housing, and the supper club is much more sporadic now, but that doesn’t mean Jonah is any less busy. As my desk can confirm, the past month or so has been a whirlwind and I’ve enjoyed every bit. Rather than hosting small, intimate dinners in his apartment, Jonah has been curating events with light and music installations. These contribute to the total sensory immersion that guests experience while sucking on an orange and rosemary candy or sampling a luxuriously silky panna cotta, topped with an espresso stout foam. Drooling yet?
Jonah kicked off the semester with a pop-up in L.A. and then it was all systems go for Pith at the Bronx Brewery. This had been in the works for a while – Bronx Brewery is a long time friend to Pith and frequently donate cases of their craft beer to events that Jonah cooks for. However, no amount of careful planning could prepare me for the craziness of the week that led up to the day itself. First of all, we had to pick up the ingredients for the 6 dishes that would be on the menu, including huge numbers of short ribs and more cream and sugar than I’d ever seen in one place.
Jonah, a senior now, is still a college student, with a college student’s finances. Even with all the supper clubs and pop-ups, he hasn’t made a profit for himself, instead focusing on making his own culinary style available for relatively little money. This means that Pith relies heavily on the generosity of others to keep it going. The Bronx Brewery event wouldn’t even have happened if it weren’t for Westside Market. We were cooking for around 200 people, so it isn’t surprising that we filled over three carts with herbs, veggies, meat, and more. What was more notable for me was the kindness of Westside – not only was all the food in those carts a donation, but they drove us and all the food to Union Food Labs, the commercial kitchen we were using. Driving up Broadway in a four door sedan stuffed to the brim with groceries was a surreal – and squashed – experience, but all in a day’s work for Columbia’s brightest young chef.
Getting to grips with how Jonah actually prepares his dishes has been a learning curve to say the least. The morning of the event, I nearly cut my thumb off using a mandolin to thinly slice some black radishes that would top a salad of mustard frill served with grapefruit, apricot sumac dressing and fresh grated turmeric; but now I have a near professional grip on how to use that particular kitchen tool. Every chef has scars and sure, mine might be accumulating quicker than most, but the crash course I’ve gotten in cooking skills has been well worth it. In the past two weeks alone I’ve learned about heating sugar, chiffonading sage and pickling golden beets as well as a lot more.
A whole host of opportunities has been afforded to Jonah, and we’ve both learned a lot along the way. Just one week after the pop-up at the Bronx Brewery, riding high on success, we were back in the kitchen prepping for an art installation and world premier of contemporary classical music at the American Irish Historical Society. No fingers were lost, the kitchen was meticulously organized, and with the exception of remaking an unset panna cotta everything went ridiculously smoothly.
So what’s next? Keep your eyes on Jonah’s Instagram for some more events that combine music, art, and food and watch this space. Pith is more than a supper-club; it’s an experience and you should get on the waitlist, stat.