What’s Next for Columbia’s Student Restauranteur?

Food Features
What’s Next for Columbia’s Student Restauranteur?

Fine dining and college don’t typically go hand in hand. Actually, only a lucky few are granted the luxury of quality meals while persevering through their four years of undergrad.

At prestigious Columbia University, however, sociology and economics-focused senior Jonah Reider felt inspired to change the accessibility of this opportunity for his peers.

Since coining his restaurant “Pith,” Reider has successfully served enticing, diverse and worthwhile meals to fellow students—all from the comfort of his dorm room. On the noteworthy name choice, Reider stated, “I came up with the name on a whim — I think Pith is a great monosyllabic name that represents what I am going for — essence and surprise.”

Short and punchy, Pith represents Reider’s joy for cooking and friendship, and he mixes the two components into a cohesive unit. Although the system of Pith is rather solidified, the meals are mostly spontaneous—Reider added, “What I love most about cooking is deciding on a whim what to make, how to make it. These choices are informed mostly by what I see at the market! And from the bit of traveling I’ve done in the past year, I’ve picked up spices and cooking technique that I love to revisit and integrate into my own type of cooking.”

But, with most student ventures, the administration isn’t always gung-ho. As Reider explained, “The university administration has been continued unsupportive, which is somewhat understandable… Even though many university administrators are on my waitlist! It’s definitely unnecessarily tense between the two parties. At the moment, they are very concerned about me breaking some policies about having a business.”

Moreover, Pith technically draws away from any on campus food that Columbia provides. Fortunately, though, Reider added, “Every single person I’ve spoken to —in the restaurant industry, the Department of Health, and restaurant lawyers— have all confirmed that what I’m doing doesn’t violate any policies.”

And the students are all for it, with no negative backlash in sight from their standpoint. The reviews of Pith on Yelp are just as entertaining as they are a testament to Reider’s positive reception. One reviewer proclaimed, “My tastebuds experienced flavors they had never tasted before. I mean persimmon coffee and muscovado geleé crushed pepper? Like what? It was beautiful. All of it. Honestly, it was a bit surreal to be having an exquisite gourmet dinner in a Columbia dorm.” That’s where Reider exceeds the typical dining experience—such an unexpected setting juxtaposed against his tremendous cuisine makes the patron feel enlightened and refreshed.
Pith’s dishes are daring, pushing Reider’s versatility in the kitchen. When Stephen Colbert brought him on the Colbert Report in January, Reider presented him with freshly made pear nectar sorbet. Colbert was so in awe of the creation that he dropped his fork—certainly a “hashtag dank” moment, a phrase Reider likes to sprinkles amongst his Instagram.

Just last month, The Washington Post published Roberto A. Ferdman’s piece on the decline of millennials breakfast consumption. Ferdman points out, “America’s youth might have to reckon with the consequences of an age in which it’s no longer worth eating a food when it means having to clean a plate.”

When I mentioned this to Reider, he made a fair argument to get together with your friends, to cook more in a warm atmosphere. “Cooking — preparing the food that you then consume — is such an excellent way to slow down, connect with those around you, and focus on just one thing,” Reider explained. At Pith, Reider not only prepares the food, but takes the time to visit with his guests. “At Pith, great food exists cheaply and unpretentiously, part of a fun night with new people. People are so down to truly socialize during a meal, to have appetizers last an hour where we kill a bottle of wine and then move over to the dining table to eat the meal, this pace is indeed refreshing.” Set against the at times nauseating pace of New York City, Reider’s emphasis on fully immersing yourself in the meal, and conversation, is a remarkable testament to his ultimate mission.

Reider’s enthusiasm for the atmosphere of our dinner conversations reflects in his cooking—with a passion for bringing people together, he bridges the gap between food and togetherness. Of course, his post-graduation plans are far from disappointing. Reider said, “I will definitely continue this post graduation! It’s such a fun activity. However of course this doesn’t make me any money, it’s not a business, and turning it into some external money-oriented thing risks distorting the intimacy and quirkiness that makes it so amazing. Instead, I think I’d like to get more into event curation — integrating dining experiences into visual and sonic spaces — for example providing incredible food at art galleries, with perfumists, record labels, music festivals, in other countries and cities.”

Recently, Reider even held events in which Pith collaborated with Bronx Brewery and the American Irish Historical Society. Reider continued, “I am also in talks to develop a web series or television show about cooking and enjoying food that would be the shit.”

His approach may be a sneak peek in a technological change, as we may all slowly begin replacing our cell phones with our napkins—at least at the dinner table.

Through the explosion of Pith, Reider has maintained a grounded and humbled perspective, explaining that the biggest surprise has been the overwhelming support. He added, “This started as such a loose experiment, with no expectations, but it’s blossomed into something wild — the amount of interest has completely surprised and gratified me.”

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