Pith and Its Young Chef Move Out of Columbia’s Dorms

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Pith and Its Young Chef Move Out of Columbia’s Dorms

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A few weeks before his supper club, Pith, started up again, Jonah Reider was in his spotless new kitchen, toying with a new idea: marrying the barnyard heft of bone marrow with the earthiness of just-in-season morels.

“Yo dog,” he texted the next day, the bone marrow turned out to be “so dank.”

Yes, chef!

“Dank” is not the preferred encomium of the Michelin-star set or the aspirants for the Bocuse d’Or. But it is a term of highest praise for Mr. Reider, the wiry, frenetic young chef behind the D.I.Y. supper club. Unlike many chefs laboring in the trenches, Mr. Reider is 23 and fresh out of Columbia University, where Pith began as fancy food on Ikea plates served in his dorm room.

That is a story too good too resist, even if Mr. Reider hopes that you will. “I would prefer not to be called the ‘dorm-room chef,’ if you feel me,” he said. “I’m always sensitive about people being like, ‘Oh, that’s hilarious, you were cooking in a dorm!’”

It has been 18 months since a review in The Columbia Daily Spectator put Pith on the map (“Need a new date-night spot? Look no further than Hogan Hall, Suite 4B”), but that’s long enough for Mr. Reider to have journeyed from plucky undergraduate to a news media darling.

Before he graduated, The New York Post, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal had all dropped by. Ruth Reichl enthused about Mr. Reider’s deep-fried ramps, and he appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” with homemade sorbet for Mr. Colbert.

“People in our office were all fascinated by this college senior who was turning entrepreneurial,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate economist and Columbia professor who hired Mr. Reider as a research assistant (and booked him to cater a few private dinners for friends). “It is not the turn I would have thought most of my research assistants taking.”

Now older and wiser, Mr. Reider is looking to begin his next act. Like so many recent graduates before him, Mr. Reider has moved to Brooklyn, where he has reopened Pith as private-home supper club. It is already fully booked for the month.

Brian Mommsen, 31, a hedge fund manager, invited Mr. Reider to live with him and his wife in their new three-story townhouse in the Wallabout neighborhood near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They’re like “the rich parents I never had,” Mr. Reider said. He stores his homemade tuiles in the pantry behind their microwave popcorn.

Mr. Mommsen and his wife have no children, and Mr. Mommsen hated the idea of wasting the extra space when it could support a project like Pith. Mr. Reider pays nominal rent, and the three operate the supper club cooperatively. They have designed a kitchen and dining space that would be supper-club-ready, with a top-of-the-line grill; a pizza oven and rows of herbs planted in the back garden; pottery by Lilly Fein, Mr. Reider’s friend, for serving; and a suite of Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs around the large dining room table.

“I haven’t told most of my friends,” Mr. Mommsen said. “They think I’m nuts already.”

As well as giving a young entrepreneur a leg up, Mr. Mommsen envisions the arrangement as a way to engage with the community, and has encouraged Mr. Reider’s desire to involve the neighborhood as well as the Yelp-reviewing, fine-dining adventurers. Beginning next week, Mr. Reider will teach local middle school students to cook through the organization City Growers.

The social aspect of dining is important to Mr. Reider as well, and Pith offers the unusual and slightly chaotic promise of a table shared with strangers. Though dinner costs $95 for eight courses (with a $45 optional wine pairing), not unheard-of for New York tasting menus, Mr. Reider is firm that Pith is not a restaurant. (Whether the city health department and the State Liquor Authority licensing board agree remains to be seen, because Pith lacks the permits and liquor license required by law for commercial restaurants.)

He is careful to manage people’s expectations. “You shouldn’t come to this supper club and declare that you have allergies at the beginning,” he said. “That’s going to really mess me up.” (“Mess” was not Mr. Reider’s first choice of verb, dog.)

At a preview dinner in early April, he assembled friends and family for the first training-wheels test of a Pith meal from his new kitchen. Guests included Jordan Walters, a former college roommate; Matt FX, the D.J., producer and music supervisor for “Broad City,” with one of his current artists, Synead, the R&B inflected singer-songwriter; and Ian Purkayastha, whose company supplies top New York chefs and Mr. Reider with culinary exotica like truffles, caviar, abalone and whatever else has recently been foraged, caught or farmed.

Course after course arrived: velvety spring onion soubise studded with caviar and bitter chickweed, snapper crudo with thin strips of lightly dressed green pepper and the road-tested morels since relieved of the marrow, however dank, and bathed instead in juniper-scented butter, all under a nap of homemade pasta and Pecorino.

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Mr. Reider could be seen padding through the nearby kitchen in Gucci loafers, murmuring to Omri Silberstein, the young chef and the only staff member, or burning a wheel of butternut squash with a blowtorch. He delivered each dish himself, fizzy and nervy as cava.

“I came with no expectations, but I think this is on par with the upper echelons of restaurant cooking,” Mr. Purkayastha said. “I’m going to bring the chefs from Contra next time.”

Some critics agree. When Mr. Reider was invited to a weekslong residency last fall at Intro, a Chicago restaurant, The Chicago Tribune awarded him three stars.

Mr. Reider is aware that not everyone is prepared to be as open-minded or as supportive. “People are very quick — and rightfully so, a lot of the time — to rag on someone who’s fairly young in the food world who’s not doing the very formal, hierarchical restaurant thing,” he said.

But plenty of others have seized on him as an opportunity. Brands have sought to curry his favor. KitchenAid sent him on a cooking trip to Australia and New Zealand. Cadillac offered cars to borrow, and fashion brands, clothes. Patrón sent tequila for his birthday party. He signed with United Talent Agency to vet projects. “I’d be glad to pull an Ina Garten,” he said.

In the meantime, his April Pith dinners — three a week — sold out within two hours of their listing on Mr. Reider’s website. Spots for May go up this week.

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