Celebrated dorm-room chef Jonah Reider cooks up New Zealand's smallest restaurant

"The pop up is in a tiny apartment, so I'll be cooking only about one metre away from my guests."
Chris McKeen

"The pop up is in a tiny apartment, so I'll be cooking only about one metre away from my guests."

He's just 22, he's the youngest chef in America to received a three-star review from the Chicago Tribune, and his first restaurant, Pith, was touted by the New York Post as "the hottest table in town."

It was also in his college dorm room, had space for just four guests at a time, and ended up getting him evicted.

This weekend, Jonah Reider is bringing his much sought after personal brand of big-thinking, small-space cooking to New Zealand, where he will be cooking, and serving in, the country's smallest pop-up restaurant - with just enough room for him and six guests.

Chris McKeen/Stuff.co.nz

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"Pith by Mini will treat six people per sitting to a seasonal, improvised, super social multi-course meal," says Reider.

"The pop-up is in a tiny apartment, so I'll be cooking only about one metre away from my guests, chatting throughout and maybe sampling some snacks with everyone."

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Potential guests to Reider's Auckland pop-up restaurant have until 1pm Friday to register.
Chris McKeen

Potential guests to Reider's Auckland pop-up restaurant have until 1pm Friday to register.

 

Reider flew to foodie fame in late 2015, when he opened a supper club in his Columbia University dorm room, to cook and hang out with friends and fellow students and counter the high cost of living in New York City.

"It was only me that could fit in the kitchen," says the young sociology student turned chef. "My dining table could fit four people - and I'd kneel at the corner of the table eating a few courses with my guests."

"It got crazy pretty quick. I guess Columbia University students initially spread the news about Pith by word of mouth and my school paper ended up covering the news. From there, I started getting calls from TV, radio and newspapers all over the world and my wait list grew tremendously quickly."

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For a while there, the wait list was 4000 people long, with Reider joking on The Late Show that he had many years of dorm room cooking ahead of him, but most of the list would get the opportunity to be one of Reider's guests, as he was evicted from his room earlier this year.

What was it that made people want in so much? "I think people want to experience something unique and genuine that connects them with other people," says Reider.

"By entertaining in a small space you can create a fun, intimate environment that enables that connection. Guests are there for a good time as well as good food."

Reider says cooking and hosting in a small space means you have to be organised, and it's up to the host to create the vibe.

"Back in my dorm days, I had only four plates and would have to clean each plate before the next course. A small space means you have to channel confidence and warmth - bad vibes will ruin a small dinner party quickly."

The pros include getting to know people quickly - "A range of ages, backgrounds and outlooks create fascinating conversation and awesome memories" - but Reider says, "You don't have to go to as much trouble as you think you do. A good entertainer is all about being a good curator. So don't cook every dish. If the market around the corner from me sells a dope cheese, why would I make it myself?"

He's just finished up a one-month residency at Chicago's Intro restaurant (where he picked up that 3-star review) and recently finished filming a web series - Nice Food for Not Much - which he describes as "a fittingly adventurous show about creating elegant food on a low budget," exploring a different part of New York each episode.

Potential guests to Reider's Auckland pop-up restaurant in collaboration with KitchenAid have until 1pm Friday to register, when the chosen few will be sent the address and sitting time for their place at the tiny table to enjoy a four-course set menu.

He's not giving much away about the menu but says he loves using local and seasonal ingredients as the basis for his cuisine.

"I've only just arrived in New Zealand. But so far I've found some incredible lamb chops, unusual varieties of oysters, beautiful young strawberries, and interesting herbs - all of these will be making their way into my Pith by Mini menu. I'm making a bunch of stuff using KitchenAid's new Artisan Mini mixer - it's mad small but is super versatile in making foams, sauces, juices, doughs, etc."

 - Stuff

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