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The 'Dorm Room Chef' Is Taking Over Our Favorite Fine Dining Restaurant

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 25, 2016 2:24PM

Jonah Reider in Intro's Kitchen. Photo by Erika Kubick.

It was with a combination of enthusiasm and trepidation that we received the news that Intro, which we have repeatedly labeled our favorite fine dining restaurant, will be welcoming Jonah Reider, the "dorm room chef" (and potentially the most millennial figure in the American culinary scene) in for a special one-month run.

Intro, you may recall, was invented as a space for up-and-coming chefs to get a chance to do a limited-time stint, often in between jobs or while they were looking for a space for a restaurant. In its first year, the chef and menu rotated about every three months, but the rotations have stopped recently, with some indication that this constant change was unsustainable for the restaurant. The hiring of Reider seems to indicate that the concept isn't totally dead.

In case you haven't heard of Reider, he's the youngster (he started cooking in his teens and is now 21) who started a "restaurant" in his dorm room at Columbia which became one of the hottest tickets in New York. At least until the health department and the university shut him down. He has no culinary training and has, as far as I can tell, never run a professional kitchen. In fact, he said in an interview that he doesn't even want to be a chef.

Well, apparently he's going to give it a try.

My pessimism might be totally unwarranted. Reider clearly has culinary talent and creativity, he's making a living doing various forms of culinary consulting and perhaps his residency will give Intro a much-needed shot in the arm. On the other hand, as any chef (all of whom in the entire city are currently rolling their eyes, I suspect) will tell you, most of their job is management, logistics, and other skills that come from training and experience, not a stint as a fancy pop-up dilettante. Running a fine dining restaurant which people pay hundreds of dollars to visit isn't simple, and customers are incredibly demanding.

The restaurant seems to be limiting its risk in this regard somewhat. The menu is "supper club" style and is "communal," key words for "if we don't get a million plates out all on time and on target, it's kind of OK." He's not taking over the whole kitchen (Chef Stephen Gillanders is still running the show) and he's only going to serve 200 people total. I'm sure it won't be a disaster. And who knows, maybe it isn't all New York hype and fake exclusivity and dorm room nostalgia that made him a star, and he'll teach us midwesterners a thing or two. And after my visit to to the restaurant, if I'm converted, I will proudly write a retraction.

But to all of the hard working culinary students, interns, stages, line cooks and other folks working for $9 an hour until 2 in the morning, six days a week, with dreams of fame and fortune, this must be just a little bit of a slap in the face.

Reider's run starts on Sept. 15. Reservations will be available to those on the Intro email list, which you can subscribe to here.