Noah Tanen eats, sleeps, and breathes food. But, it hasn’t always been this way. It wasn’t until his twenties that Noah realized his greatest passion lives in his kitchen.
Despite the recent rain, Noah spent his routine Saturday stocking up at the Clark Park Farmers' Market, a West Philadelphia staple. Noah’s loyalty to the vendors at Clark Park is apparent; he contends that the more popular Rittenhouse Farmers' Market just isn’t quite the same.
A native of Rutland, Vermont, Noah found himself in West Philly after graduating from Temple University in 2019. “The reason I came to Philadelphia in the first place was because it’s so different from [Rutland],” he says. Even though he’s only spent a few years living here, Noah holds a true Philadelphian’s love for the city.
When he started school at Temple, Noah had no interest in cooking. “I didn't grow up really cooking or caring about food in any significant way,” he says. At first, he dreamed of pursuing a career in the music industry as a recording engineer. He spent his college years interning at recording studios and working at venues around the city.
After struggling to find studio work, Noah turned to the old reliable restaurant industry. He applied to what he thought would be "easy jobs:" fry cooks, pastry chefs, and prep cooks. Two days into working as a fry cook at Federal Donuts, Noah was hired as a pastry chef at Zahav. What started as a “bit” turned into Noah’s first “honest–to–god restaurant job,” spending fifty hours a week in the kitchen. Soon, he switched to working exclusively as a pastry chef at K’Far.
At the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, Noah was laid off from K’Far. In the meantime, what started as on–call work as a food stylist at the televised shopping channel QVC turned into a full–time job. “Food styling was considered an essential business [at the time],” he says with a laugh. Food lovers who had perfected the art of making a plate look photo–ready were suddenly frontline workers.
While working a full–time job that offered far less demanding hours, Noah began to cook and never stopped. “I was still cooking at work, but I was able to take all of this energy that had been going into executing a service every night [at Zahav] or baking at K’Far and put it into cooking all the time,” he says. “I think there was a two–year stretch, throughout 2020 and 2021, where I was always cooking. If I wasn’t actively cooking, there was some kind of project, like fermentation or a bread dough, in the works.”
All the while, Noah isn’t a fan of cookbooks. The only one he owns is English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David. “That’s the only one that ever really spoke to me,” he says. Much of Noah’s recipe inspiration comes from his community. “I love eating as much as I love cooking,” he tells me, as he explains his method of tasting a dish at a restaurant and working the recipe backward at home.
When his excitement for cooking became too big to contain in his kitchen, Noah turned to TikTok. Two years later, Noah has amassed over 80,000 followers on TikTok and uploaded hundreds of videos, chronicling his recipes, trips to local restaurants, and everything in between.
In the last few months, Noah broke the digital barrier between himself and his followers. He began hosting pop–up events in collaboration with local Philadelphia restaurants. Most recently, he cheffed up smoked whitefish malawah at Alif Brew and Mini Mart on 45th and Baltimore, and a Utica, New York–themed restaurant dinner party in Brooklyn. Pop–ups give Noah the opportunity to experiment with new recipes and share them with his community.
Noah’s first pop–up came to life after a spell of New England nostalgia. He had a hankering for fried clam rolls and didn’t rest until he found a way to bring his hometown’s delicacy to Philly. The recipe required soft shell Ipswich clams, only accessible by bulk wholesale shipment from Massachusetts. On a Sunday afternoon, Noah spent the day at The Lunar Inn in Port Richmond, sharing his abundance of soft shell Ipswich clams with the community.
When Noah was uncertain of the future and lacking inspiration, Philly welcomed him with open arms and led him to the kitchen. He worships the West Philly block of 45th and Walnut, a hub for some of the best international cuisine in the city. “Abyssinia is so good … maybe my favorite restaurant on the planet,” Noah says. He also recommends his tried and true Alif, Ice Cave just a few doors down, Mish Mish in Passyunk, and Tom’s Dim Sum in Chinatown.
Noah’s explanation for staying in Philly post–grad is short and sweet: “It’s such a beyond special place,” he says. “There’s so much depth to it … and there are so many ways to be a Philadelphian.” We agreed that if and when we choose to leave Philly and get to know a different city, we will always yearn for its one–of–a–kind culture and charm.
At the core of his unexpected TikTok fame, Noah Tanen has a few simple pleasures in life: a Lucy Dacus jam session in his kitchen, the comfort of home, and a super awesome grilled cheese sandwich.