Delicious gift: Pelham native creates his own cooking show

  • Jonathan Bardzik has an eight-episode show on the global streaming network Revry. CONTRIBUTED/CATALIN MEDIA

For the Gazette
Monday, August 09, 2021

Jonathan Bardzik has a powerful, yet simple life motto: Live life joyously.

As host of a new cooking show that’s airing on Revry, a global LGBTQ+ streaming network, the Pelham native begins each episode by saying, “I believe life can and should be lived with joy, and I find that each day by preparing a simple meal, setting a table and sharing it with the people I love. And I want to share it with you.”

Despite Bardzik’s passion for food and cooking, he calls himself “a storyteller, cook and author rather than a chef.” Because for him, the heart of his work has always been centered on “giving and sharing the ability with people to create these special moments in their own homes.”

Damian Pelliccione, the CEO and co-founder of Revry, said that Bardzik “is a force of nature and as a gay married chef, we knew his talents would connect with our audience. We’re thrilled to champion his delicious gifts!”

Bardzik, who now lives in Washington, D.C., directs, co-produces and writes the eight-episode series based on of his cookbook, “Seasons to Taste: Farm-fresh joy for kitchen and table.” When creating the show, he decided that he didn’t want it to be just about assembling recipes — he wanted to make something that would showcase the incredible stories, people and joy connected to them.

Different guests are featured in each episode, including Bardzik’s 75-year-old parents, who still live in western Massachusetts on a historic dairy farm. Growing up, his mother baked all of their bread, sprouted seeds in jars, and learned to can and freeze fresh vegetables from their home garden and local farms. Bardzik’s father received his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in plant and soil science and also started his own garden center and landscaping business, Tarnów Nursery in Chicopee.

Bardzik remembers being only 4 years old and walking around the yard as his dad talked to him about plants “in the way that he learned to at the Ph.D. level.” Experiences like these, Bardzik said, are common for many who live in the Valley.

“You’re talking about anything from the food on your table, to the books you’re reading, to the car you’re driving, and it’s in the context of educated people with this broad perspective on whatever you’re doing. So I wanted to share those stories. And I got to do it by casting the show around culinary experts, friends and family.”

In the episode with his parents, there is a moment at the end where Bardzik’s husband, Jason, comes home from a baseball game to have dinner with the family. Bardzik’s father stops setting the table and gives his son-in-law a big hug, and then his mother does, too. Afterward, they all sit down and share a meal.

This moment, and moments like these throughout the show, are important to Bardzik. As a gay man, Bardzik grew up with an accepting community and family but, “without any points of reference,” struggled to understand his identity. While there is more representation now, it is so often centered around struggle and tears, but this was not Bardzik’s experience growing up, and this is not what he wanted to portray, he said.

“You get to see two gay men who aren’t meeting your stereotypes,” Bardzik said, “we’re sitting around the table with my parents, and I hope it is this very real and very easy image of what a good life can look like without struggle and coming from, I think the challenges specifically as gay men, but that all of us have — all of us have to find our place in the world.”

A love of cooking

Bardzik never imagined having his own TV show, or being the author of three cookbooks. He graduated from Colby College as a theater major, and returned home bored and lonely without his friends. For fun, he began cooking a meal once a week and realized that this one meal made a meaningful change in his life.

“I could elevate my life well beyond my financial means at that time by ... picking through my parents’ dishes, setting a table, and spending the time to create something special. And I felt so empowered by that.”

Several years later, after earning his MBA at UMass, working successfully as the director of marketing and PR for AmericanHort, marrying his husband and living in a nice D.C. neighborhood, Bardzik wondered what his “next big adventure” in life might be.

He began reaching out to farm vendors at the Eastern Market in Washington, and asked if he could use their ingredients and their space to do live cooking demonstrations. Until last year, was regularly doing demos at 10 different markets.

Never stop talking

To keep the live show from dullness, the first piece of advice Bardzik was given was to never stop talking. While chopping or peeling a vegetable, he’d fill in the spaces with stories. Here, Bardzik witnessed the way that food could be used to share stories and connect with others.

But Bardzik also saw once again the way food could be used to elevate people’s circumstances, as it had done for him after college. He’d see people at the market coming from million-dollar homes on East Capitol Street, and they’d be shopping with people from predominantly Black, lower-income families. They laughed at the same things, asked the same questions, and ate the same food, Bardzik recounted.

“It made it so clear to me that while we’re not all working on the same budgets, and certainly there are people out there who have drastically different access ... food is so leveling and I love that about it. I think we all deserve access to joy, to knowledge, to feeling proud of ourselves and what we do with our lives. And I think food is one of those things that can transcend that for a lot of different people,” Bardzik said.

Bardzik began his demos in July 2011, published his first cookbook in September 2013, and his third cookbook will be released this August. It will also mark the seventh year of Bardzik working for himself. He has been recognized by the Washington Post, USA Today, Food Network Magazine, and has been featured on Fox, ABC and CBS morning news shows in the D.C. area, as well as TedX. He has reached over 900 audiences, teaching recipes and sharing stories so that joy can be brought to everyone’s table.

“To be here now, I look at my past … [and] it’s just all come together in one career in a way that I never could have imagined. And it feels like such a gift.”