Stay Local, Eat Local
For Manal Kahi ’15SIPA, it all began with hummus. Or, rather, the lack thereof.
Kahi, a Lebanese environmental consultant and the cofounder of Eat Offbeat, a catering company that employs refugees as cooks, says that three years ago, when she moved to New York to start a master’s program at Columbia, she couldn’t find good hummus — at least none as authentic as the stuff her Syrian grandmother used to make.
So Kahi borrowed the family recipe and started to make big batches, sharing it with family and friends. It was such a hit that her entrepreneurial brother Wissam Kahi ’04BUS quickly decided that it was good enough to sell.
“At first it was just going to be a hummus company,” Manal Kahi says. “But this was 2013, the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon. We wanted to figure out a way to help from New York. ”
Then it dawned on the Kahi siblings that they could have Syrian refugees make the hummus. “The idea got bigger from there,” Manal Kahi says. “Syrians aren’t the only refugees resettling in the United States. And they all have native dishes that are so much better when they’re homemade rather than mass-produced.”
With the help of the International Rescue Committee, the Kahis began to identify and recruit refugees who are also excellent home cooks. The chefs — from Nepal, Iraq, Eritrea, and Syria — work with Eat Offbeat chief culinary officer Juan Suarez de Lezo to adapt their recipes for a professional kitchen.
Based in Long Island City, Queens, Eat Offbeat caters a wide variety of events, from private dinner parties and small office lunches to much larger functions, such as corporate retreats.
“It’s really a win-win-win,” Manal Kahi says. “These are people who desperately need jobs, and that’s at the forefront of our mission. But we’re also able to introduce people to new, exciting dishes. And we’re helping to change the narrative around refugees. They shouldn’t be seen as a potential burden but as a rich cultural asset.”
Jack Starcher ’14LAW was selected to serve as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General, where he will assist attorneys representing the federal government before the Supreme Court. Starcher, who graduated first in his class at Columbia, plans to pursue a career in public-interest law. Before attending law school, he taught remedial math in Phoenix as a part of the Teach for America program.
Séverine Autesserre ’00SIPA, an associate professor of political science at Barnard College, was awarded a $200,000 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. The award will support her analysis of the effects of international peace-building efforts in the eastern Congo.
Two Columbians appeared on Crain’s New York Business’s “40 Under 40” list. Julian J. Moore ’01LAW was honored for his work investigating and prosecuting white-collar crimes. He was the lead prosecutor in the Bernie Madoff case and served as deputy chief investigator on the Moreland Commission, which reported on public corruption in the New York state government. Joseph L. Mayer ’11PS, a psychiatrist, was recognized for developing Cureatr, an app that helps doctors and other clinicians keep in touch with all their patient’s caregivers.
The Asian Columbia Alumni Association, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in April with a black-tie gala at Low Library, has awarded Victor Cha ’83CC, ’93SIPA, ’94GSAS the Alumni Achievement Award. Cha, a Columbian from birth (his parents met at a mixer for overseas students in Earl Hall), is a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and an expert on security issues in Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
Two Columbia playwrights have been awarded major theater residencies in New York. Paola Lazaro-Muñoz ’13SOA will be a Tow Foundation playwright in residence at the Atlantic Theater Company, and Rehana Lew Mirza ’07SOA will be a Mellon Foundation playwright in residence at the Ma-Yi Theater Company.
Joshua Jih Pan ’67GSAPP has won Taiwan’s National Award for the Arts, the highest artistic honor in that country. Pan is the founding principal at J. J. Pan and Partners, a 250-member architecture firm in Taipei known for sustainable design.
Ask an Alum: Road to Rio
Fencer Nzingha Prescod ’15CC is twenty-three years old and already an Olympic veteran. We caught up with the number-one-ranked US fencer as she prepared for her second Summer Games.
Columbia Magazine: How did you get interested in fencing?
Nzingha Prescod: When I was nine, I started taking lessons at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a New York nonprofit that seeks to expose more minorities to the sport of fencing. I didn’t like it at first, but I’m competitive by nature and I wanted to beat my sister, who also did the program.
CM: What does your training schedule look like now?
NP: I’ve been training full-time since I graduated last May and am still with the same coach I had as a kid. Every day is different — a mix of physical therapy, gym workouts, drills, and sparring with partners at different fencing clubs across the city.
CM: What are the most important qualities in an Olympic fencer?
NP: Confidence, discipline, and strong legs. Fencing is not an intuitive sport: you can’t just attack someone; there is a complicated set of rules. So you have to be disciplined about the rules and confident in executing them. And you squat a lot: that’s where the strong legs come in.
With hotly contested primaries in both major parties, the 2016 presidential election season has been particularly feverish. Meet a few of the Columbians behind some of this year’s top-office seekers.
Robby Mook ’02CC
Campaign manager, Hillary Clinton campaign
Robby Mook has been working with Clinton since her first presidential campaign, in 2008, where he earned respect as the state director for Nevada, Indiana, and Ohio (Clinton won in all three). After managing several congressional campaigns, Mook rejoined the Clinton team in January 2015. A Vermont native, Mook is known for his obsessive organizational skills and calm management style. He studied classics at Columbia and is the first openly gay manager of a presidential campaign.
Nicole Willis ’08LAW
National tribal-outreach director, Bernie Sanders campaign
Willis began her political career in 2008 as an adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. After serving in his administration as special assistant for Indian affairs in the Department of Labor, Willis joined the Sanders campaign as the national tribal-outreach director. The Sanders campaign subsequently made several pledges to Native American voters: it offered to create a position in the Office of Management and Budget serving tribal affairs, and to mandate that all federal grants open to state and local governments also be open to tribes. Willis, who was president of the National Native American Law Students Organization while studying at Columbia, is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, based in Oregon.
Chad Sweet ’91CC
Campaign chairman, Ted Cruz campaign
Sweet is a Texas-based former CIA operative and an expert in finance and national security. He earned a degree in East Asian studies at Columbia and, after a short stint in covert intelligence operations, worked as an analyst at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. In 2007, he returned to the public sector to serve as then Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff’s chief of staff. Sweet and Chertoff are the cofounders of the Chertoff Group, an international security and risk-management consulting company.
Hamilton, the hip-hop musical phenomenon — co-produced by Jill Furman ’97BUS — made Broadway history in May when it was nominated for a record-breaking sixteen Tony Awards.
Furman has been a supporter of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda since 2003, when she saw him perform an early work in the basement of a Midtown bookstore. She went on to co-produce Miranda’s first musical, In the Heights, which debuted on Broadway in 2008 and won the Tony for best musical that year.
Even before the nominations, Hamilton was already a producer’s dream — tickets are sold out through 2017.
In 1977, when Laurinda Spear ’75GSAPP started the Miami-based architecture firm Arquitectonica, Time magazine described the area as “a seedy backwater of debt-ridden hotels, gaudy condominiums and decaying apartments.”
Not for long. Money began to blow in, and the land of pink flamingos was met with white marble and TV’s Miami Vice, whose opening credits showed a pink spiral staircase in a cube of space that, as the camera pulled back, proved to be a hole in the middle of a massive edifice of glass. That building, the Atlantis, was to become Arquitectonica’s most famous structure.
Spear, who was born in Minnesota and raised in Miami, had always wanted to be an architect, and after grad school, she wasted little time making a splash. Her first project, the red, ziggurat-shaped Babylon Apartments, finished in 1982, “set a new bar for urban architectural pizzazz in Miami,” according to the Miami Herald.
For two decades, Spear used steel, brick, and glass to build instant Miami landmarks. Then, in 2005, she formed ArquitectonicaGEO, shifting to landscapes and a more fragile palette of plants, soil, and water. As a landscape architect, Spear must consider the ecological implications of her designs, and make them adaptable to environmental changes, such as rising seawater. For the Pérez Art Museum, which opened in 2013 on the shoreline of Biscayne Bay, she created a lush oasis of 64,000 subtropical and tropical plants. “It’s a resilient design because it anticipates extra water on the site in the future,” Spear says. In recognition of this feat, the American Society of Landscape Architects gave ArquitectonicaGEO a 2015 Honor Award for design.
Whether with delicate flora or impressive facades, Spear continues to make her mark on Miami according to one consistent philosophy: “We should know about the sun, the air, the light, the natural conditions. We have to be thoughtful about the way we put a building on the earth.”
When the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced in April, four alumni were among the honorees. This year marks the centennial of the awards, which Columbia Journalism School founder Joseph Pulitzer ’52HON established to honor excellence in journalism and the arts.
Cara Fitzpatrick ’06JRN, a staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times, won the Pulitzer for local reporting. She and two other journalists were honored for exposing how a local school board turned five average schools in Black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.
Sanghamitra Kalita ’00JRN, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, won the Pulitzer for breaking-news reporting. She was part of a team of staffers that covered the San Bernardino mass shooting and the terror investigation that followed.
Alissa J. Rubin ’85GSAS, the Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, won the Pulitzer for international reporting for her thoroughly reported and movingly written accounts of cruelties endured by Afghan women.
T. J. Stiles ’91GSAS won the Pulitzer for history for his book Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. The citation describes the book as a rich and surprising new telling of the journey of the iconic American soldier, whose death turns out not to have been the main point of his life.