Reid Bartelme’s Grown-Up Tuna Noodle Salad

August 25, 2022

The end of summer in New York City can be brutally hot. On days when the most cooking he can tolerate is boiling a pot of water, Reid Bartelme, who, along with his design partner, Harriet­ Jung, is famed for costume collaborations with artists like Justin Peck and Pam Tanowitz, turns to his tried-and-true tuna noodle salad recipe. “I grew up with a version of this dish,” says the host of the Dance and Stuff podcast. “My mom’s was very bare-bones, no pickles or anything; only the white foods. It’s evolved over the course of my life as I’ve developed interest in food that has more flavors.”

Bartelme is a huge fan of pasta; another oft-used recipe passed down from his mom and jazzed up over the years is spaghetti with tomato sauce. “I’m very invested in the simple foods I eat being the best versions of themselves,” he says. Cooking in his downtown apartment requires a minimalist sense of organization that comes naturally to Bartelme. “I don’t have a lot of kitchen real estate,” he says. “It’s so small and dense that sometimes when I’m cooking, I don’t move my feet, I just continue turning and grabbing everything I need. It becomes a strange stationary dance.”


Makes 8 servings
• 1 lb dry pasta (fusilli, elbow or any other short variety)
• 6 stalks of celery, cut on the bias into pieces about the same size as the noodles
• 1 small red onion, diced
• 1 cup cornichons (roughly 20–25), cut into quarter-inch disks
• 2 5-oz cans of tuna packed in olive oil
• 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Bartelme strongly prefers Hellmann’s/Best Foods or Kewpie brand)
• 1/4 cup whole-grain or country Dijon mustard
• 2 tbsps Dijon mustard
• 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
• 1 tsp kosher salt (plus additional salt for pasta water)

To be added just before serving:
• 1 small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped, stems included
• 1 small bunch chives, finely chopped
• 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
• 1 head of romaine lettuce, whole leaves removed (optional—for romaine boats)

tuna noodle salad in a bowl and on lettuce
Reid Bartelme’s Tuna Noodle Salad. Courtesy Bartelme.


1. Boil a large pot of water.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the chopped celery, onion and cornichons. Add the canned tuna, including the olive oil it came packed in. Continue by adding the mayonnaise and both of the mustards, as well as the pepper and salt. Mix ingredients with a fork to break up tuna and get everything evenly coated.
3. When the water comes to a boil, generously salt it and add the pasta. Cook according to the package instructions. Drain pasta and rinse in colander under cold running water until all the noodles are room-temperature or cooler. Rinse again.
4. Add pasta to the tuna mixture and combine gently with a large spoon so as not to break the noodles.
5. The mixture can be eaten immediately or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. When you are ready to serve, add the chopped cilantro, chives and tomatoes, and toss gently to combine. These ingredients won’t hold up as well, so it’s best to add them fresh each time you eat a serving.
6. Enjoy as is, or scoop mixture into romaine leaves to enjoy very messy romaine boats.

Simple Cook, Ambitious Baker

While Bartelme considers himself a simple cook, he’s an ambitious baker. A devotee of food writer Claire Saffitz, he’s slowly been making his way through her cookbook Dessert Person. While stuck at home recovering from COVID-19, he chronicled his adventures re-creating her croissants in his Instagram stories. One of his most impressive attempts? Her gâteau Basque. “It’s challenging,” says Bartelme. “But I highly recommend it.”

Salt and Pepper

Like all thoughtful cooks, Bartelme is very particular about the ingredients and cooking tools that he uses. He needs to have a tub of kosher salt near him at all times—he prefers Diamond Crystal, which has less sodium by volume than other brands. “It’s the only salt that I care to have or eat,” he says. When it comes to pepper, he swears by the food-world favorite Unicorn Magnum Pepper Mill. “It’s absolutely the best pepper mill you can buy.”

Spin It

Want to use up what’s in the fridge? This dish is endlessly adaptable. In addition to Bartelme’s go-to substitutions, listed below, he’s been known to add toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped radishes or pickled red onions.
• Sub chopped shallots for red onion.
• Try chopped fennel in place of celery.
• When it comes to herbs, the sky’s the limit: Try tarragon, flat-leaf parsley, mint or basil in lieu of cilantro and chives.