From Southern Sweet Corn to South End Oysters

September 24, 2015

Boston Gay Men’s Chorus Music Director Reuben M. Reynolds III recalls his favorite repasts.

Ellen Bhang
From Southern Sweet Corn to South End Oysters | WGBH | Craving Boston

When you spend time chatting with Reuben M. Reynolds III, you quickly realize that his food memories are as vivid as the music he creates.

The music director of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, a 175-voice ensemble that’s one of New England’s most celebrated community-based choruses, affirms what folks around him already know: “People can find me in the practice room or in the kitchen,” he quips.

“I grew up in the South on a farm, eating everything fresh,” says the native of Bainbridge, Georgia. It was not unusual for peas picked one morning to be served at lunch the same day. Corn was also a big favorite. “My job was to shuck it and silk it,” he says of his responsibility toward each cob. His mother transformed those parboiled kernels into creamed corn. “It was like liquid gold,” he says with a sigh.

Reynolds thought everybody ate this way until he got to college, where he first experienced what he calls “institutionalized” food.  For fellow undergraduates, cafeteria meals were sustenance to be wolfed down before hitting the books—nothing like the relaxing, convivial repasts of his childhood. This prompted him to pick up a copy of “The Joy of Cooking,” and teach himself to julienne vegetables and make stocks. “While other kids were going out,” he recalls, “I was at home, making chicken pot pie.”

This thoughtful approach to cooking and eating continued as he pursued a music career around the world. In the early ‘90s, after he and his partner (now husband), Bill Casey, finished the first year of their respective doctoral programs in Kansas City, the two rented an apartment in Florence, Italy, three blocks from the Ponte Vecchio. Most of the day was spent studying Italian, with after-class time devoted to practicing the language, often with local food vendors.

“One day, I couldn’t figure out why the woman at the bakery wouldn’t sell me this bread I wanted,” Reynolds remembers. When the language barrier proved insurmountable, she playfully bonked him on the head with the loaf, demonstrating that it was yesterday’s bread, fit only for the birds. “She made sure I understood the difference between fresh and day-old,” he laughs, “then sold me fresh!”

Now in his 18th year of leading the BGMC, he admires people like the Italian baker who maintain such high standards. “Just as you learn about foods, you learn about people,” he says. He brings the same kind of verve and integrity to the table, whether he is entertaining at home in the South End with husband Bill, who teaches musical theater at The Boston Conservatory, or whipping up a squash casserole with sharp cheddar for a post-concert supper.

When the pair takes a break from cooking, they stroll down the street with their 13-year-old English bulldog Gertie in tow, and take a seat at an outdoor café table. One of the couple’s favorite spots is Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Ave. After oysters on the half-shell and a glass of rosé, Reynolds orders the Coquilles St. Jacques, a sumptuous dish of pan-seared scallops, nestled on creamy risotto, dotted with purple turnips and flash-fried leaves of baby kale. These snappy summer vegetables might remind the music director of another story from childhood, but Gertie is begging for more french fries. For now, the tale will have to wait.

  • September 24, 2015