Xavier Magazine

The Singing Chef

Tom Merrill is chair of the department of music and director for choral activities. In addition to his musical pursuits, he’s a gourmet chef and wine aficionado who has worked in a number of restaurants—including a five-star—as both a prep cook and waiter. He often holds elaborate, multi-course dinner parties for friends complete with menus and hand-picked wine pairings for each course.

“For me, music and food are really very closely related. I tell my kids that a good concert should be like a good meal—there should be something that everybody will like: a spicy part, a sweet part, a really good meaty part. For me, my whole life really revolves around food and music. I find lots of ways to interconnect them.”

“My mother was a really fabulous cook. She’s not professionally trained or anything, but we were always helping out in the kitchen. From the month we could stir a pot, we were always given little cooking chores.”

“When I was in undergrad in Memphis, there was this French restaurant I really liked. And through an odd set of circumstances, I was at a music thing and the chef/owners of the restaurant were there. I said, ‘I’ve eaten several times at your restaurant and I really like it. If you ever want somebody to come and help, I would do it for free just to learn.’ Three weeks later, I get a call. They said they needed help on a part-time basis. I worked in the kitchen for two years.”

“When I came to Cincinnati in 1990, I went up to the Celestial restaurant and said, ‘I need a job.’ They’re like, ‘When can you start?’ I said, ‘Tonight.’ They asked if I had a tux, and I did, so they said ‘You’re hired.’ I was a captain at the Celestial restaurant for three or four years while I was working on my doctorate from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I would literally take my tux with me to rehearsal, walk out the door, drive to the Celestial in my tux and start waiting tables. That was my weekend, every Friday and Saturday night.”

“While I was writing my dissertation, I worked nights at the Celestial and days managing the Chateau Pomije wine store. The hard thing about being the wine store manager was the wine reps would come in with about 10 different wines to try at 11:00 a.m. You try 20 or 30 wines in a day sometimes.”

“I’m the cook in my family. And we sit down to dinner every single night. Maybe once a year we’ll go to a restaurant. I’ll spend a lot of money on a meal, but it’s still cheaper than at a restaurant.”

“We entertain a lot. We have friends we’ll have over for anywhere from a three- to a six-course meal. I’m influenced by most French cooking because that was my first training and then Italian because I just love the flavors and combinations there.”

“I really don’t use recipes that much. People ask me, ‘Where did you come up with this?’ Truth be told, I go to the market, see what looks good, buy it, bring it home and cook it.”

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