AFTER AN INTENSE evening of performing Beethoven, musician Owen Cummings likes nothing better than savoring the nuances of another art form: gourmet cooking. He's a devotee of the freshest ingredients, the most companionable wines, of candlelight, fine linen, the works.
He figures he's very susceptible to the pull of creativity.
"You sort of interpret foods the way you do music," he says. "I use recipes as guidelines, then add my own signature, my own personality."
It's an interest the bass player shares with several colleagues who comprise an informal group of gourmets in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. These musicians enjoy celebrating the splendors of summer by preparing food which is even more splendid.
For several years, they have been trading recipes, talking herbs and spices, comparing deals on wines. When the conversation recently lighted upon elegant picnics -- perhaps an Oregon Ridge evening with a concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra!! -- Cummings volunteered his tasty recipe for cold carrot soup. Violinists Melissa Zaraya and Nelson Stewart suggested Greek spinach pie in phyllo and grilled chicken in mustard. Cellist Ken Willaman recommended a country terrine.
And they praised the joys of Maryland tomatos and Silver Queen corn.
"Musicians tend to be pretty healthy," Stewart says. "You have to plan your meals carefully when you're going to eat at 5 o'clock or 11 o'clock. You have to put more thought into what you're going to eat."
After a few years of living in Europe, Stewart says he learned to shop for his food daily. He remembers how it shocked his mother to discover he was not buying his food a week at a time. . . .and would not decide what to serve for dinner until he saw what looked best at market.
"Some people think that's disorganized," Zaraya explains.
"I like to eat good food and to make good food and have some quality in the experience," Stewart says. "The fun part is the cooking."
"Fun is the word," agrees Cummings. "I'll go shopping to four or five places for one meal."
Among the markets they recommend: Eddies in Roland Park, Belvedere Square, Mastellone's Deli and Atlantic Food Market.
Their favorite cookbooks include "French Bistro" by Patricia Wells, "The Way We Cook" by Julia Child and a cookbook by the Ladies Committee of the Ravinia Festival, the summer music festival of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
And they're not above seeking wisdom from the masters.
"Nelson and I spend hours watching any of the 50 cooking shows on cable TV," says Cummings. Although the BSO concert schedule makes it difficult for these musicians to get together regularly to test new recipes, they especially look forward to Willaman's elegant parties. An especially generous cook -- one who has prepared meals for as many as 50 people at a time -- Willaman says he became aware of the joys of fine dining when he was touring with the orchestra.
"Once you get to Europe and see what food is supposed to be, then you can't forget it," he says. "I'm startled at the way people eat in this country. So many people will get overdone steak with sauce and say 'Boy! That's eating!'
"And with good food, you can control your weight better because the food has a taste and an intensity to it so you don't need to eat so much," he points out.
The musicians -- they feel a little uncomfortable being called "gourmets" -- say they eat very little red meat and much less cheese than they did a decade ago. The orchestra has quite a few vegetarians and many of the orchestra members follow their diets very closely, they say.
None of these cooks -- an impressively slim group of food lovers -- has much interest in desserts.
"Although I do make a mean cheesecake," says Zaraya.
"And I try to stay away from it," says Cummings.
Owen Cummings suggests serving his cold carrot soup along with a well-chilled sparkling California "Blanc de Noir" as a first course.
Cold Carrot Soup 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 pinches curry powder
6 or 7 cups chicken broth
2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 pounds carrots peeled and sliced into 1/2 -inch pieces
Fresh juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot placed over medium heat, melt butter and add garlic, ginger, onion and curry powder. Saute for about five minutes. Add the broth, wine and carrots. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Return heat to medium and simmer until the carrots are quite tender, about 40 minutes or so.
Season with lemon and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let soup cool for ten minutes. Puree it in a blender. Serve chilled, garnished with a few snips of herbs from your garden. It serves six to eight.