Thirty years in education, culminating with a stretch as a middle school principal, would leave most people with just enough stamina to lounge poolside or maybe play a weekly round of bridge. Not Ron Waite. The Owensboro, Ky., native, who many Evansvillians may recognize as the proprietor of the much-missed “A La Carte Food and Wine” on S. Green River Road, is still a man on fire, splitting his time in various volunteer positions and helping run Back Alley Musicals, the musical theatre company he helped establish in 2010.
Where did you learn to cook, and how did you make the transition from teaching to gourmet food shop owner and caterer?
I have always liked to cook. My mother and father were both fine cooks, but the art part of it is what I enjoy. In the early 1960s, as part of “The Great Society,” there was an initiative to teach mothers how to budget and buy and cook better food. We couldn’t get any takers, so it turned into an adult education class with me teaching gourmet cooking. We had a ball! I think it cost all of five dollars per person for the whole course, which was six classes. One night we did quiche — of course, that’s passé now, but at the time people didn’t know what it was! Anyway, in the midst of this, Jacques Pepin, who had been Charles DeGaulle’s personal chef, came to Louisville. I took a class with him, which led to me getting into a class with James Beard (American chef and food writer) at his home on 14th Street in the Village in New York City. Everybody there was someone, but me. In fact, one night, Julia and Paul Child came by to pick up Mr. Beard. (And, yes, she was very tall.) They were going to a big party at The Four Seasons to announce the opening of La Varenne, a new cooking school in Paris. I thought “I’d better get myself to France,” and eventually I did spend six weeks there one summer. It was wonderful. We made croissants out the wazoo.
What recipes do people ask you for the most?
They always want the Curry Chicken Salad, the Seelbach Salad, and the Waldorf Salad.
Do you give them the recipes?
Not really — I still kind of keep them in my personal file. If they say, “Does it have mustard?” or something, I’ll give them a yes or a no.
What was your first personal experience with musicals?
Well, when I was a child, we played “Show,” you know — but when I started teaching for the great sum of $2,300 a year, I got a $50 bonus for putting on a musical. So we did a musical a year at what was then Eastern Junior High School in Owensboro. When I started my master’s degree, we could take hours in whatever we wanted, so I took a lot of mine at Indiana University in the theater department. I thought it might help in putting on the shows, and it did, but it was also just a lot of fun.
What was the impetus for “BAM” (Back Alley Musicals)?
In the summer of 2010, some people did “The King and I” and it was such fun that the next summer, we said, “Why don’t we do a small musical?” so we did “The Taffetas,” which only has four characters. People loved it, and we sold out. So we set out to do four musicals and decided to sell season tickets. Our goal was to sell 50 and we sold 110. We started at the Healing America building, then moved to Pangea Café, and now we are on to the River Park Center. When we were at Healing America and were trying to come up with a name, somebody said, “Nobody’s going to find us on this back alley,” and there it was. So we’re not on the back alley anymore, but we’re keeping the name.
Why do you think there’s been such a response and turnout to BAM’s shows?
People love musicals. They make you feel good. Of course, they’re also the most expensive; not only do you have to pay for the rights to the show, but there’s also the orchestra. The sets are more elaborate. The demand on the actors is higher, too; they have to be able to sing, act, and dance … often all at the same time.
What do you love the most — the cooking or the music?
Well, I don’t like both at the same time! They’re both artistic endeavors. Musicals involve many people. Cooking is personal. You meet interesting people in both.
Okay, cliché but fun. You can invite five people — living or dead — to dinner. Who are they?
James Beard — he could carry on a conversation and he would appreciate the food; Carol Channing; Eartha Kitt (an actress best known for her role as “Catwoman” in the TV series “Batman”); Leonard Bernstein — he’s just a scoundrel! What a mess! And Marlene Dietrich — you gotta have a little trash along.
For more information about Back Alley Musicals, call 270-925-4963 or visit backalleymusicals.com.