On a warm Monday evening, the low sun casts its buttery glow on the rows of triple-deckers in Somerville, Mass., a densely populated city of immigrants, young professionals, and creative types just north of Boston. On a strip of pavement separating their abutting lots, two chefs light their grills while a pack of children—their own plus a few from down the street—chase each other through the backyards, yelling, playing, and climbing on patio furniture.
The chefs, Barry Maiden and Charlie Redd, are close friends and next-door neighbors who host cookouts at least three out of four Mondays each month, when the weather cooperates. Redd, 40, is wiry and loud, with a head of unruly salt-and-pepper curls. Maiden, also 40, is more soft-spoken, with dark eyes and a trim beard. They banter, sip rosé, and yell after the kids while shuttling ingredients, dishes, silverware, and more wine down from their second-floor kitchens.
Maiden and Redd started the dinners in 2008 as a way to connect with their families and neighbors outside the long and irregular hours at their respective restaurants. (The chefs have long had Mondays off.) Over the years the guest list has expanded—on this particular night Redd’s brother, Sandy, and his wife, Betsy Lazo, are in attendance with their newborn son, Holden. “We’ve celebrated a lot of milestones on Monday nights,” Maiden says. “Birthdays, new jobs, new babies, you name it.”
Both raised in the South (Maiden in southwestern Virginia, close to the Tennessee border, and Redd in Charlotte, N.C.), the transplanted chefs met in 2001, when their mutual pal and fellow chef Keenan Langlois set them up on a “blind date,” says Redd, to hear live music in nearby Cambridge, Mass. With a shared love of bourbon and bluegrass—not to mention the culinary traditions of their childhoods—the two hit it off. “We both have a lot of pride in the South’s influence on food, music, and culture,” Redd says. (To wit: Sorghum, pepper jelly, and okra are all featured on tonight’s menu.)
They also started out the same way, attending culinary school—Redd graduated from the Culinary Institute of America; Maiden, the New England Culinary Institute—and climbing the ladder in rigorous kitchens with a strong focus on technical skills. “The first part of becoming a chef is becoming a really good line cook, and the way you master the skill set is through repetition,” says Michael Leviton, who supervised both men in his kitchen at Lumière, a much-lauded bistro in Boston’s suburbs. Maiden worked under Leviton for five years, rising to the role of chef de cuisine before leaving to open his own place, Hungry Mother in Cambridge, Mass., with three partners in 2007.
Before it closed last year, Hungry Mother gained national acclaim for its warm hospitality and a menu that touched on cuisines of various Southern regions, from Appalachia to South Carolina Lowcountry. Maiden popularized pimento cheese and boiled peanuts in Boston—and was an early player in the Southern food craze that hit the United States in the late 2000s.
Meanwhile, the menu at family-focused Redd’s in Rozzie (short for Roslindale, the Boston neighborhood where it’s located), which Redd opened in 2011 after a decade of working at various restaurants around town, brims with Southern ingredients and dishes such as pulled pork, cornmeal-crusted flounder, and hush puppies. And cheese—another of Redd’s loves—surfaces in salads, tarts, and sandwiches.
The two became neighbors in 2008, when Maiden rented an apartment next door to the condo Redd shares with his wife, Kate Beal, and their growing family. This proximity has helped their friendship flourish, and over the years the chefs have logged long hours on Redd’s stoop “talking through the stresses,” Maiden says.
Both Maiden and Redd understand the pressure that comes with balancing culinary careers and family. The first two years of Redd’s in Rozzie found Redd juggling 80-hour weeks at the restaurant with the needs of infant twins and a 3-year-old. Plus, Beal has a job that regularly takes her overseas. “We were completely over our heads at home and at work,” says Redd.
And in May 2015 Boston’s food community celebrated when Maiden won a James Beard award—not bad for a guy whose first cooking gig was at his hometown Shoney’s. But less than two months after taking home the prestigious statuette, he split with his Hungry Mother co-owners, and the restaurant closed that July.
The year leading up to the big win had been a tough one for Maiden. He and his partners had opened a second spot (State Park, also in Cambridge), and he was struggling to manage the staff and menus for both kitchens. After separating from his wife, Graziele, Maiden was navigating shared parenting responsibilities. He was overwhelmed, both personally and professionally, and the break with his business partners was a long time coming. Still, it was painful for everyone, he says.
All that time, says Maiden, “Charlie and Kate were instrumental” in helping Dylan, now 7, and him find their footing. “Charlie’s kids are Dylan’s siblings,” he adds, “and their family is a big part of why Dylan did so well [that year].”
Since leaving the restaurant, Maiden has been moving at a slightly slower pace—teaching culinary students at Boston University, training for his first half-marathon. And he’s been thinking carefully about his next move. He envisions a casual neighborhood spot, something that will fit neatly into his life as a dad.
Whatever he does, Maiden hopes Monday nights in the backyard stay just the way they are, culminating in a stoop chat and bourbon with Redd. “I’m pretty committed to getting old here in Somerville,” Maiden says.
Photographed by Brian Samuels