Alumni Profile: Tim Cushman

By 
Lesley Mahoney
October 15, 2009
Tim Cushman is serious about mixing music at his restaurant O Ya.
Photo by Erik Jacobs

After graduating from Berklee in 1980, Tim Cushman headed to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of working in the music industry. He studied guitar with a private instructor and went on auditions, but in search of a steady income, Cushman turned to the restaurant business. He was unexpectedly drawn to the thrill of cooking. That led to kitchen management, a food consulting company, and ultimately the helm of O Ya, a critically hailed Japanese restaurant in Boston's financial district.

Food became Cushman's life calling, but he continues to feed his inner musician: he practices guitar every day and with his wife/O Ya co-owner, Nancy, has a band graced with an appropriately epicurean name—Blue Cheese. Cushman, who was a performance major at Berklee, also plays DJ at O Ya, adjusting the soundtrack to the mood of the room and the diners, dialing it up with some surf music or Jimi Hendrix perhaps, or taking it down a notch with a bit of reggae. On a recent evening the after-work crowd was treated to a mix ranging from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band to Jimmy Cliff to Carla Bruni.

 

What do food and music have in common?

I remember hearing the phrase at Berklee, "You can't play outside until you can play inside." It's the same thing with food. You can't do creative food until you learn the basics of cooking. You have to cook inside before you cook outside, so to speak. That's something I found to be exactly the same.

How does music play into your business plan?

What's kept me going in the food industry is that it's a creative outlet, the same thing as music. I couldn't live without either. I always wanted to combine music with food. When Nancy and I were thinking about the restaurant, we said, "We want it to be like you're coming over to our house. We're playing music and you're eating food. You hear a song and it's comfortable and relaxed."

What most left an impression on you during your time at Berklee?

I think it was the discipline and dedication it takes to really accomplish something. That opened my eyes to what would be necessary to really go to a high level of accomplishment; it was not only hard work, but what I needed to learn. It was the people who went to Berklee when I was there. They were choosing to go there. People are there for a reason and very focused.

How do you feel your Berklee education carries you through today?

You always have to be on your game, to different degrees. It's a marathon; it's not a sprint. You just realize that this is a serious business, and if you want to be a professional and compete with the big boys, you're going to have to put some time in and pay the dues. The thing is, you never give up. I just kind of changed directions; I never gave up.