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Kitchen Classics: Fernando and Betsy Traba

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 3, 2012
Fernando and Betsy Traba share a love of Indian food. Photo by Loren Mayo.
Fernando and Betsy Traba share a love of Indian food. Photo by Loren Mayo.
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“You won’t starve if you’re stuck with me making dinner,” says Betsy Traba, “but I don’t really enjoy cooking.”
Fortunately, Betsy’s husband, Fernando, really knows his way around the kitchen, so these two principal wind players from the Sarasota Orchestra eat well.

“My mother is Mexican and always cooked very traditional dishes,” Fernando, Sarasota Orchestra’s principal bassoonist, says. “My father was from Spain so I grew up enjoying foods from different cultures. Later on, I worked in Portugal and that was yet another culinary experience. Since moving to Sarasota, I have discovered Indian and Thai food, as well. We have tried to expose our kids to all kinds of food. As they’ve grown up, we’ve allowed both girls to celebrate their birthdays at a restaurant of their choice. So far, they’ve chosen Thai and Japanese!”

Betsy, principal flute in the orchestra, does admit she can follow a recipe, “but I don’t revel in cooking the way Fernando does. I came from a very ‘white bread’ upbringing in 1970s suburban Cleveland, so I’m still not nearly as adventurous an eater as Fernando (or their kids, for that matter) but living with him has definitely expanded my culinary horizons!”

They do manage to eat out at some good Sarasota restaurants. Selva and Darwin’s are two of Fernando’s favorites. Betsy loves nothing more than “an evening with Fleming’s wine list.”

“We both love Indian food,” Betsy says. “Fernando cooks a lot of that at home, but we’ve enjoyed going out to Chutney’s for years. Most recently, we celebrated our anniversary at Eat Here, where we had a fabulous meal at a reasonable price. I think that may become a place we frequent … a lot!”

Having children has changed things in the Trabas’ household.

“We have become the family that, unfortunately, rarely eats all at the same time,” Betsy says. “Our kids go straight from school to swim team practice and don’t get home to eat until 7 or 9 p.m. We’re generally in either rehearsal or concert at that time, so we have a nanny on those evenings when we’re working.

“Fernando regularly makes use of his slow cooker. He prepares a dish in the morning or early afternoon and sets it to be ready in the evening when the kids get home. That ‘Smart-Pot’ and his Zojirushi rice cooker are the two appliances that make our busy lives work.”

And how do they eat on the day of a performance?

“Here, Fernando and I differ a great deal,” says Betsy. “I have to eat before a show. If I don’t, I get flaky. Plus, I don’t like to end a concert starving, because it tends to make me overeat late at night. Fernando prefers to wait until after performances to eat.”

The music we recommend to accompany chicken korma, one of Fernando’s favorite dishes, is the slow movement from “Ciranda das sete notas” for bassoon and strings by Villa-Lobos. It’s particularly fitting, because a ciranda is, in Brazil, something like a beach dance. Perfect for Sarasota musicians who use a slow cooker!

Yields: 6 to 8 servings

1/4 cup canola oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

• In a large frying pan, over medium-high heat, warm the canola oil. Add the onion and sauté about three minutes. Add the rest of the herbs and spices and sauté until they are fragrant and evenly coat the onion. Stir in the broth, tomato sauce, sugar and salt and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil.

• Transfer the broth-spice mixture to a slow cooker. Add the chicken strips and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the chicken is very tender and the sauce is thickened, 3 hours on the high-heat setting, or 6 hours on the low-heat setting.

• About 15 minutes before the chicken is done, combine the buttermilk and cashews in a blender or food processor. Blend or process until the nuts are finely puréed and combined with the buttermilk. Add to the chicken and stir to blend with the chicken and sauce. Continue cooking until the sauce is completely heated through and thick, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon and bay leaves.

• Divide the chicken and sauce among warmed bowls, garnish with the cilantro and serve at once with steamed white rice to soak up the sauce. 


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