Archive for the ‘Kitchen Classics’ Category

Kitchen Classics: Fernando and Betsy Traba

July 3rd, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: July 3, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

“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.



Kitchen Classics: Robert Levin

June 13th, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 6, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

Robert Levin, artistic director of the Sarasota Music Festival, is probably one of the busiest musicians you know. From Boston to Sarasota, Berlin to Vienna and Australia to Utah, this peripatetic pianist barely has time to catch up with his own feet — no less set them down in front of the stove. Yet, like most performers, he finds time to cook creatively and eat enthusiastically before and after concerts.

“In the years before I became the artistic director of SMF, I had some time to savor the many fine restaurants in the (Sarasota) area,” he says. “A favorite then was Yoshino in Burns Court, and I was heartbroken when it closed. I sampled offerings from Euphemia Haye and Café L’Europe, Carmichael’s, Michael’s On East, Mediterraneo and the Bijou Café, with an occasional jaunt to Phillippi Creek, Capt. Brian’s or Patrick’s. But, my schedule is so demanding that I rarely have time to do the wonderful Sarasota dining scene the justice it deserves.”

Still, Levin feels that “no festival visit seems complete without a 1905 salad at Columbia.”

Levin, and his wife, the pianist Ya-Fei Chuang, manage to eat really well wherever they are.

“In Boston, Ya-Fei and I love Clio — one of the most imaginative cuisines around,” Levin says. “And its sister, Uni, has magnificent sashimi, and O-ya, in the Leather District … pricey, but unforgettable.”

Lest you think they eat only Asian food while in Boston, Levin assures us that his favorite cuisines are “American, Chinese, French, Italian and Japanese. In alphabetical order.”

Then, there’s also Austro-Hungarian.

“Both Ya-Fei and I look forward to our annual master classes in Salzburg (Austria) to savor traditional delicacies,” he says. “I have a small cookbook of recipes from Mozart’s time.”

Levin has a particular affinity for Mozart and has delved into that composer’s life and work with such passion that he’s even completed some of the music Mozart left unfinished, including the C minor Mass and the beloved “Requiem.”

Levin and his wife “share the pleasure” of cooking when they’re home, but ask Levin to expound on favorite restaurants and, like his pre-concert lectures, he speaks volumes. In fact, his restaurant run-down is like a musical travelogue.

“We enjoy L’Espalier from time to time (important birthdays), but our favorite restaurant in the Freiburg area during our time there was Hirschen, in Sulzburg,” he says. “The Swabian chef, Hans Paul Steiner, and his French wife, the sommelier Claude Steiner, ran an exquisite establishment of warmth and supreme culinary imagination. They have retired, and their daughter and son-in-law have taken over. And, of course, almost anywhere in Italy are culinary experiences of a lifetime, such as the Enoteca Pinchiorri, in Florence.

“What is wonderful about the ancient European traditions is the love for recipes, some of them peasant dishes, like cassoulet, that take days to prepare properly. Modern-day existence puts such dishes out of the reach of most of us. We simply lack the time to prepare them. Restaurants keep these traditions alive.”

Yes, Virginia, musicians love dining as much as children love Santa Claus. And, when you speak with someone like Levin about eating, you hear as much enthusiasm for the dishes as you hear when he dishes about music. But, again, like many professional performers, Levin is specific about what music accompanies his dinners.

“Never classical music, which demands concentration,” he stresses. “If any music is on, it is likely to be early to swing-era jazz. But, even there, I hesitate because the inspired solos of individual players deserve the same attention and wonderment as classical music.”

One of Levin’s favorite snacks is a batch of gooey, homemade, chocolate-chip cookies. Levin, who jokingly refers to himself as “Uncle Bob” when it comes to recipes, has given us his version of the traditional one we grew up eating.


Yields: 5-dozen cookies
Prep time: 30 minutes Bake Time: 1 hour

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup of your choice of Mandarine Napoléon, Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple sec (in steeply declining order of preference).
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup whole pecans (optional)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

• Preheat oven to 375° F.
• Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and Mandarine Napoleon (or Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple sec) in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts and/or shredded coconut. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
• Bake for nine to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for two minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.



Kitchen Classics: Elizabeth Goldstein

June 1st, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 30, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

Conductor, organist, choir director, dancer, singer and Broadway actress Elizabeth Goldstein loves eating and cooking, and it shows in every way from the parties she gives to the foods she craves — except one: her figure. The petite blue-eyed blonde zips around town like a speed-skater, leads her choral ensembles with the energy of a Jet Ski and attacks her new organ console at First United Methodist Church like an octopus after a triple espresso.

“My favorite word is ‘flavorful,’” she tells us. And that carries over to the music she programs for her Belle Canto concerts and church services, too. There is a variety in music — from a tittle of Tchaikovsky to an iota of gospel — “but no hot spice.” So, although she’s often pushing her choral groups beyond what they think they can do, she never goes beyond good taste.

“You want to be sure a meal has color and variety,” she says. “It’s the same for (music) programming. I once went to an organ recital where every piece was loud and bombastic. I’m sure the organist had a great time playing that music, but the listening ears sure got weary of high pitches and loud sounds, well-played as they were. I recently conducted the First Church Singers in a performance on the Music Fine Arts series at First United Methodist Church. I chose the title, ‘Great Beginnings … Sublime Endings,’ starting with Rutter’s fabulously exciting ‘Te Deum’ and ending with Whitbourn’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Son of God Mass’ for organ, soprano sax and choir. The colors and contrast of sounds were perfection for me.”

How does she mix it up, musically, while she’s cooking? She doesn’t.

“The truth is, I don’t listen to music as I cook,” she says. “My days are full of music, for which I am very grateful. I usually try to listen to the news, read The New York Times and, of course, there’s the crossword puzzle to which I’m addicted. There’s always the list of emails that needs answering, too. Multi-tasking? Yes. Burn the food? Usually not.”

Then, again, with all the things that go on when you’re playing the organ — hands flying in different directions and feet scampering across the pedals — an organist has to be a multi-tasker.

“Actually, playing the organ is a bit more challenging than cooking,” she admits. “I usually get it all to the table at about the same time. With the organ, you are at the mercy of a mechanical device — like when I developed a cipher (i.e., an out of control note that gets stuck and plays continuously without the control of the organist) on Easter Sunday.

Fortunately, there are few ciphers in Goldstein’s kitchen. She not only multi-tasks for parties, she also delegates.

“I used to do the whole thing,” she says. “Then I got smart and let other good cooks share some of their favorite dishes. Belle Canto, the terrific women’s vocal ensemble I direct, recently completed our third season with some great ‘firsts.’ So, we toasted the success at a potluck dinner at my house. I made my favorite shrimp, pasta and vegetable dish as my main-course contribution (see recipe above). The other ‘Belles’ brought everything from homemade sausage and lentil soup to sushi. We ate fabulously.”

The truth is, Goldstein is such a good cook that she seeks the unusual when she goes out.

“I want to eat something out that I can’t or won’t make at home,” she says. “Therefore, I go for Moroccan, Greek or French cuisine. I cook at home very simply — fish, roasted vegetables and tofu. My husband had high cholesterol and I had to learn to cook foods that tasted good but weren’t high in fat. We ate lots of seafood and chicken and very little red meat. I still cook and eat that way.”

And her comfort food?

“That’s so easy,” she smiles and slavers. “Chocolate! Dark chocolate! I recently visited my son in New York and discovered Vosges Haut-Chocolat on Madison Avenue. Chocolate laced with wasabi. Chocolate truffles dusted with curry power. Hot, dark chocolate to drink.”


Yields: 2 large servings, 4 small servings
Start to finish: 45 minutes

8 ounces of penne (preferably organic whole wheat)
1 pound raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1/4 cup olive oil (just enough so the veggies don’t stick to the pan)
1 green pepper and 1 yellow pepper cut in strips
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 cloves minced garlic
2 large, chopped tomatoes
1 cup picante sauce (you can substitute salsa spiced to your taste)
1 tablespoon dried basil

• Cook the pasta al dente. Drain, then set aside.
• Lightly sauté the peppers, mushrooms and garlic.
• Add the chopped tomatoes, picante sauce and basil; and simmer until the tomatoes break down (about five minutes.)
• Add the shrimp to the sauce and cook until done.
• Add the pasta to the sauce.
• Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on each portion and serve with a green salad.


Kitchen Classics: Dirk and Jennifer Meyer

April 19th, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 18, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

Dirk Meyer and Jennifer Berges Meyer are musical icons in Sarasota. Dirk was recently named associate conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra (after five years as assistant conductor), and Jennifer has become known as a fundraiser for a variety of causes, from the Citizens Advisory Committee and her co-chairmanship of National Philanthropy Day, to her career as associate development director at WUSF, Public Media. Two dominant themes run through their home: music and food.

“Dirk is the real cook in the house,” Jennifer admits. “It’s not that I don’t know how to cook, but more that I don’t really enjoy it. It stresses me out. Dirk loves to do it, and he’s pretty darn good at it.”

The newlyweds both love food, and they do a lot of entertaining that involves both of their passions — food and music.

“It’s so much fun to plan a menu,” says Jennifer, “and I love to make fancy cocktails to greet our guests. Because most of our friends are musicians or work in the performing arts, we tend to eat late and stay up late.”

Like many others who are intimately involved with music, neither likes much music during dinner parties.
“It can’t be too loud, but we do enjoy having a little Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Ella Fitzgerald,” Dirk says.

Jennifer agrees but adds, “You have to be careful in your selections because it can affect the mood. I like more current music such as The Shins or Beirut, two of our favorite indie groups, but I have to have the clicker handy just in case a downer comes on.”

She quickly adds: “When in doubt, we’ll turn on WSMR (the 24-hour Tampa/Sarasota all-classical radio station) and let the classical music play.”

Dirk, who most likely has classical music thrumming through his head 24/7, likes background sound.

“Frank makes for a great soundtrack, as well as Amy Winehouse,” he says. “I like to have background noise to keep me company because I’m often left alone in the kitchen. Even background TV will do.”

Although Dirk is German and cooks quite a few dishes from his homeland— such as schnitzel and spaetzle — the couple loves all kinds of food. In fact, one of Dirk’s favorite local restaurants is Gateway to India. And their favorite way to celebrate after one of Dirk’s performances is to have a party.

“Jennifer will make a dangerously delicious punch, and we’ll order platters of sushi,” Dirk says. “I love to fire up the grill and keep it casual. There’s no better way to unwind than with your friends at home.”

But they also do a lot of traveling — for food.

“We took a trip to New Orleans last February, basically to eat and relax,” says Jennifer. “We fell in love with John Besh’s restaurant, August. This past New Year’s Eve, we were in Amsterdam and had an amazing dinner at Roots — that was an experience. Everything is locally produced or sourced in the Netherlands. It was so fresh and delicious and the ambience was modern yet very romantic. It was perfect.”

Dirk’s Salmon and Lentil Salad

Serves: 2; Start to finish: 30 to 40 minutes
For music to listen to while making one of Dirk and Jennifer Meyer’s favorite weeknight dishes, listen to Frank Sinatra’s 1958 album, “Come Fly With Me,” featuring songs from “The Isle of Capri” to “April in Paris” and “It’s Nice to Go Trav’ling.”

1 cup lentils
1 pound salmon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups arugula
2 cups of mixed greens
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 red onion

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Combine 1 tablespoon Dijon, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil. Use this to marinate the salmon. Set aside while preparing lentils.

Boil lentils until tender (20 to 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside.

Place the salmon in a baking dish and cover with foil. Cook at 425 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until it reaches desired doneness.

Combine 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for the salad dressing. Mix the greens with the arugula, walnuts, red onion and lentils, toss with the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the salmon.


Kitchen Classics: Joseph Holt

March 28th, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: March 28, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

As if living in Sarasota and participating in its arts scene isn’t enough, Dr. Joseph Holt and his partner, Paco Martinez-Alvarez, just renovated their home, including a brand new kitchen and a few extra rooms that weren’t there when the house was built in 1931.

“We’ve always had a kitchen that was separated from the rest of the house,” Holt says, referring mainly to their home in the Washington, D.C., area where they lived for more than 20 years while he was the pianist for the United States Army Chorus.

“A kitchen is the heart of a home, and we wanted the renovation to create a warm, inviting space, not only for preparation and cooking, but also for the social time spent with family and friends,” he says.

Even though the original kitchen was remodeled in the ’70s, all the appliances were dated and the house had wood paneling on the walls. So, they lightened up the space and put in stone countertops and a central island for chopping and preparing meals for their musical friends.

Holt, who looks and acts too young to have been in the service all those years, is the primary cook in the family. Martinez-Alvarez is a lawyer who works with non-profit organizations. He is originally from Puerto Rico, but the two of them have done a lot of international travel so their tastes in food are eclectic.

The same can be said of their musical tastes.

“I’m highly influenced by certain music when I’m in the kitchen, particularly if we’re listening to something Latin,” Holt said. “Music from Puerto Rico can be quite rhythmic and energetic, as well as expressive. The highly charged rhythm of salsa is infectious.”

And how his music-making has influenced his cooking?

“As a musician, the musical score is a blueprint for performing a piece,” he says. “However, the same piece of music will sound different when it’s performed by different people. The indications for ingredients and cooking directions are a blueprint for preparing a dish. In my case, I use the recipe as a jumping off point for experimentation. I tinker with a recipe as much as I tinker with a piece of music, trying different things until it feels right.

“Remember that old adage, ‘practice makes perfect’? One summer I was trying out all sorts of recipes for wild mushroom risotto. I became obsessed with making it perfect, as much as I would practice a piece of music on the piano over a long period of time. After a couple of months of working with the recipe, Paco finally suggested— politely — that maybe I should try something else. He was getting tired of so much risotto!”

On April 2, Holt will conduct a program that includes music from the classical period (Haydn’s setting of “The Seven Last Words of Christ”), and the early 20th century (Vaughan Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs”) in a performance at the Sarasota Opera House that will feature the all-professional singers of Gloria Musicae with members of the Sarasota Orchestra, Met Opera mezzo Leah Wool, Sarasota soprano Michelle Giglio, Matthew Heil of the U.S. Army Chorus and Marilyn Horne Foundation winner (and Vaughan Williams specialist) baritone Marcus DeLoach.

Because music and food go hand-in-hand for Holt, there will be a post-concert reception in the courtyard of the Opera House, so everyone who attends will be treated to great music inside and excellent champagne, cheese, canapés and luscious desserts outside.

There will not be any risotto served on that occasion, but you can prepare Holt’s now-perfected dish using the recipe at right.

Joseph Holt’s Wild Mushroom Risotto

Start to finish: 45 minutes; Serves 4

1 large box of stock, vegetable or chicken, low-sodium (or three to four cans)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound assorted mushrooms (golden chanterelle, shiitake, crimini, oyster, porcini, and/or portabello), chopped
1 medium-sized white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon truffle butter or mushroom sauce with truffles (found in specialty stores)
Pinch of sea salt
Ground pepper
2 cups arborio rice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups dry white wine (Pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc)
Freshly grated Asiago cheese
1 cup heavy cream

• Bring stock to a gentle boil and turn the heat down to low (maintain moderate heat in the stock).

• Put a large skillet on high heat for one minute, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and turn down to medium. Add onions, salt and pepper, and sauté until opaque. Add garlic and sauté an additional minute. Add mushrooms, stir as necessary, five minutes over medium heat. Once the mushrooms have cooked through and reduced, add red wine and deglaze the pan. Add truffle sauce, stir to incorporate, and remove mixture from heat. Reserve in a separate bowl.

• Put the same skillet back on high heat for 30 seconds and add 3 tablespoons olive oil (don’t worry if there are bits of mushroom mixture in the pan). Turn heat down to medium and add the arborio rice, sauté until the rice kernels start to turn a slightly dark opaque shade (about one to two minutes). Stir constantly to coat all rice with the olive oil. Add white wine and deglaze the pan, stirring constantly.

• From this point forward, you will need to stir the rice mixture until done. Otherwise, the rice will become a sticky mess. Once the wine has been mostly incorporated into the rice, add a cup of warm stock and mix thoroughly. Keep stirring. Once the stock has been incorporated (approximately one to two minutes), add another cup. Keep stirring, rotating the rice around the pan. You never want the mixture to dry completely — it should always be a little wet. Repeat this procedure until the rice is almost done (it will be slightly firm but not crunchy), approximately 15 to 20 minutes. If necessary, add more stock or water to the pot and bring to a boil. You always want to add the stock when it’s heated, never cold or tepid.

• Once the rice is almost completely cooked, add the mushroom mixture into the skillet — liquid and all. Stir to incorporate. Add cream and freshly grated Asiago cheese. Continue to stir until liquid has been mostly absorbed (risotto is a wet rice dish, not completely dry).

• Serve immediately — risotto will thicken if you let it sit. Accompany with salad and thick crusty Italian bread. For a variation on this recipe, add veal pieces (slightly cooked with the mushroom mixture).


Kitchen Classics: Julia Hyman

March 23rd, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: March 14, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

Julia Hyman, a world-renowned sculptor who lives in Venice with her also-famous husband, pianist Dick Hyman, likes almost any food. Any, that is, except the dreaded liverwurst.

“I loathe liverwurst,” she says. “I once played hooky from school with two girlfriends and all we had for lunch was a liverwurst sandwich. Needless to say, I was sick with worry about being found out and had a terrible stomach upset.”

There are also some foods she and Dick don’t share. For instance, she tends to stay away from pasta, bread and potatoes, but Dick does include them. They also don’t share beef or lamb because she likes hers rare and he prefers his well done.

“It’s a bit like the lyric from ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,’” she says. “You know, ‘You say potato and I say po-tah-toe … ’”

But, they both agree, “We don’t feel music should be used as a background, even though Dick professionally made many Muzak recordings. We do our listening with guests in Dick’s studio.”

Ah, those old Muzak sounds. Elevator music, we used to call it. Little did we know that some of the greatest musicians of the time were part of that company, from Dick Hyman to the illustrious opera commentator, George Jellinek.

Muzak is gone, but the music plays on. And, so does Hyman’s sculpting. She works in her own studio, which is within walking distance of their Venice home. Her sculptures are large, and they’re made of marble and alabaster, with occasional forays into wood, so her days are spent surrounded by saws, drills and lots of dust.

“My sculpture work is so absorbing and physical that I never think of food,” she says. “Of course, when I carved fruits and vegetables out of marble and alabaster for a solo show, that was different.”

The Hymans are busy people. But they do manage to enjoy their meals, even though their work schedules are fairly different.

“Dick sleeps late and I work early in the morning,” Hyman says. “We almost always have brunch or lunch together, sometimes walking into downtown Venice, where there are many restaurants.

“At dinner, Dick does not cook, but he does help either with setting the table or pouring beverages. Generally, I prepare simple food when it is just the two of us, steaming or sautéing fish, a veggie and salad.

“Here in Florida, we eat out a lot, often with friends in good, convenient restaurants near the various performance halls like the Opera House, Van Wezel and Asolo. Some of my favorites in Sarasota are Selva Grille, Derek’s and Mediterraneo,” she says.

Then, there’s the travel that comes with being married to a pianist-arranger-composer who’s performing all over the world. With that whirlwind of beautiful, romantic but, often, hectic places, what would Hyman think of as the perfect setting for a great meal?

“One memorable evening was on Manasota Key Beach in Englewood,” Hyman says. “We were invited to the Hermitage, and we sat at a table for eight on the sand near the water’s edge, surrounded by torches, a gentle breeze, no bugs, good wine, good food and interesting people. It had a dreamlike feeling for both of us.”

The Hymans have been almost everywhere on land and sea, but Hyman’s choice for an idyllic setting is right here at home on one of the most magnificent stretches of beach anywhere. But, there’s something else, even more important that makes the perfect dinner for the Hymans: people.

“I would have to say that it’s the company that accompanies the meal that makes it special,” Hyman says.


6 slices bacon, diced
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups fresh or bottled clam juice
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1 can (1 pound) tomatoes (including juice)
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup diced celery
2 pounds fresh or thawed frozen gray sea trout, sea bass, cod, halibut or striped bass fillets, (or almost any combination of fish or seafood available) cut into
1 1/2-inch slices
2 cups half and half, light cream or whole milk

1. In a deep sauté pan, sauté the bacon pieces until crisp. Remove the bits, drain on paper towel and reserve.
2. Sauté the onions in the bacon drippings until tender.
3. Add the clam juice, water, carrots, potatoes, salt, pepper and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are almost tender.
4. Add the rosemary, thyme, celery and fish. Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until the fish flakes (or shell fish, if using, is done).
5. Add the half and half, cream or milk and bring to a simmer while stirring. Do not allow to boil.
6. Sprinkle with reserved bacon bits and serve.


Kitchen Classics: Maria Wirries

March 1st, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: February 29, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

Maria Wirries is only a couple of years into her teens, but she has definite ideas about everything from singing to skating to eating and, without being obnoxious about it, she makes her feelings known.

“My favorite restaurants in Sarasota? I have so many,” she says. “Crab & Fin, Millie’s, Michael’s On East, Olive Garden and Steak ’n’ Shake.”

If you think her taste in restaurants is eclectic, take a look at what she does. Maria is a superstar in these parts, but she doesn’t do it in just one area. She’s smart, eloquent, beautiful and graceful. And she puts all that to good use on the ice and on the stage. But let’s go back a bit in Maria’s comparatively short life.

Born in Haiti, her father, a white American missionary worker, died when Maria was just 4 months old. Her aunt, Jeaneen, flew to the island and brought the infant back to live with her, first in Myakka City and, more recently, in Bradenton. Jeaneen, who is in her 70s, may, technically, be Maria’s aunt, but in every other way she’s her mother.

“My mom definitely does the cooking in my family,” Maria insists. “She is very good and can cook pretty much anything.”

Good thing, too, because beneath her svelte figure, Maria loves to eat, and between the skating, singing, dancing and acting, she works up quite an appetite.

“Before a show, I eat a lot!” she says. “Doing shows takes a lot out of you so, generally, I eat anything that’s around. I’m not too picky.

“After a show, my top pick would be to go to Crab & Fin. They have the best seafood ever! My favorites on the menu would have to be the chilled king crab and the lobster. Both are extremely delicious! But my meal wouldn’t be complete without raw oysters and a Caesar salad to start with.”

Maria not only speaks in exclamations points — she lives them!! A ball of energy, she eats everything from Caesar salads and lobsters to chocolate and pizza without a thought about calories or carbs. Like a playful puppy, she appears to be on springs with the kind of energy that burns fuel like a torch. Whether it’s ice-skating or singing, she’s ravenous.

“It’s close,” she admits, “but ice skating always makes me hungrier. It takes so much concentration, and you use your entire body all the time so you get pretty hungry after a long session!”

There are, however, a couple of caveats.

“Lucky for me, dairy doesn’t really affect my voice the way it does other singers, so I don’t really have to stay away from that. But when it comes to skating and, even in some degree with singing, eating too much can be bad. As long as I don’t eat to the point my stomach hurts, or drink soda — which could cause an embarrassing moment on stage — I’m pretty much fine with anything!”

Teenagers, even the ones with talent and happy homes, need comfort food.

“A good slice of pepperoni pizza and something chocolaty makes everything better!” Maria says. “I love chocolate and my voice teacher, Alan Corey, makes the best chocolate cookies, ever!”

Although Jeaneen Wirries does almost all the cooking at home, Maria manages to make her presence known around the stove and fridge, too.

“When I’m cooking or in the kitchen making a mess, I love listening to the ‘Mama Mia’ soundtrack,” Maria says. “Maybe it’s because Meryl Streep played the incredible chef, Julia Child. All I know is that groovy ABBA music just makes everything more fun!”

With all the energy and exuberance Maria has, she also has a thoughtful side, and that comes through her music. From Broadway belting to Baroque art songs, Maria has an uncanny ability to communicate without artifice or tricks. She may put her soul and heart into her studies, but, without her innate talent, it wouldn’t mean much. For example, when we asked her what music reminds her of her favorite foods, this is what she said:

“Well, after pacing around in my house and thinking about all of the songs I love, the one … (I came up with was) ‘Meadow Lark,’ from ‘The Baker’s Wife.’”

Her explanation says it all.

“This song really means a lot to me, and I love singing it, because it has many meanings and the meaning changes for me daily,” she says. “It tells a story about growing up and making choices and not being sure if they are right or wrong. And, in the end, breaking free and discovering what the world has to offer. Even though it may be scary, just knowing that you have one life means you should live it and not hide in a cage.”

Certainly not one to hide in a cage, Maria — on stage or off — has a wonderful depth that’s rooted in simplicity. And, like the girl, herself, her favorite recipe is simple.

“I love my mother’s sautéed tilapia,” she tells us. “She really doesn’t cook with recipes. Really, it’s just tilapia filets sautéed in butter with some herbs served on top. We eat it frequently, and it’s really good after a long day at school!”

Jeaneen’s Sauteed Tilapia

Serves: 5

5 7-ounce tilapia filets (one per person)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic power
1/4 cup dry vermouth
Fresh rosemary (chopped)

Place butter and oil in cold pan. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture sizzles but doesn’t burn. Add filets and sautée until golden. Sprinkle with some of the garlic power and turn. Sprinkle the rest of the garlic power on turned side and allow the second side to sautée until golden. Add vermouth to pan, taking care not to pour over filets. Sprinkle chopped fresh rosemary over filets and cook until done (about two to three more minutes).

Remove to warmed plates and delicately decorate edges of plates with balsamic vinegar glaze. (Not too much; just enough for flavor and design …) Serve with steamed asparagus

June’s Perfectly Steamed Asparagus:

Wash and trim asparagus spears. Put aside.

In large frying pan, place about 1 cup College Inn chicken or turkey broth. Add asparagus spears. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover for five to eight minutes (depending on taste for softer or more al dente asparagus). Serve with a light dusting of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese.



February 20th, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: February 15, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

“Sousa marches work really well for cooking and for the cleanup,” says Leif Bjaland. “But when we’re eating, I don’t listen to anything. The conversation is too good and music distracts from the food.”

Bjaland may be leaving these parts after 15 extraordinary years as artistic director of the Sarasota Orchestra, but his presence will be felt for a long time to come in the music we hear, the people we speak with and even the food we eat.

Bjaland, who will be conducting his final Masterworks set of concerts with the Orchestra this weekend, has been a big presence in town since first arriving here in the latter part of the 20th-century. One of the first things I remember, before I even heard him conduct, was seeing a life-sized cutout Leif sitting in the passenger seat of then-Florida West Coast Symphony Marketing Director Gayle Williams’ car. That out-to-know-you, friendly, music-is-fun, great-music-is-best Bjaland persona took Sarasota by storm, and, from informal commentaries to scholarly annotations, the conductor’s larger-than-life image has made an indelible impression on all of us.

What some may not know, though, is that Bjaland is also a “kitchen classic,” a cooking character, a chop-and-prep personage who loves eating as much as he loves cooking.

What’s most important to him about his kitchen space?

“That it’s a joyful place and that the food is good,” he says.

All that upper-body exercise on the podium keeps him svelte enough to really enjoy his food. Still, he’s relatively careful about what and when he eats on the day of a performance.

“If it’s an evening concert, I have a very substantial lunch,” he explains but then he eats “something light like soup a couple of hours before the performance. I’m a big fan of apples (pink lady, honey crisp or McIntosh) and there are usually a couple of them in the dressing room. On matinee days, I just have a big breakfast and skip lunch.”

Conductors interpret the music written by the great composers. Yes, they follow the score and work with what’s there, but they also reinterpret. That’s why the same symphony can sound so different in the hands of different conductors. So, we wondered how Leif is with recipes. Does he follow them, do them “as written” or ornament and make them his own?

“All of the above!” he replies with an emphasis like a downbeat. “Mostly, I vary recipes that I know well. When I’m trying something new from the food section of the newspaper, I try to follow the recipe carefully. In baking, I use less sugar and more spices. Adding cinnamon is a great way to reduce sugar, and Splenda works really well in some desserts.

“I’m very into colors,” he adds. “(Recently) I made a green salad with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and the pure white of the sliced pear and scarlet of the pomegranate seeds I put on top made it absolutely beautiful — and fun to eat.”

Bjaland shares much of the cooking (and eating) with his long-time partner, the conductor Emil De Cou, who straddles the country from Washington, D.C., where he’s associate conductor of the National Symphony, to Washington state, where he’s music director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

“We both like to cook and we work really well together in the kitchen,” Bjaland says.

Their culinary, as well as musical offerings, have made for some interesting memories of receptions and other events.

“When Emil was conducting for ABT (American Ballet Theatre), there was a huge reception following an anniversary gala,” Bjaland recalls. “Martha Graham — looking remarkably life like — was there and so was Agnes deMille — cantankerous, as usual. I remember that when deMille addressed the audience during the performance, all she said was, ‘Beauty. Beauty. Beauty.’ We waited for the rest, and when 10 seconds later it still hadn’t come, everyone burst into applause, even for a sentence fragment.

“I saw Jackie Onassis at a table below in the foyer of the State Theatre. She was a living cover of Look magazine — unbelievably elegant but girlish. I was star-struck.”

Here in Sarasota, one of Bjaland’s favorite places to dine out is Morton’s Gourmet Market.

“I know it’s not a restaurant per se, but during the busy part of the season I eat there seven or eight times a week,” he says. “I know all the girls at ‘The Island,’ and the food there is absolutely fantastic!”

Of course, being on the road (and on the podium) as much as Bjaland is, he loves being home, cooking and relaxing with some of his other favorite music: Oscar Peterson and Thelonious Monk, ’20s era and big band jazz, folk rock and Burt Bacharach.

“On Pandora, Oscar Peterson is the only artist who doesn’t lead to Frank Sinatra after three songs,” he says.

“It’s probably my Norwegian roots, but I love rhubarb,” says Bjaland.

Ever in search of great recipes using this not-often-used vegetable, which is often mistaken for a fruit because it’s used in pies and desserts more than savory dishes, Bjaland found the recipe at right in Bon Appetit magazine.

“It’s the best I’ve ever found,” he says.

And, in a glance toward healthy eating, he adds, “You can substitute ‘Splenda for Baking.’ I’ve done it and it’s just as good.”

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisps with Cardamom and Nutmeg

Serves: 6


1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Generous pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

5 cups of 1/2-inch-thick slices fresh rhubarb (from about 2 pounds)
2 cups halved strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon (scant) ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sweetened whipped cream

Preparation For topping:
Mix first six ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until moist clumps form.

For filling:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter six 1 1/4 cup custard cups. Combine all ingredients, except whipped cream, in large bowl; stir to blend. Let stand until juices form, about 15 minutes.

Divide rhubarb mixture among prepared custard cups. Sprinkle topping evenly over mixture in each. Bake until topping is golden brown and crisp and filling is bubbling thickly around edges, about 45 minutes. Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream.

*The recipe, by Sara Foster, originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.



February 8th, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: February 8, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

If you live around here and are interested in hearing good music in beautiful surroundings, you know The Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. And if you know ASCS, you know John Fischer, the affable mainstay-of-an executive director who seems to do all things, all the time, everywhere. So, how does someone who’s so busy have time to cook?

“I feel just as busy now as when I retired from my ‘real’ career in marketing 10 years ago,” says Fischer, trying to put things in a Sarasota perspective.

The thing is, Fischer doesn’t just cook for his family. He does a lot of cooking for his friends and for “work,” too, because a major part of his job with the Artist Series is fundraising.

“It’s a bit ironic that I’ve prepared heavy hors d’oeuvres and strolling suppers for hundreds of people and just recently started making dinners for smaller numbers of friends,” he explains.

It’s even more ironic that the home he shares with his partner, Jim, is by most standards, humongous.

“Our home was built with a large music room for our pianos and pipe organ, so fingers frequently point in my direction when it comes to concerts and charity events,” say Fischer. “We’ve hosted more soirees for Artist Series Concerts alone than I can remember. And we’ve also hosted events for the Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera and other groups. Music is such a great connector. Add food and conversation, and you’ve got a winning combination.” (more…)


KITCHEN CLASSICS: A chef comes home: Darwin’s on Fourth

January 20th, 2012Posted by admin

Originally published in The Observer
Date: January 18, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

One of our favorite restaurants in Sarasota has been Selva Grill. It’s on Main Street now, but, when we first went there, it was in a little (but charming) hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall near Swift Road in south Sarasota.

The original chef was Darwin Santa Maria, but he and his family have been on the move for a while, far, far away from Sarasota.

“I’ve been traveling to Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain, Italy, and France, but, most of the time, we were in the mountains, jungle and on the coast of Peru,” Santa Maria tells us, filling in some of the blanks. Now, this peripatetic chef has returned to Sarasota with a spacious, fun restaurant that brings us Peruvian food with a twist.

“Watching the influx of people from around the world moving to Sarasota,” he said, “we decided to open a place where locals and people from different nationalities can eat something familiar or try something they’d never had before.”

What are some of those different things? “Urban street food.”

“This is a new type of dining, designed for me. We match tasting and plate-sharing,” Santa Maria explained as we strolled through the new restaurant on Fourth between Orange and Lemon.

And the atmosphere reflects the address (what other city has a restaurant between two fruit streets?) with exotic drinks “that start conversation.”

Not only are there exotic drinks, its also houses its own brewery.

“I got the idea of a brewery as a sort of dream a while ago,” Santa Maria says. “I saw this place in Lima, but I didn’t know enough about it or how it actually worked. But it seemed like such a great idea, having your own brewery with different kinds of beer to match the food.”

So, the dream was put on a back burner until “a buddy called and said this space was available in Sarasota. You have to remember, my heart is in Sarasota. I love its culture. It’s a mini-Manhattan with a cultured atmosphere. I love the beaches, and the people here are very cosmopolitan. This is a great food city, and it’s starting to become more comfortable with itself. The restaurants are less trendy and more about quality and ingredients.”

But beer brewed on the premises and urban street foods aren’t the only things that set Darwin’s on Fourth apart. It’s the food.

“Peruvian food owes much to the combination of its rich natural resources with traditions of immigrant ethnic groups,” Santa Maria says. “Peru enjoys the bounty of three, clearly different regions: the coast, the Andean Mountains and the Amazon jungle; the indigenous foods of the Incas — potatoes, corn, fish and quinoa — have been influenced by the Chinese immigrants, leaving their mark by introducing stir-fry, soy sauce and ginger.”

The Italians also made their mark with Mediterranean flavors, along with Japanese and African influences, as well.

This all adds up to a culinary melting pot that’s irresistible to a lot of people whose diversities dissolve as they share their love of great food, flavors and tastes.

“Our casual fine-dining atmosphere and bar-lounge make us well suited for romancing, meeting up with friends or holding a special celebration,” Santa Maria says. “Urban street food naturally lends itself to a fresh, affordable menu. The Peruvian influences give healthy (and delicious) options. And Darwin’s bar offers a culinary-inspired approach to beer, wine and cocktails.”

And, there’s music and entertainment, too, which provide the backdrop for a lively, spirited evening. Santa Maria’s musical tastes run from AC/DC, “to keep myself pumped” while he’s in the busy kitchen, to “Latin rock like Maná, or even top 40s,” for slower times.

Darwin’s will most likely not have too many slower moments. Location, food, spirits and spirit will make this one of Sarasota’s most glamorous and quality nightspots, perfect for whatever you want that evening.
When we go, we’ll head for the quieter areas of the restaurant, looking for the romance and the urban, upscale elements, perhaps leaving the late-night DJ in the lounge for other celebrations.

When we think of setting this grand new space to music, three pieces come to mind: Villa Lobos’ colorful “The Little Train of the Caipira,” which takes us on a musical joyride through the Brazilian interior); “The Geographical Fugue,” that wild and wooly spoken chorus by Ernst Toch; and, well, Jimmy Durante’s look at the culture of Peru: “Inca Dinka Doo.”

Mixed Ceviche

Serves 4

4 cups lime juice
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

8 green mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 pound mahi-mahi, cubed
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups tomato juice
1 tablespoon chopped garlic

Place lime juice, three cloves garlic, red onion, cilantro and celery in the blender and blend until smooth. Toss with mussels and mahi-mahi and marinate in refrigerate for at least one hour.

Sauté shrimp in tomato juice and garlic until cooked, then strain and place in refrigerator. When ready to serve, combine shrimp with the marinated seafood and divide onto individual serving plates.