Washington’s Exuberant Hostess Sets the Standard for Eating and Living Well
By Susan Able, Photography by Jennifer Chase
Maria Trabocchi gives me a tour of Del Mar, the newest restaurant from Washington’s restaurateur power couple, which has already become a destination at The Wharf. Husband Chef Fabio Trabocchi has been quoted as saying Del Mar was “for Maria,” since it channels everything about her native country of Spain and her coastal home in Mallorca, from the colors to the tiles, the seafood, the ambience. It’s a jewel box of a restaurant, and the food has already won rave reviews from critics.
But there is no rest for Maria Trabocchi. She’s working on other projects and talking excitedly about other new ideas. As she takes me to the second floor of Del Mar, she tells me, “These stairs—they will make you or they will kill you. Our team is going to have the best legs after a year at this place.”
Which leads us to topic A of our today’s chat: wellness. We settle upstairs in a green velvet private dining room. I’ve come to hear about Maria’s fitness journey, and yes, she’s had one. Despite her svelte figure and obvious energy, the tall hostess with the mostess has reinvented her self-care regimen and diet over the past few years.
SUSAN ABLE: Tell me about “The Maria Menu.”
MARIA TRABOCCHI: After we opened Fiola in 2011, I was doing all the PR and marketing for the restaurants and I loved showing off our food to guests. I would sit down and say hello and eat small bites, but all the food, like lobster ravioli. And then Fabio and I would come home late, at midnight. We got in the habit of eating cheese, prosciutto, toast and a glass of wine. I didn’t realize how much weight I was starting to gain. Fashion has always been my first love and I said to Fabio, “You are going to have to buy me a new wardrobe, or I will have to go work someplace else. Please make a light menu for me: low sodium, low fat, low sugar.”
And he did. I said we should put it on the menu, because people will order it, so we called it Maria Menu in Fiola, and now all the restaurants have their own Maria Menu. Not only women order it, men too. It’s not boring! It’s a beautiful piece of fish grilled, a salad and some granita or sorbet. We change the menus every day, so each chef in the restaurant designs their own Maria Menu for lunch. I just tell them I want it to be simple, delicious and light.
SA: In addition to creating a healthier way to eat in the restaurants, what did you change in the rest of your life?
MT: Well, I had to be disciplined and start to get serious about exercise. First, about the food, I cut completely back on eating carbs six days a week, no desserts. Sunday is my “cheat day” and I’ll eat bread, toast, rice, pasta. But I don’t go crazy. Otherwise, you just dig a hole for yourself on Monday.
Exercise has been huge part of our life. Two years ago, I hired a personal trainer for myself and Fabio at Balance gym, near our house. We wanted to do this together. As restaurant people, we go to the gym every morning since we work at night. I have to say, it has really changed both of us: My husband has lost weight and gotten fit too. When I started to exercise with a trainer, I had to literally roll out of bed because I was so sore. My daughter saw me and thought she would have to call an ambulance. (She laughs.) Every muscle hurt but the results are so worth it. abio and I have to be strong, we have physical jobs, and as the front of the house I am very visible to the public—so I want to look good!
SA: In addition to helping to start and run five restaurants, you’re also the mother of two teenagers. How did you bring your family along with you on an overall wellness plan?
MT: It’s a family affair. It’s so much easier to do it all together. I’ve changed it up with the kids completely at home. When they were smaller, it was easy to give them easy snacks like crackers or peanut butter. But then I started to think that this was not OK. We have become very healthy at home. No cookies, chocolate or soda. A big bowl of fruit is now on the counter every day and I’m always replenishing it. I love cherries and peaches when they are in season.
Our family time is on Sundays. Mario loves to make our family meal at home, we set the table and get ready to eat. He loves to grill and I like baking, so last Sunday, since it is my “cheat day,” I made sugar cookies. We all enjoy them, but it is not an everyday treat.
SA: What’s your biggest advice to someone who wants to reinvent their own self-care program?
MT: It just doesn’t just happen, you have to make a plan and stick to it. You have to want to be fit, you have to work for it. You have to suffer a little bit, it is not going to be easy. But you will be happier! Make a plan for exercise and make a plan to get your nutrition in place. You really have to commit to a disciplined five days [a week] at least to make a change work.
For me, I keep my schedule: I get up, have a latte. I drop my children at school, I go directly to the gym, I park and walk to the gym, and I work out from 8:30 to 9:30am. Eggs, smoked salmon, hot water and lemon. No carbs. No cookies. I have to be very strong at saying no.
SA: What is the number one thing Americans could do to make their diet more like that of Spain and the Mediterranean?
MT: Stop eating fried food. I swear I can smell the grease when I land at JFK. Also, I think that people in the U.S. need to remember that sodas and flavored beverages have calories, so read the labels. Do you really want to drink this instead of water? I find that Americans love a sauce and dressing. Skip that. You might as well eat a Whopper when you eat a Caesar salad; it’s got rich dressing and those croutons.
But, I will say the quality of food has gotten so much better since I was young here. Eat fish as much as you can and some sort of vegetable. There are so many great choices available.
I know this may sound repetitive, but at home in Spain we eat more fruits and vegetables. We eat less refined sugar. Most Spaniards eat a more healthy diet than here; my parents are super healthy eaters. My mom can wear my clothes and vice versa. We eat a lot of fresh food without the processed things. Salad, tomatoes, gazpacho and always fruit. We finish every meal with a piece of fruit in season, like an orange in winter or watermelon or peach in the summer.