Diane Findlay Fraser was working as a journalist in D.C. when the restaurant bug bit her after her brother-in-law introduced her to the business. In 1992, she opened a Mediterranean-inspired fine-dining restaurant in Annapolis, Md. After a seven-year run (and another career change to public relations), she returned home to Richmond a self-taught chef. She now puts her own twists on traditional fare through her corporate catering and takeout business, Cucina, which opened in May 2008.
Fraser says she became interested in Mediterranean cuisine during her European travels as a young girl. She experiments with seasonings and spices, introducing Indian and Eastern influences into the framework of traditional Mediterranean dishes. "I like playing with curries and using spice as opposed to a lot of fat and salt to add flavor," she says — as with her creation of garlic-and-spinach mashed potatoes. Fraser resists the label of fusion cooking but utilizes properties of certain spices to create parallels. She laces her black-bean chili with cumin instead of chili powder and adds curry to her butternut-squash-and-apples soup. A go-with-the-flow kind of chef, Fraser focuses on the fellowship associated with the cultures of the Mediterranean, "which is not stuffy and repressed, but a looser way of enjoying food and wine and life," she explains. The Spanish family-style classic Paella Valencia — saffron rice tossed with grilled vegetables, spicy sausage and chicken — is a much-loved dish. Cucina offers box lunches and five-course takeout meals. Take a little or a lot, but don't forget the red-velvet cupcakes. For more information, call 355-0965.