About Us

Michele ToporFrom a very early age Michele could be found either tending to the garden with her mother or helping her father in their little family grocery store in central Massachusetts. Her Polish heritage was a source of great pride and she embraced all of the family customs.

Despite the comfort of family and her hometown, the big city was calling and she left for Boston to train as a registered nurse. Although a nursing career was rewarding, food and cooking remained a magnet and a great way to be creative and entertain her friends.

Hoping to recapture her small town atmosphere, Michele discovered and moved into Boston’s North End. This tiny, warm and somewhat foreign community felt like the village of her youth. She felt at home as she wandered and shopped the little markets and began a quest to learn a new culture and cuisine. Her spare time now turned into endless jaunts to Italy to study and learn Italian culture and cuisine.

Michele is the recipient of numerous professional diplomas and certificates from, among others, Bologna’s La Scuola Di Cucina (Marcella Hazan), the “Cooking in Florence” Program (Giuliano Bugialli), as well as a professional chef’s diploma from Madeleine Kamman’s Modern Gourmet. She is certified by the National Institute of the Food Service Industry.

A 40-plus-year resident of Boston’s North End, Michele has taught cooking, catered, and consulted on Italian food since 1979. She has served as Guest Chef at several Boston-area restaurants, including Davio’s “Salute to Calabria” (1996) and The Seaport Hotel’s “Les Dames d’Escoffier” (1998).

Michele designed The North End Market Tour to introduce her cooking class participants to her neighborhood and to sources for authentic Italian ingredients. Since 1994, Michele and her personally trained guides have shared their passion for the food and wine of Italy on this one-of-a-kind, five-senses-alive, walking cooking class. Their goal is to convey not only the secrets of the cuisine in the high quality of ingredients, but also to provide a sense of regional tradition, the healthfulness of the Italian diet, and that very Italian love of life.

Michele’s cooking classes, market tours and culinary trips to Italy have been featured on television — including Travel Channel, TVFood Network, HGTV and CNN, on the radio, and in various national and international publications. As one of Boston’s leading authorities on Italian food, wine and culture, Michele’s infectious enthusiasm, broad knowledge of Italian cuisine, and extensive travels throughout Italy make her an ideal cooking colleague, tour guide and travel companion on your quest for discovery of La Bella Vita.

In her free time, Michele enjoys traveling, tending to her award winning roof-top garden and entertaining friends. If you can’t find her, she’s likely to be wandering happily at any farmer’s market, fish pier or ethnic grocery store.

Our Guides

Since Michele is not available to conduct most of the tours, she has selected a team of guides for their enthusiasm, personality, cooking background and professional experience. Our guides are all personally trained by Michele to convey not only the secrets of the cuisine in the high quality of ingredients but also the sense of regional tradition, the healthfulness of the Italian diet, and that very Italian love of life.

“Come closer, we have stories to tell…”

Beth Applebaum

Beth Applebaum

Beth Applebaum loves to teach-anyone, anywhere, anytime. For the past twenty five years, she has taught Special Education and has been an outspoken advocate for children with special needs. A private tutor for the past seven years, Beth is currently teaching dyslexic children to read.

One can trace her love of teaching back to a year spent in Torino, Italy in the mid-70’s. During that time she worked at a private school teaching Conversational English to Italians, and learning the Italian language from her students in return. Her love of teaching, combined with a passion for cooking make Beth a perfect guide for our North End Market Tours.

Beth’s cooking skills are put to good use each year during the numerous events at which she volunteers. She runs Artist Hospitality at the Boston Folk Festival, making all of the pastries for the artists and program donors, and keeping them happy with Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Basil Panini. She also caters for friends, school events and numerous charities, and does volunteer work at WUMB, the folk music station at UMASS Boston.

When she’s not teaching, volunteering or guiding tours, Beth is happiest fixing a plate of her homemade Butternut Squash Tortellini with Butter and Sage, and enjoying the tranquility of her garden in Cambridge, a garden full of flowers and flowering fruit trees that remind her of Italy.


Suzi Parks

Suzi Parks

Suzi grew up in New Mexico where she learned about cooking, baking and candy making from her mother, father and grandmother. During her first 3 month trip to Europe in 1985 she became intrigued by the Mediterranean diet, and charmed by the farmer’s market way of life. She enrolled at the International Pastry Arts Center in New York, where she studied with Chef Albert Kumin,  White House Pastry Chef for President Carter. During return trips to the east coast,  she did an intensive self-study in the cooking of Julia Child and Madeleine Kamman; later taking part in workshops in Julia’s Cambridge home.

Moving to Boston, she followed her new passion- pastry, working both in catering and restaurants. She felt especially at home with the neighborly atmosphere of the North End. Walking to work in the mornings as Pastry Chef at Mamma Maria, she would be greeted by some of the older gentlemen with a “Buon Giorno, don’t you look lovely today!” During her years at Mamma Maria, Suzi became very familiar with Italian desserts as well as real Italian food, and the restaurant received Boston Magazine’s coveted award for  “Best Italian Restaurant”.

As a Pastry Chef she excelled, in 1998 winning the first Architectural Masters of Pastry competition. As co-founder of the Professional Pastry Guild of New England  she was among the first group of pastry chefs invited to do a brunch at the James Beard House in NYC. She has worked as “on-call” pastry chef at numerous prestigious Boston restaurants and caterers. Suzi has been featured in articles including Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Boston Magazine, and Elegant Weddings Magazine.

Today, Suzi teaches Cake Decorating at Bunker Hill Community College and Boston Center for Adult Education,  and Truffle Making at ChocoLee Chocolates. She makes wedding cakes for fortunate couples and desserts for lucky friends; many of whom still swoon over memories of her Tiramisu.
Rebecca Reilly

Rebecca Reilly

Rebecca Reilly’s maternal French Grandmother would not be surprised that her granddaughter has always embraced seasonal ingredients in her cooking, even before it became every good chef’s mantra. After all, Rebecca’s European upbringing included modeling her culinary mentors love of “farm to table” cuisine. Raised in Germany, with summers spent in upstate New York, Rebecca  absorbed from an early age, the wonderful cooking skills her grandmother and mother passed down to her. Years later, Rebecca would find herself in Florence, on a self-imposed sabbatical, soaking up the culture, and learning valuable culinary tips from the locals.

This ingrained love of good, fresh food led a college-aged Rebecca to Paris, where her culinary career began with stints at both Cordon Bleu, and the renowned Le Notre Patisserie. Back in the States, Rebecca added to her already impressive resume, by enrolling in Madeleine Kamman’s Modern Gourmet School in Newton, MA. This new set of skills led to opening her own cooking school, catering business and ultimately the Madd Apple Café in Portland Maine.

What neither her grandmother or Rebecca herself could have foreseen was an unexpected detour into the world of gluten-free cooking. After her young son began experiencing a variety of health problems, it was confirmed that he, his sister and Rebecca herself were gluten intolerant. It was the 1990’s, before gluten-free products were readily available. With determination, Rebecca set out to learn a new way to cook. Reworking recipes from her childhood, she became a pioneer in the field, and, in 2000, published one of the earliest books on the subject, “Gluten Free Baking” published by Simon and Shuster.

Today, while working toward a degree in nutrition, Rebecca teaches gluten free baking, and lectures on the subject at national conferences. We are delighted to have her leading our specialized tour through the North End during which participants discover how to adapt healthy Mediterranean dietary principles to enhance a gluten-free lifestyle

Linda Bassett

The North End is a new horizon and a return to roots for Linda Bassett.  As a food historian, touring is a new challenge.  As a romantic, she notes that her Italian grandparents married in a North End church in 1920.  Linda started rolling out pizza dough by age three in a multistoried, multigenerational Italian-American household north of Boston.  Her childhood Sunday mornings, redolent of simmering tomato-and-meat sauce, melted into lingering afternoons at the family table.

After years of teaching kindergarten, Linda redesigned her life, taking formal cooking classes, working as a caterer, traveling, and eventually turned to writing about and teaching cooking in her home kitchen.  In another life-altering experience, she studied historic cookbooks at the Radcliffe Institute.  At an event for food professionals, she met Michele Topor who was demonstrating an intoxicating Piemontese rabbit stew.

Linda has worked with future chefs for 15 years in a college program where she specialized in international cooking and American regional foods, and happily polished resumes for students’ entry into the workforce.  As an historian, she has researched, lectured, and written on topics from immigrant cooking at Boston’s historic Old South Meeting House to the history of pie at a Harvard program for visiting professionals.  She tested recipes for a colleague’s Calabrian cookbook, and once gave a recipe writing workshop to a group of professional chefs.

Linda writes a weekly food column, “Kitchen Call” (wickedlocal.com) covering food topics as varied as the early American seafarer’s cookie, Joe Froggers, to Cuba’s paladares, home-based restaurants, after traveling to that island on a baseball cultural exchange. Whether in Paris or at Ft. Myers, Florida for Red Sox spring training, she tastes the local cuisine, gathers recipes and cooking tips, and eagerly imparts the information.  Her work has appeared in The Oxford Dictionary of American Food, The Radcliffe Culinary Times, Edible Boston, and The Journal of the Culinary Historians of Boston.  She is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” a history – with recipes – of food and cooks in Boston’s North Shore neighborhoods.

A Les Dames d’Escoffier Boston Woman of the Year, she also holds a Rotary Club Paul Harris medal.  She cooks for her local Rotary club’s annual “Friends Forever” dinner when Catholic and Protestant teens from post-conflict Northern Ireland meet in her hometown.

Linda is happiest when cooking and talking about food and baseball with family, friends, and anyone else who wants to join the conversation.


Bonnie Koch

Bonnie Koch

Since the early days of tending an organic garden with her mother in New Jersey and using a Kitchen Aid to prepare their Jersey Tomatoes for winter storage, Bonnie has had a penchant for fresh and natural foods. That is what took her to San Francisco for many years, where she enjoyed locally harvested food and worked in the Whole Foods Bakery. She marveled at how much better the food tasted when it was fresh and locally sourced. Bonnie wanted toshare her love of fine food with others, so she became a Concierge to high net worth clients and was able to plug in to the vibrant San Francisco restaurant scene.

The time Bonnie spent in San Francisco formed the basis of her food philosophy. Like California, Italy is one of those magical places where food is still eaten in its most pristine and natural form. While in Italy, Bonnie became enchanted by the exciting differences in regional cuisine and fell in love with the Italian Riviera when she had her first plate of homemade Pesto Genovese in a frescoed villa on the Ligurian Sea. When she takes you on the North End Market Tour, Bonnie wants you to have the feeling of being transported to a magical place where a lively atmosphere complements the simple, fresh tastings. When she’s not giving tours of the North End, she works in market research and green energy.  Bonnie’s passion for great food fuels her passion for sustainability, which she sees as the only path to assuring a rich food supply over the long term.


Rita Lash

As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, Rita has spent her life living and loving the Italian culture. She has very fond memories of Sunday dinners, watching as her grandmother made pasta as the primo piatte, for the extended family, sometimes as many at 15 people. With this history, it is not surprising that after college, Rita decided to enrich her experience by living in Italy for a year. There she was exposed to Northern Italian cooking which differed from the southern Italian cuisine she experienced growing up. After a year exploring the customs and sites of Florence, Rome and remote Tuscan villages, she returned with a deeper appreciation of her heritage and the honest and healthful Italian diet.

Rita spent her professional career working in healthcare, first in human resources then in customer service, all the while, treating her colleagues to Italian delicacies on holidays and special occasions. She is happiest when she is cooking for her family and friends, making homemade pasta and passing her grandmothers’ traditional recipes on to her two grown sons, both of whom have their own pasta machines!

Now that Rita has retired, she’s committed to spending more time doing things that are meaningful to her. Being a North End Market tour guide is one of those “things” and she delights in introducing others to the “magic” of all things Italian. She also enjoys traveling, being “Nana” to a new generation and volunteering at Cradles to Crayons which provides needed services to children across Massachusetts.