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 49-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…”

Linda Bassett

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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.