Emily Markel Luebcke, Giulio Picchi, and Graham Markel. Ristorante Cibreo, Florence. June 8th, 2012

Emily and Graham were 12 and 9 when I started. Their sweet natures allowed me to travel back and forth all these years. Emily lived with the Picchi/Vitali family for a semester when she was 15 and Giulio was 13. She now has two children, 4 and 6, and he manages Cibreo as heir apparent. Graham has been under the wing of many chefs since then and happens to be a fine cook with a passion for wine making and traveling the world like his mother.

I founded La Cucina al Focolare in 1992 in Reggello, on the grounds of The Fattoria Degli Usignoli. We focus on traditional Tuscan fare, prepared with three wood-fired ovens. Florentine antiques, Fratellini tables and stone floors give an authentic feel.


Sandro Bernini, the baker of Donnini, is still sorely missed. Tuscan fare is nothing without unsalted Tuscan bread and Sandro’s lilting arias. I celebrate the long years we had together as friends. He graced us with Opera at the end of every week.

Up Above: With Chef Piero Ferrini in 1998. Sandro, Piero, and Pierre have been the knights of shining armor of La Cucina al Focolare for the last 17 out of 20 years. Above: Pierre Cusseau, “Shepard of Aromas.” (Not pictured: always smiling, Carla Bertini, “La Fochista,” keeps the fires burning.)

One of the many lovely bays alle scoglie, “of the rocks,” the nickname for Isola d’Elba. An island with a rocky coast and the site of our course, “Elba through the eyes of Luciano.”

Up above: what’s left of an extraordinary Zuppe di Pesce (fish soup), one of chef Luciano’s signature dishes at Ristorante Il Chiasso.

Second: Our 20th Anniversary group, having an Aperol Spritz at Bar Rodriquez in the piazza, Capoliveri, Isola d’Elba.

Third: Me and Luciano shopping for lunch at the farm stand, while the rest of our group milled about tasting Elban honey and smelling the herbs and melons.

Chef Luciano Casini and our group outside of his restaurant, Il Chiasso in Capoliveri, Isola d’Elba. Jeff, Monica, George and Elena on the first row, Bob, Troy, Lauren, Neil and Kathy on the back row.


Up Above: Tellaro, home of Locanda Miranda.               Above: Involtino de orata con spinaci, gamberi e olive.     

Chef Angelo Cabani, Locanda Miranda. At 75, Angelo is still at the top of his game.