Sommelier Lisa Mushaw:
A new generation doyenne who claimed her space in the lofty arenas of international travel, tourism and the culinary arts, Lisa Mushaw made transatlantic waves with Treasures of Tuscany – An Epicurean Voyage. Treasures launched in November 2002 as a one-week vacation abroad with a twist – a cooking program where participants are given extensive exposure to Italian cuisine while discovering the physical beauty and traditions that are uniquely Tuscan. The idea was to offer “foodies” an opportunity to share and celebrate the cultural, personal, and convivial rites that are the Tuscan Table, while basking in the charm of one of the world’s most exquisite and historic treasures.
Lisa is a “natural taster” who cut her culinary teeth in the kitchen of relatives who excelled in the preparation of Creole cuisine. As a child, long before she knew the difference between battuto and affogato, she demonstrated a natural talent for discerning which ingredients were missing or used in excess in recipes. Her culinary gifts are no accident as her family roots include small business owners who made their living as caterers in New Orleans.
Lisa completed her Sommelier certificate, and the training paid off buttressing her position among food and wine aficionados and eventually positioned Lisa as the one client’s call when they want advice on an impressive range of culinary, cultural, lifestyle, protocol, and travel matters. Whether planning a formal dinner party on short notice for diplomats and foreign heads of state, or a back-yard barbecue Lisa’s many years of event planning and cooking prepared her with the skills and knowledge she needed to become successful in the culinary arts field.
A native of Reston, Virginia, Lisa relocated to Los Angeles in the early 90’s where she distinguished herself in positions at major entertainment companies, including the renown Creative Artists Agency and de Passe Entertainment. When she returned to the Washington, DC area Lisa immersed herself in all things concerning culinary and travel acquiring a curiosity for local customs and cuisines the world has to offer.
After more than 18 years of operating her tours through Tuscany, Lisa wanted to be a catalyst in bringing the world closer together by providing people an enjoyable way to understand one another through the rich history of countries, regions, and cities via their food, language, and customs through travel, hospitality training, and cultural exchange. Thus, The Tuscan Gourmet was born.
Chef Gianfranco Natali:
Gianfranco Natail’s culinary career began early on, inspired by his parents and their love and respect for Tuscan traditions, honoring the land, growing, and caring for olive trees, and eating in season. After graduating from the Italian Culinary Institute, Gianfranco sought out to see more of Europe and began working at five-star hotels in Switzerland, France, and London’s Park Lane Hotel. Later he traveled the world perfecting his craft while working on a Cruise Ship. He enjoyed visiting cities he had never seen before, and tasting new foods, wines, and experiencing different cultures, but after one tour, he realized sea life was not for him. He returned to Florence working at the famous restaurant, La Loggia to further develop his business skills in the front of the house and becoming the wine director the restaurant – eventually opening his own bar.
Gianfranco mastered the art of the business of restaurants along with cellar management and not wanting to lose touch with his culinary skills, he returned to the kitchen by sharing various cooking techniques he had learned during his travels with the Sous Chef’s as well as teaching the wait staff 5-star class customer service skills. His teaching techniques helped to not only improve the taste of the food in the kitchen but the quality of service overall raising the bar for the other hotels and restaurants in the region. He later proceeded to the Grand Hotel Vittoria in Montecatini Terme as the Director for Food and Beverage, where he extended his skills to supervise all three properties of the hotel.
After a few years as the Director, Gianfranco was later offered a partnership with the Hotel, and continues to oversee the operation of the cooking staff, the wine program, the hospitality staff while continuing to explore the world. Gianfranco is well-traveled and as our world gets smaller, he loves fusion cuisine, and enjoys learning about spices and cooking techniques from countries that were once considered faraway.
Chef Gianfranco partnered with Lisa Mushaw in 2002 beginning their culinary tours Treasures of Tuscany – An Epicurean Voyage. He was hesitant to work with Lisa having met a lot of tourists who visit the area and come up with “great” ideas. Lisa’s sincere enthusiasm and love of Tuscany, along with her desire to share the traditions of the Tuscan way of life with foreigners, intrigued him enough to take a chance. Almost 20 years later they are still operating tours and importing extra virgin olive oil.
Working in the restaurant/hospitality industry for more than 25 years, Gianfranco has learned to appreciate his native home of Tuscany even more. As a child running through the fields lined with olive trees, people calling out your name to say hello as he walked by a local café or seeing a relative on any given Sunday while taking a stroll with his parents (passagiata) before Sunday supper, he never thought of his hometown as anything special or a place of fascination. As many of the next generation is no longer running their family’s local cafés and other small business, and people are moving closer to where they work, Gianfranco is no longer running into as many familiar faces during Sunday passagiata. He is watching his way of life change and has become very passionate about preserving the history, costumes, and traditional cuisines and stories not only of his beloved Tuscany, but of cultures around the world. Gianfranco is an enthusiastic teacher who loves sharing his knowledge about food and wine, meeting new people, and learning about other cultures culinary traditions.