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A small kitchen makes a large home

By Paula Walter
When Matteo and Graciela Torri happened upon Johnson County, they immediately fell in love with the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.   Growing up in the Alps region of northern Italy, Matteo felt as if he had come home when they visited Mountain City with friends. They are the owners of La Cucina Italian Kitchen, located in the Doe Valley area of the county. La Cucina literally means “The Kitchen” in Italian.
The Torris moved from Italy to the United States and back to Italy once again before settling in northeast Tennessee.  They moved to Mountain City in 2011 and were able to follow their dream to open a small family kitchen restaurant in June of this year.  Matteo, who spent many years working as freelance photographer for large companies such as Coca-Cola, Kraft and Nabisco, wanted to offer a warm, cozy, family atmosphere for his patrons.
Once you walk into La Cucina, you are immediately greeted with a warm smile and a friendly welcoming hug. The small restaurant is reminiscent of a country home where the kitchen is the heart of the family.  The dining area is cozy and will seat 16.  The tables, close to one another, are ideal to carry on conversations with friends, family and neighbors.  Outside dining is also available for the warmer months.
The aroma of spices such as basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, along with onions and fresh vegetables waft across the small room, making your mouth water for a taste of the many delectable dishes offered. All of the entrees are made from Matteo’s authentic, family recipes from the Milan region of Italy, very different than the cuisine from southern Italy. “We really like healthy, simple recipes and old traditions,” said Mateo. “With a lot of love,” piped Graciela.
According to Matteo, all of the food is made from scratch with fresh ingredients each day. “Every morning we make our own ciabatta bread,” he said.  The bread is kneaded by hand and comes out light, airy and delicious.  It is served with olive oil, a splash of vinegar and Parmesan cheese.  The Torris also use grass fed local beef.  The family strives to purchase produce from the local Farmer’s Market and area farmers, as well as some imported Italian products.  They grew some of their own herbs this year and have plans on increasing the size of their vegetable garden.  
La Cucina offers a diverse and extensive menu with plenty of meat, fish and pasta dishes to ponder. According to Matteo, the fare is slightly different as the seasons change and he incorporates fresh and seasonal vegetables into his cuisine. He currently offers a pumpkin soup that is smooth, delicately seasoned and very creamy. One taste of the pumpkin soup, and this food reviewer was back for more.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.