By Raiza Giorgi

Chef Michele Mancuso remembers helping his grandmother in the kitchen as he was growing up in Calabria, Italy. By listening to her stories and learning her recipes, he found a passion for cooking. 

“She made everything from scratch, and I loved watching her and being with her. A lot of my recipes have her special touch in them, and I love sharing them with my customers,” he said. 

Mancuso owns and operates his restaurant, Toscana, in Frederik’s Court in Solvang, and he loves talking to his customers while he cooks. 

Toscana is one of the many restaurants participating in Restaurant Weeks from Jan. 27 through Feb. 10. (This year, Visit the Santa Ynez Valley announced the popular event has been extended from one week to two.)

 “We are excited along with the entire Santa Ynez Valley community for 2019 Restaurant Weeks. We know that many restaurants honor their $20.19 menus long after the promotion. So this year, at the suggestion of board member Luca Crestinelli of S.Y. Kitchen, we officially present Restaurant Weeks,” said Shelby Sim, executive director of Visit SYV. 

Restaurant Weeks is an opportunity for people to get a discounted three-course meal. It is part of California Restaurant Month, designated by the California Travel and Tourism Commission. More than 20 destinations across California are hosting events this month.

“This event is great because it brings in more locals that haven’t tried our restaurant,” Mancuso said. 

Chef Michele Mancuso loves making other hearty dishes such as stinco di maiale (pork ossobuco).

Toscana will be offering a first course of Arugula e Parmigiano, second course of Lasagna Toscana with a classic meat sauce, and a dessert of gelato. 

“People come in because they see we make pizza and then end up coming back to try my other dishes. I use fresh ingredients and source as local as I can, which is what we do in Italy,” Mancuso said. 

Mancuso studied at the culinary school in Firenze and then went on to get a master’s certificate from Le Cordon Bleu, a world-renowned name synonymous with French cuisine. 

“Cooking to me is an art, and I love hearing from my customers what they like and what they are wanting to try,” Mancuso said. 

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu he opened a cafe in Firenze. He had customers from New York who came to Italy just to eat at his cafe, they said, and they talked Mancuso into moving to New York as a partner in a restaurant there. 

“I moved to New York 12 days before 9/11 happened. That was a very hard time, and a friend of mine from Calabria invited me to come help him at his restaurant in Santa Ynez,” Mancuso said. 

Leonardo Curti started Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez with his family before opening his own restaurant, Leonardo’s, in Solvang. Mancuso didn’t cook for several years while he was working as a waiter. 

“I think in a restaurant you need to know how to do every job. It’s good for your customer that you understand the service side as well,” he said. 

When he decided to get back to cooking, initially Mancuso wanted to have a food truck, and happened upon the space where he is now. 

“My partner and I walked by it and decided a storefront was better and here we are. We had to create the kitchen from scratch and I wanted an open space where my customers could see us work and talk to us,” Mancuso said. 

His menu is seasonal, as different ingredients are available at certain times. He likes to make more fish dishes in the summer, which are lighter, and more meat dishes in the fall and winter. 

He doesn’t have a fryer, and he loves to bake all his food in the oven. 

“I think the trend is going away from fried foods and back to the basics of baking. It takes a little longer, but it’s healthier and that is what I cook — hearty and healthy,” Mancuso said. 

For more details on Restaurant Weeks, including menus and dining hours, visit