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** NEW: Mix One Part Food, Two Parts Love: The Story Behind "Extra Virgin" on the Cooking Channel (Free Italy Travel Advice) **



When you're Italian man, you move to the United States for love but you can't legally work here yet, what do you do? Cook.  At least that's what Gabriele Corcos did and in the end it led to a television show that you may have seen  over the past few months Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel. Corcos met American actress Debi Mazar in Florence in 2001 at a dinner party for a mutual friend. It was love at first sight and soon the jazz musician, who hails from the town of Fiesole which overlooks Florence,  moved to Los Angeles to be with the star. But as soon as he arrived, Mazar was off to Canada for several months to shoot a Jackie Chan movie.

Finding himself along in L.A. with time on his hands and without a green card allowing him to work, Corcos began to cook. “I went grocery shopping for myself and the first big impact of the U.S. was how the market was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In Italy, if you don't have milk or bread by 7 p.m., you're out of luck.”

Even when Mazar returned to L.A., Corcos continued recreating the simple, traditional meals his grandmother taught him to make. The couple soon married (the actress Ellyn Burstyn officiated at their wedding) and and were expecting their first child. The Tuscan was adamant about serving his wife beautiful, fresh, healthy meals while she was pregnant with Evelina, now eight and Giulia, now five. 

As something of a love letter to Mazar, Corcos presented the recipes to his bride in the form of a 200-page cookbook, titled The Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male. Corcos remembers, “Debi said, ‘I think you have something here,' and we brought it to an agent who said, ‘men don't buy food and cookbooks.”

Yet the couple — who split their time between L.A. and a 14th-century house in Fiesole — continued to share their love for Italian cooking with each other and with the world-at-large when a quick video they made while making dinner one night in 2006 became the foundation for the video blog and website Under the Tuscan Gun. Mazar came up with the play on the successful book and movie Under the Tuscan Sun because of all the pressure she felt from her Italian mother-in-law and husband to get her act together in the kitchen!

For years, Corcos has filmed and edited every video, written every recipe on the blog and answered every reader e-mail for the site, which has grown to receive 300,000 hits a month. Lest anyone think that success comes overnight even to those with Hollywood connections, it took four years for the show to get picked up (and renamed to Extra Virgin).

Extra Virgin — starring Corcos, Mazar and their daughters —debuted on the Cooking Channel this winter to very positive reviews and has just been renewed for a second season. This isn't some Hollywood couple cooking up fake plots and lavish dinners but a genuine family creating simple, delicious meals in possibly one of the smallest kitchens (their real kitchen in their funky L.A. home) on television.

Of course there are some fun high jinks in between the actual cooking such as helping the girls set up a bruschetta stand (an Italian twist on the lemonade stand) or the process of hiring a “chicken nanny” to watch after their poultry while they travel to Italy. “I don't think we had a weak episode but we thought many there were too many chickens in that one. Turns out that was an audience favorite,” Corcos says.

The audience also loved the three episodes the family spends in Tuscany and Corcos and Mazar re-enact their first meeting and also renew their vows. The couple also renewed their wedding vows in a ceremony on the estate of Corcos' grandmother.

The chemistry and humor the couple share is obvious to anyone who watches. In fact they seem like a 21st century version of Lucy and Desi Arnaz. They have the kind of chemistry and passion that is hard to fake .

“I am an immigrant that got so lucky in living the American dream,” says Corcos, who appreciates the joys each country has given him.

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Like any good Italian man, Gabriele says what he misses most about Italy is his mama, of course. “I miss the freshness of my favorite ingredients, walking through my fields and my olive trees and seeing my girls running wild in the country,” he says.”It is much easier to find a good Italian restaurant, too,” he says with some humor.

When in Italy, he says he misses his Internet connection, TV and a phone line. None of which he has. He also misses his Thermador stove and the fast pace of work in the United States.

This is a man who loves to work and has big ideas for the future. He is considering starting an olive oil cooperative with his Italian neighbors (his own piece of land has 10,000 olive trees) and opening a cooking school in Fiesole. The problem, he says, is that he needs to be in Italy to do these things. ““I tried to direct a bathroom renovation at our house in Italy from so far away and it was a nightmare,” he says. The couple is considering moving to Tuscany for a year in 2012 or 2013. 

Though Corcos is excited about all the possibilities the new exposure has given him, but at the moment, he's most excited about his Peace and Pasta t-shirt line. The idea was born after a network executive told Corcos he couldn't wear branded t-shirts while being filmed. Corcos, admittedly a casual guy, still wanted to wear t-shirts and designed to make his own with slogans like “Make Sauce, Not War” and “Less Video Games, More Chopping.”

Corcos is also pitching a new show entitled, The Recipe Hunter, and invites Dream of Italy readers to take part in its creation. Corcos is looking for people who are seeking out recipes from their countries of origin or those who have a family recipe from another culture and want to learn more about it. The premise for the show is the Corcos will become “like an Indiana Jones of food” and travel to the place where your family recipe was born, learn how to make the dish and come back and pass along the recipe and its history so it is never lost again. To learn more, visit www.underthetuscangun.com 

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