Murrieta resident Dino Luciano was announced as the winner of MasterChef Season 8 in the two-hour season finale. Luciano left the popular FOX television show with $250,000 and a spot as a featured chef on the MasterChef cruise departing later this year.
In the finale, the three contestants faced a three-course meal challenge and were given 60 minutes to produce four meals per course. Judges Gordon Ramsay, Christina Tosi and Aaron Sanchez were accompanied by American restaurateur Joe Bastianich.
The challenge took place in the kitchen, rearranged to accommodate a live audience. Standing on the balcony were Luciano’s parents, supporting friends and past contestants cheering him and the other two contestants.
“Jason and I were facing the audience, and I got to interact (with them),” Luciano said. “It took the edge off because it made me think ‘I’m just cooking for people.’ It would seem scarier, but it was a lot less nerve-wracking.”
For his appetizer, he cooked squid ink angel hair pasta with calamari, clams and cherry tomatoes. Following was an entree of rack of lamb on top of lamb belly-sunchoke caponata with a fig and cippolini balsamic glaze. For his dessert, Luciano took an unconventional twist on tiramisu, making a roasted pistachio tiramisu cake with orange mascarpone cream, espresso caviar and pistachio tuile.
“Moving on after each week’s challenge was a relief, but I was just glad I packed extra clothes! The whole time I thought I had a chance, but it wasn’t until I made it to the finale that I realized it was real,” Luciano said. “Going into the finale, I just made sure I had my dishes down and planned to get my timing right.”
He explained that his experience was focused on having a good time and learning from the lives and cultures of his fellow contestants.
Luciano started the finale strong with a pasta dish that reminded Bastianich of his mother’s cooking. Bastianich’s opinion played an integral role in crowning the MasterChef.
Luciano encountered problems with his entrée when his pressure cooker did not properly cook the lamb, so he resorted to frying it. According to Ramsay, the fig glaze was offsetting, but it did not ruin the integrity of the plate. All four judges received an evenly-cooked, medium-rare lamb dish. His dessert saw mixed results among the judges with some applauding the taste and some questioning the twist on the tiramisu.
Ultimately, it was Luciano’s artistry, unique style and bold elevations which carried him throughout the competition and swayed the judges in the finale.
During the airing of the finale, Luciano organized with the San Diego Food Drive to collect cans and fill a bucket as a part of his viewing party.
As filming ended in December, Luciano has worked toward new ambitions such as starting his own vegan-based food truck. Treating his life like his cooking, he plans on taking his projects a couple of steps at a time.
With his new opportunities, job offers and support from the community, Luciano strives to inspire above all else.
“A lot of people need inspiration,” Luciano said. “I know that because I was one of them for the longest time; now that I have this outlet I’m going to do my best to keep going because that’s what I’m here for: to inspire others because life is not life without us doing what we love.”
His experience on MasterChef began with his mother in mind, and she along with the other contestants continued to motivate him throughout each challenge.
Luciano said his best lesson learned was that, “Vulnerability is the key to reaching your dreams. Drop the whole fear thing behind. Don’t let fear hold you back.”