Luca Manfé-Winner of Masterchef Season 4!

When I contacted Luca Manfé, the winner of Masterchef Season 4,  I expressed my heartfelt congratulations and asked him for an interview for this blog. To be honest, I wasn't even expecting a response. Little did I know, Luca would email me personally and agree right away to an interview.

Luca coming in for our interview. He has a great smile!

Luca showed up to our interview on his vespa. He smiled, said "Ciao" and shook my hand. The man just won Masterchef and is probably more grounded and humble than anyone I have ever met! We sat down, and got right to business!

Hello Luca! You just won Masterchef! How are you feeling?
Thank you, it's great! It's unbelievable. Overwhelming, I would say.

You got the reputation of being "the good guy" and "the gentleman". Did that surprise you?

Is that something that comes naturally to you?
Most likely being a nice guy was the way my parents raised me. We always try to be nice to others. Being the gentleman, that comes with, you know, I believe also, being Italian.

What surprised you about your time on Masterchef?
How much I learned. I really didn't expect I was going to become a totally different cook as much as I did. But everyday was a new experience. I realized just talking to the judges everyday about food in general was kind of like reading a book and learning something new everyday.

Our readers are mostly moms. The same question comes up over and over again: "What should I make for dinner?" What advice do you have for a mom who feels like she has cooked everything and doesn't know what to make anymore?
That's a good question. The way I cook dinner is that I just go to the market or the grocery store, depends how much time I have. I just take a walk around first and see what's available and see what looks best. Then I decide what to do and just take it home. It's hard, you know, to keep it fresh every single day. But if you're not into pasta or you never made pasta before, there's A LOT that can be made and before you do the same pasta again, it's going to be a long time. I love fresh pasta, so for me, it's one of the first things I try to teach.

I was a little starstruck at first, but he is so laidback!

Which items should home cooks splurge on?
Well, with food, never be cheap on fish. If you see fish is too cheap, there's gotta be a reason. With equipment, a food processor or a blender is the best thing because you can use it forever. You can use it for vegetables. I love my purees, so without the food processor, I would be dead! Even to make my pasta doughs, I use a stand mixer or a food processor. Those are two things. The stand mixer if you like baking, or you'll be like Jordan (Luca makes a mixing motion with his hands) on the show if you remember with the cupcakes.  And a food processor, especially if you buy the one with two or three attachments and different blades. Maybe you'll spend 3 or 4 hundred dollars, but it's a good investment. Don't go buy a blender for $30 or it'll last you for, like, 10 minutes.

What should people not waste their money on?
As an Italian, I shouldn't say this, but truffles. I think $2200 a pound for one truffle is an offense! There are people dying of hunger. For people who have a lot of money, they can do whatever they want. I would say there are other ways of being fancy then wasting your money on truffles.

What are some of your favorite cost-effective ingredients?
Eggs. I love eggs. Me and my wife buy eggs from a farm in New Jersey. It makes a difference. You open the eggs box and there's different colors and different sizes. They look like the eggs my grandfather had in the hen house.

Which ingredients should every home cook always have on hand?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Especially if it's imported from Italy. You have to spend a little more money for it.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
My favorite cookbook would be The French Laundry by Thomas Keller. Thomas Keller is one of the most famous chefs from all over the world. I also have his bakery book, Bouchon Bakery. It actually helped me a lot before going to the show. It taught me a lot of different techniques; different ingredients as well. Especially baking. That was something I was lacking on. His cookbooks are for very sophisticated restaurant style recipes. Also home style recipes, like cheesecake.

So would you recommend it to a home cook?
Absolutely. If you can get them together, you can find them on Amazon, some of them are used. When I went to school, I never bought new books and I wouldn't do it now.

Of course, Chef Gordon Ramsay's books are amazing. He has for many different cuisines. Also, restaurant style and home-style cuisine. I'm actually excited to see Chef Elliot's first book, which is coming up next year.

After a long and tiring day, what's your favorite "go-to" meal?
Hamburger. It's something I can eat easily at nighttime. Especially if I had a long day and didn't eat a lot. Usually I order from this place that's all over the city, Bareburger. It's organic and they have different types of meat. I love it because they have so many different styles to choose from. They have bison, ostrich, of course, beef, turkey, fried chicken. That would be my favorite place.

What's your essential kitchen item?
I would say my small immersion blender. You can use it for purees and sauces.

I use it for mashed potatoes...
I use it for mashed potatoes too! Something I believe completes every single dish is the sauce. The immersion blender makes it an easy job, the sauce. 

Do you have a favorite celebrity chef or cooking show?
Masterchef. If you notice, I always loved Gordon Ramsay. More than his hit shows, I watched his YouTube videos. Most of them are like tutorials. They teach you how to cook every different ingredient. The way I cook steak, and I did it also on the show, I learned it from Gordon Ramsay. The way that I did my Sea Bass Branzino, which is typical Italian and in Italy we cook it so many different ways, I saw it from Chef Gordon Ramsay on the internet. Then you try it at home, and you're like, "Wow, I've never done that before".

So you think people should look on the internet to learn something they haven't tried?
I mean, cookbooks are most likely for somebody who wants to learn A LOT. I think that's the best way. It's an investment. One month you buy one cookbook, the next month, you buy another one. In a year or so, you'll have a nice bookstore in your apartment. But right now, we are so lucky with the internet and YouTube. Literally, I take ideas from YouTube videos and I Google them. If you have a doubt about how you should cook something, just look at a YouTube tutorial for any cuisine and any different ingredient.

What we always find in  your fridge?

Is there anything you refuse to eat or cook?
No. There are some things I'm not into. But I'll eat everything.

What's your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen?
Well, most embarrassing moment I think is when I'm home alone. I'm singing and cooking and screaming and playing Michael Bublé. Then somebody walks in and I'm like, "Oh, I thought I was alone..."

So now you've won, what's next? What can we expect from you?
Well, right now at this moment, I'm doing private events all over New York, and even in Connecticut and New Jersey. We're doing cooking demonstrations and private dinners. People can email me on my website. I'm also doing collaborations with Bri from the show. If I'm catering events for more than 10-15 people and need help, she's the person I go to. We're actually doing a wedding in Ohio next September for 125 people. It's kind of incredible.

In the long run, it will be my restaurant. Now the business plan is ready. Being on the show gave me the possibility to be up there.

So you'll be opening your restaurant in New York?
Yeah, I like the Village a lot, especially the West Village. It's going to be, of course, traditional Italian. Mostly it's going to be cuisine from my home region of Friuli. Also with imported, Made in Italy products.

The cookbook is part of the deal with Masterchef. It's going to be ready around May 2014.

That sounds exciting! Well, thank you very much!
Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Luca was a fantastic subject and as nice as he seems on TV! Thank you Luca for taking the time out to meet with me.

Special thanks to Yogurberry at 77 5th Ave in Brooklyn.