Luca Manfè is the world famous Italian Chef from Friuli-Venezia Giulia who moved to New York to follow the American Dream and in doing so achieved one of them by winning the U.S. Fox Television Show MasterChef with his recent finale attracting over 6 Million viewers.
Luca has the honour of being the first male contestant and previous season returnee to have won the prestigious award, with arguably the most famous Celebrity Chef in the world Gordon Ramsay being the deciding judge in the process. Before winning MasterChef, Luca was a restaurant manager in New York City. As one of the most famous MasterChef winners in history, Luca has formed his own catering company called Dinner with Luca. He has also published his own cookbook named My Italian Kitchen: Favorite Family Recipes.
Love Italian Life recently had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Luca:
How do you think the typical British & American diets compares to the Italian/Mediterranean?
I am not too familiar with British diets, but I’m not sure if they’re that similar to American diets due to being in such different parts of the world. Italian and Mediterranean diets are unique because of the variety and amazing quality of ingredients available everyday. Also in Italy we just eat what the ground gives us, which makes everything so seasonal e.g. no tomatoes in January or mushrooms in June.
Italian diets have a tremendous respect for the ingredients that go into each dish. Very little butter is used, for example many regions of Italy don’t even use any at all. Just a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper are used which means everything has very low levels of fat.
Now of course yes – pasta can be heavy, rich and fattening, but like everything in life, it’s all about allowing for moderations. Try to eat 1/4 lbs of pasta at lunch and not 1/2 lbs…trust me you’ll feel much healthier!
What’s the inspiration behind your dishes?
I like to focus on the classic meals and cook them in a modern way, using different ingredients and techniques. It is important to have a strong base first, before actually spinning too much. I have a continuous learning process because I did not go to culinary school and I did not work my way up in any kitchen. Every day I try to learn new things on my own, so my inspiration is just about what I have learned and what I already know to try and execute every dish as best as I can.
What do you think it is about Italian food that has such an enduring appeal?
Italian food has some items that no one else has in their cuisine. We have a culinary tradition and variety of different foods that is not comparable to any other country in the world.
Pasta and Pizza are staples of every country around the world nowadays, but we are the original masters of those. Plus, let me tell you, there is no other country in the world that has so much romance and love in their food!
How important is the connection between the Italian family and food?
The dinner table is always the part of the day where all the family is together. There is no dinner without a set table, a bottle of water and a bottle of wine. In my family, there was no TV during dinner time because we were all talking to each other about our day. During holidays it is just the best way to get all the relatives together and for me it was always an exciting moment. I was always excited to know what my grandmother was preparing for our lunch or dinner. Every holiday had its own menu!
What advice can you share with people wanting to cook traditional Italian food but are worried about how it will turn out?
Never be worried! If you do not try you will never succeed. Try with easy foods first and don’t get too complicated right away. Learn to respect the ingredients: cook your pasta al dente and your steak medium rare. A piece of chicken needs to be moist and juicy and your broccoli always needs to have a crunch and be bright green. Learn your basics first, and then move on.
Is there a very simple recipe you have to get people started with?
There are plenty of simple recipes in my cookbook: “My Italian Kitchen” published by Abrams.
What is your earliest memory of cooking in Italy and what did you make?
I really did not start cooking until I was living on my own here in the States when I was 22 years old. I always spent a lot of time in Italy at home in the kitchen with my mother and the thing I liked to prepare the most with her was tiramisù because I always got to lick the leftovers of the mascarpone cream – made with raw eggs!
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About Anna Floriani
Anna writes about everything that makes Italian culture so special. Having lived and worked in Ireland and the UK for many years she is originally from le Marche in Italy while her zest and passion for life comes from raising her young family.