Italian ‘overwhelmed’ after US MasterChef win

An intrepid Italian fended off stiff competition to become the winner of the fourth season of the US version of MasterChef, bringing him one step closer to fulfilling his dream of opening an Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

Italian 'overwhelmed' after US MasterChef win
Luca Manfé in New York. Photo: Luca Manfé

“It was incredible to bring home the title,” Luca Manfé told The Local on Friday.

“I didn’t expect so many people to be talking about it in Italy; it’s been overwhelming.”

The MasterChef final was aired earlier this week in the US, although Manfé said he found out the good news in April.

His rise to fame has been “a long journey”, as Manfé auditioned for the programme a year earlier but was booted out in the first round.

“I was really devastated, I couldn’t believe it had happened,” he said. Despite making it all the way to the final the second time round, Manfé said until chef Gordon Ramsay read out his name he was convinced he would come second.

“It was like a rollercoaster,” said Manfé, who since filming the final episode has been busy with plans to open a restaurant in Manhattan, New York. He already knows the industry well, having managed a restaurant in the area before winning MasterChef.

“I’m working on a business plan at the moment. I want to open a restaurant with cuisine from Friuli, my beautiful region. It will be something very rustic and homely, attached to my roots,” he said.

Although he left Italy a decade ago, Manfé said he has strong connections to his home region in the north-east of Italy.

“The biggest memories from my childhood are from my grandmother’s house. She would always have a pot on the stove and I remember walking into the kitchen and smelling the food’s perfume,” he told The Local.

“I also sat in the kitchen at home when my mother was cooking. Sometimes I would try to cook something for her and it would be a disaster!”

His culinary experiences as a child will make their way into his Manhattan restaurant and a recipe book, due for release in May 2014.

“I never thought I would have a cook book. But I’m having fun writing it,” he said. The recipes will be both those from his childhood, still remembered by his mother, and those he used to win over the MasterChef judges.

While proud of his Italian background, Manfé said that New Yorkers are working hard to develop their own food culture. “Americans don’t have the variety that we have in Italy, but in New York the interest in food has grown massively over the last 10 years.

“People are getting educated about food and wine; it’s a culture that is expanding,” he said, with help from the Italians. 

Watch the moment Manfé won MasterChef:

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Italian opera star Licia Albanese dies at age 105

Licia Albanese, an Italian-American soprano who for more than a quarter century starred at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, has died at age 105, her family said on Monday.

Italian opera star Licia Albanese dies at age 105
Licia Albanese is known most notably for her role as Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly. Photo: NewYork1956/Wikipedia

The globally revered Puccini specialist, known most notably for her role as Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly, sang 427 times in her 26 years at the Met, performing in 16 operas, and playing 17 characters. Her career with the famed opera company spanned from 1940 to 1966.

She played the lead role of Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata a total of 87 times, setting a record she still holds.

Born in 1909 in Italy, Albanese was known not only for her vocal talents but also the emotional intensity she brought to her roles.

Albanese began her career in the 1930s in Italy, France and England, before immigrating to the United States, where she sang for the first time at the Met in February 1940 in the role of Cio-Cio-San. She also performed for the San Francisco Opera at the time.   

Albanese quickly rose to international stardom, performing with the biggest opera singers of her generation including Jan Peerce and Ezio Pinza.

In 1974 she founded the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to help young singers, and she was awarded the National Medal of Honor for the Arts in 1995 by then US president Bill Clinton.

Albanese was married to investment banker Joseph Gimma. She passed away at her home in Manhattan on Friday.

Listen to Albanese singing in the 1950s: