Bensonhurst-based Dino Angelo Luciano makes the cut on ‘MasterChef’
Multitalented Artist and Dancer Competes on Popular Cooking Show
“MasterChef” is just one of the many terms one could use to describe Dino Angelo Luciano. The saxophone player, self-professed androgynous dancer and passionate artist pays homage to his Brooklyn roots as a standout contestant on this season’s “MasterChef.”
Cooking is one of Luciano’s many passions, and it is the one that has shined a spotlight on him. The multitalented California-born, Bensonhurst-bred Luciano’s Brooklyn-sized personality has made him such a standout contestant on “MasterChef,” the popular Fox cooking show hosted by Chef Gordon Ramsey, with judges Christina Tosi and Aaron Sanchez.
The blond-haired, tattooed, eclectic and charismatic Luciano took the time to talk to the Brooklyn Eagle about how he developed his culinary skills, appearing on Season eight of “MasterChef,” his love for the arts, his childhood and his favorite things about Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Eagle: Dino, you grew up in Brooklyn — Bensonhurst to be exact. How has your upbringing in the borough influenced your life?
Dino Angelo Luciano: I was actually born in California but when I was 1 years old I got shipped off to my uncle’s house in Brooklyn. I spent most of my life there.
Eagle: You now live in Murrieta, California.
Luciano: Yes, I’m in Murrieta for the time being. My folks bought a house out here in 2011 and I got a little house in front of theirs, so this is like my little in-between spot. I’m not sure exactly where I want to go next.
Eagle: Do you miss Brooklyn?
Luciano: Oh yeah, I mean I miss New York. Come on, like the energy over there. Most people out here in California are sleeping. But I appreciate how lax people are and it has taught me to take things slower. I’ve kind of got that New York state of mind. It’s stuck in me forever.
Eagle: So it’s the energy of New York City that you miss the most.
Luciano: Oh no, if I had to be honest I would say the food. I mean in what other city can you order Chinese food to your third-story Brooklyn apartment at two in the morning? I mean, everything over here closes at like 10 or 11 o’clock. I mean, you can find better pizza at a gas station in Brooklyn than over here in an Italian restaurant [laughs]. I would take a week-old pizza in the mail from Brooklyn than I would from over here. No offense to California, they have some good food out here, but as far as authentic, like your grandma’s homemade Italian food restaurants, they have very few here.
Eagle: Tell me about how you developed your love for cooking.
Luciano: My family pretty much taught me how to cook. It was my grandmother that showed me everything I knew since I was about 10 years old. I spent a lot of time at home having to be the family chef while the other boys were outside playing stickball.
Eagle: And your grandmother is Italian.
Luciano: She is. We’re all Sicilian on that side.
Eagle: Besides cooking you have many talents. You are a ballet dancer as well. Do you consider that your primary career?
Luciano: Not so much a career as a fitness hobby. I used to ride the subway and see all these ballet girls in their outfits. I always thought it was cool and endearing. And I always wanted to do it, but I never did in New York. It was not until I got to California and ended up trying it out here. I took a couple of lessons from some friends and I realized that it put me in probably the best shape I’ve ever been in — constantly stretching you get your blood flowing just from stretching alone. And the top physical condition you have to be in just to do that stuff. I mean it keeps me cooking and eating and having to try foods. It’s definitely the best workout to stay a skinny chef.
Eagle: And how about your music and film work?
Luciano: Since late elementary school, I took up the saxophone because I was really into jazz music growing up. I played the saxophone for eight years, all the way through high school. As I got older I took piano in college and a little bit of guitar. I just love music. I love playing it. I love making it.
As far as film work, I’ve always loved old films, Fellini films. I grew up on the “Godfather” movies. I love the beautiful visuals in film. Just looking at something even without words and just wanting to go to that place. When I was around 20 or 21 I started writing screenplays and trying to put all to paper and turn it into movies. I never really did too much with it until recently. I started going on this website called backstage.com and applying to independent films so I could help people out and one day put my film out there.
I’m actually working on a cooking show with my director right now who I met before “MasterChef.” My vision is to do a cooking show where we show recipes, a mix between a cooking show and a movie, and make it look like an independent film so that you get character development and show how people are inspired to make food rather than just having them in the kitchen showing you how to make stuff.
Eagle: What motivated you to audition for “MasterChef”?
Luciano: My mother watched a lot of cooking shows. I didn’t watch a lot of TV. I had seen the show a few times. I really didn’t know what to expect, really, which was the fun part about it. “MasterChef” popped up on the same website that I was getting all those independent film gigs. So I applied on a whim, not knowing how serious it could be, because my mother loves the show and I always wanted to be on TV so I could say “hi” to my Ma.
So I applied to it, kept getting further in. I went through the whole process, did all the paperwork and thought that I might actually have a shot to being on this show. I just wanted to do that for my Ma and I ended up on the show and it all worked out.
Eagle: What is Gordon Ramsey really like? Were you ever intimidated to be working with such a legendary chef?
Luciano: He’s intense for sure. I had seen the show and I was super intimidated and worried, but the more I got to know him, the more I got to see him in action, I realized that he is probably one of the most professional people I have ever seen. And he’s definitely a business icon that we should all look up to. He’s always on the go and he’s always hustling himself out there.
Eagle: What have you learned from Ramsey and your experience on the show?
Luciano: Well the truth about Ramsey is that everyone thinks he’s super intimidating. And he is super intimidating for sure, but what they don’t know is that he actually cares about us as people and as chefs, which is why he’s so hard on us. He doesn’t want us putting out bad products, he wants us to be top quality, five-star restaurant worthy. He doesn’t want us to look stupid or be weak. He wants us to bring out our inner strength. And that’s why he’s so hard on us. He inspires us to want to push ourselves to that next level.
Eagle: Now, I have to ask you some Brooklyn questions. What is your favorite restaurant in Brooklyn?
Luciano: My favorite restaurant growing up, because of family nostalgia, would probably be Patsy’s (450 Dean St.). I love Patsy’s. There’s a lot of memories there. When I walk in there my heart fills up. Even if I go there alone just to pick something up, I feel like my family is there with me. We’ve been there so many times I know the whole restaurant. I could walk around there with my eyes shut. I also love Gino’s in Bay Ridge. Those are my spots.
Eagle: Where are some of your favorite places to go in Brooklyn?
Luciano: I didn’t go out too much to be honest. I had my days going out to clubs but I spent most of my time with my family. We always loved food and we always cooked. We were a family of chefs so we never really had to go out.
Eagle: What is your favorite memory of growing up in Bensonhurst?
Luciano: A favorite memory would be in summertime when we would pop out the fire hydrant caps and just run around in a bathing suit.
I definitely want to be back in Brooklyn. I miss it. Probably for the next few months I’m going to do some traveling and go see a couple of other contestants on the show. Just kind of master my craft and figure out some new food. Something to bring back home.
Eagle: Thank you, Dino. Any final thoughts?
Luciano: I definitely do want to start a lot of foundations. The homeless epidemic is terrible, especially in New York. There’s a lot of things that need to be changed.
And I want to be a spokesperson for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s a mental disability that I’ve been suffering from since I was 7 years old. It’s been a giant problem in my life and my family went through a lot of hardships because of it. So I want to put out the message that even with OCD or any mental disability you can go out there and do whatever you want. You can still live your dreams. You can make your dreams happen!
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