Star-a-Day: Damiano Carrara

Get to know Damiano Carrara, a finalist on Food Network Star, Season 12.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

It was only recently that Star Talk broke the news that an unprecedented 12th season of Food Network Star is set to unfold this summer. For the first time ever, a prequel competition — Comeback Kitchen — will bring together seven past Star contestants for a no-holds-barred battle. The winner of this three-week tournament will join the dozen first-time Food Network Star finalists in the premiere episode on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c. But before the new season kicks off, we're introducing all 12 of the hopeful rivals in exclusive, one-on-one interviews. Keep checking back every day to meet a new member of the cast. Today we'd like you to meet Damiano Carrara.

Growing up in the Tuscan city of Lucca in Italy, Damiano, 30 (Moorpark, Calif.), spent most of his childhood in the kitchen cooking alongside his brother. The two brothers always dreamed of opening their own business together, and they left the Italian countryside for California in 2009 to follow their dreams of opening an authentic Italian pasticceria. Sticking to his roots with traditional Italian recipes, Damiano wants to share his vast knowledge of Italian cooking with a wide audience.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.

Damiano Carrara: Complicated. My point of view, it's pastries. It's desserts, pastries. But I also like to cook. I grew up in Italy, in Tuscany, with fields around me, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh chickens and everything. So, growing up over there, because of all the fresh ingredients, I grew up cooking fresh farm food, so I love to cook that. But then on top of that, I like to do desserts too.

Who are you most intimidated to be working with, Bobby or Giada?

DC: I'm not really intimidated by any of them. I'm actually excited to be working with them. I think it's one of the occasions in your life to learn from somebody that's really good, like both of them. I used to watch Bobby when I first came to America. I barely spoke any English, so it's a nice satisfaction to be next to somebody like that. It's just one of those things that you just want to listen to them and learn.

If you could ask one of them to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?

DC: In the kitchen, I don't know. But outside the kitchen, everything. In the kitchen, everybody has their point of view. Everybody has their way to cook and their way to do things. But in terms of being in front of a camera, talk to the people, get a reaction from the crowd, that's something that you need to work on. Not everybody's the same. And they're great at that.

What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about who you are?

DC: I think that they need to see who I am. That I'm a really honest person. And obviously I'm Italian. I was born and raised there. And I think I can bring lots of ideas in terms of pastries and not only pastries but also, like, real simple Italian cuisine that is done in the most-simple way.

How did you prepare for this competition?

DC: You can't really prepare for something like this because if you prepare you end up rehearsing. ... So the best thing to do is just be yourself. Be yourself and what you know, you know. And just give 100 percent and that's what I think America wants.

Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?

DC: The stress of being in front of the camera, the stress of being in a place like this, being next to important people — it's just a dream come true for me. I came to America seven years ago and I had nothing. I only had a dream. And now I'm doing TV shows. This is not the first one. I opened two pastry shops. I own those by myself. I have employees, lots of employees, 40 employees. It's just an American dream come true.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

DC: I think being able to adapt and being able to turn simple food with simple ingredients, without mixing too much and focusing on what you really need to do rather than start trying to do too much. I already did a competition, so I know what needs to be [done] in order to win. You got to, to plate properly. You got to cook properly. And there needs to be a combination of things. And I think I can do that.

What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?

DC: Maybe acciuga. Acciuga is like a sardine from Sardinia. It's like a little fish from Sardinia. They come in a can. They're fished and then they're put under rock salt alive so they die pretty much, and they can't conserve like that. You take the salt away. You wash them away. You take the bone away. You split them in half. And you put extra virgin olive oil, a little bit of garlic, fresh parsley and chili flakes. And you just eat them like that with garlic. They're called anchovies. They're real anchovies. They're the one that you guys in America hate, but because you're used to the one in the can. Not the one real one from the — yes, they're in a can, but they're real. They're alive. They just preserve them in the rock salt. That's something not everybody has in their refrigerator.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

DC: For pastry and desserts, I definitely will put my hands on fire for the norta della nonna, which is a grandmother's cake. ... It's a double shortbread cake, filled with fresh vanilla cake with sliced almonds and pine nuts on top. And it melts in your mouths and it's a classic from Tuscany. For food ... I love raw meat and raw fish, so either tartare will be nice, but my favorite of all is tartare of filet minion with sauteed fennel inside with a little bit of fresh thyme and mustard served with a nice crostini with extra virgin olive oil with charred a little bit of arugula, which gives a little bit of bitterness and sliced Parmesan on top.

What's your favorite food city to visit?

DC: Tuscany, where I'm from. I mean, it's just the place that gives you inspiration every single time. It's a real Italian food from the past. It never changes, but it always surprises you in many ways. Like, you find new ways to cook with the old ingredients and the simple ingredients you find in your garden. Just the combination of items that you do not find anywhere else in the world.

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?

DC: Cilantro. I hate cilantro. I hate it with all my heart. It tastes like dishwasher. It's just so bad. I cannot stand it.

What's your favorite late-night snack?

DC: Milk and cereal. I like the honey crunch thing they serve over here in America. When I'm super hungry and I have nothing left to eat, I'll eat cereal with milk.

What's your guilty-pleasure food?

DC: I mean, I can have a guilty pleasure every single day at my store, so I don't really have one. But if have to make one, maybe, like, a chocolate truffle with espresso inside. I make beautiful ones. I make very, very good ones.

What is one must-have dish at your last supper?

DC: Definitely some sort of fresh pasta with some fresh fish and a tartare of some sort. That's where I would start. Always a tartare at the beginning, then a pasta, then a second dish.

What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

DC: I enjoy in Lucca [where I'm from in Tuscany] every single thing that I do because I do it with my passion and with my culture, and I bring things to the table that I think that every person in America can make easy. And they have access every single day, but they don't know they can cook it because nobody everybody showed them how to do it. But I think I can do that.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? No

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate. No, vanilla — 100 percent vanilla.

Bagels or doughnuts? Bagels
Cream cheese or butter? It depends. Butter.
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
French fries or onion rings? French fries
White meat or dark? Dark meat
Cake or pie? Cake
French toast or pancakes? French toast
Beer or wine? Beer

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Don't miss the premiere of Food Network Star, Season 12 on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c.

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