Damiano wasted no time in making a mark on the judges. On day one of the competition, he pitched a cold open that spoke of coming to America from Italy. "It was very conversational," Giada De Laurentiis told him. He was so pleased with his first-attempt that he deemed it "perfect," or perfecto.
Each finalist was given a journal to use in the competition, and Damiano filled his with recipe notes and simple sketches of his would-be dishes. Here he jotted down the ingredients to make the beef tartare he presented in the first challenge. Giada noted, "It doesn't really have any flavor." And the panel members wished he had offered them a pastry instead, given his penchant for baking.
Week 2 saw back-to-back successes for Damiano. Not only did he and Joy earn top honors, along with the team of Martita and Erin, after an entertaining travelogue at Los Angeles' Grand Central Market, but he also bested Joy in the Star Challenge. At the mash-up face-off led by Rev Run, more throwdown guests opted to visit Damiano's station than Joy's, and when it came to his taco-clam chowder combo, the panel was pleased with the taste he achieved.
"So when you went camping, you had gnocchi?" a dumbfounded Bobby Flay asked Damiano of his choice to make ricotta-laced gnocchi for the Family Road Trip challenge. Indeed that was the case (and indeed his gnocchi were stellar), but Giada added that he could have done a better job of explaining that. "You did not paint that picture," she noted.
When VIP guest Hannah Hart called to request no dairy in Damiano's Honeymooner's Holiday dessert, Damiano struggled to adjust his menu, explaining: "Everything that I make today, it's dairy. ... I'm screwed." Here he penned a plan to highlight red and hearts in an attempt to symbolize love on a plate, but that didn't change the fact that he had to ditch his plan for gelato.
For Damiano's dessert, instead of going the gelato route, he managed to make sorbet instead, and the dish pleased the mentors; Bobby said, "I think this really plays to his strengths." His presentation, however, left much to be desired, as Hannah noted that it focused more on "familial love" and not "romantic love."
Tasked to hack the turkey baster, Damiano went back to his pastry roots, opting to use the tool in place of the usual pastry bag to adorn his plate of Frittelle, aka fried Italian cream puffs, with a berry sauce. "Last week we asked you to entertain us, and that is exactly what you did," Giada told him, before later revealing that he'd won that Mentor Challenge.
After earning the top spot in a racing video game, Damiano scored first pick of proteins in the tailgate challenge in Week 5. "'Tailgate' — it's a new word to me," he admitted, but he decided to put skirt steak to work in a panini with arugula and Burrata. Bobby thought the sandwich was "a little lacking in flavor," he said, but Damiano shined in his delivery. "He's got a very charming personality," guest judge Robert Irvine noted.
"Your delivery was great. I was there with you in Tuscany," guest judge Duff Goldman told Damiano of his Week 6 Mentor Challenge and presentation in which he offered a risotto-turned-tulip dish. The challenge was to create artful designs with food, and he indeed succeeded, so much so that he earned top honors in that challenge, along with fellow finalist Tregaye.
Damiano was saddled with combining cantaloupe and spaghetti and meatballs in the Will It challenge hosted by the guys of Good Mythical Morning. Damiano, though, said the challenge was "Will it? Will it not?" He indeed combined the two elements, by wrapping melon balls in prosciutto and treating them as meatballs alongside pasta, but the mentors weren't pleased with that decision. "There is almost zero risk in this," Giada told him.
Much to Damiano's frustration, Week 7 started with a brisk challenge when the finalists had to create baked goods out of frozen ingredients. "I'm telling you, I hate it. I mean, it's just not fair, you know?" he said. He settled on shortbread-style cookies and gelato, but thanks to the frozen ingredients, they didn't turn out as he hoped, and the mentors noticed.
"Let's keep the energy high. Everybody was really, really boring," Damiano told his partner, Tregaye, before their demo in the tiki-themed Star Challenge. Though they managed to deliver a spirited performance complete with chants of "Tiki! Tiki!" it may have come at a cost, as they failed to cook and present crucial elements of their dishes. "On the entertainment side, you guys killed it," Giada said. "But does it qualify as a food demo if there's no real food happening?"
No matter that Damiano had never been to New Mexico, he managed to showcase Southwestern-style enchiladas in the Week 8 Mentor Challenge. But true to his point of view, he did so through an Italian lens, as he added creamy ricotta to his dish. "This is like … one of the best dishes you've made so far."
Tasked with presenting the pasta course in a Guilty Pleasures-themed dinner for the mentors and guest judges Alex Guarnaschelli and Trisha Yearwood, Damiano set off to make homemade squid ink noodles, but given the time constraints of the challenge, he ran into trouble. "My pasta is breaking. Usually pasta takes 30 minutes in the fridge to rest. I don't have that time," he explained.
Nothing could have prepared Damiano for seeing his brother, Massimiliano, walk into the kitchen in the Week 9 Mentor Challenge. It was up to Damiano to present his food holiday of Frog Legs Day in a live-stream demo with his brother, but Massimiliano's shyness made it tricky for Damiano. Nevertheless, Giada praised his growth on camera, telling him: "I'm so proud of you. You have come so far." His saltimbocca-style frog's legs were a hit as well, as Bobby declared, "This is the best savory dish that you've made."
The holidays continued into the Star Challenge in Week 9, but Damiano's focus shifted from Frog Legs Day to Cinco de Mayo. At his party with guests, Damiano proved to be "really great at entertaining" his audience, guest judge Tia Mowry noted, and his dishes — a tostada and a pork mole — were standout successes as well. Along with Tregaye, he was deemed safe and advanced to the penultimate episode.
For what was perhaps the most-important cooking round of the competition, Damiano faced off against Jernard, Tregaye and Yaku to earn one of three pilot spots, and he had his sous chef, Rob, to help him — kind of. "Rob, instead of helping me, is slowing me down," Damiano explained, as Rob's unfamiliarity with baking cost Damiano precious time.
Ultimately Damiano managed to finish his St. Honoré cake in time. It was simply "the best dish you've given us — period," Bobby told him. Damiano stumbled a bit in his final presentation, but he recovered and completed the video successfully. His showing was so strong that he earned the opportunity to film a pilot, much to his delight.
Working with director Guy Fieri at Pitchoun, a bakery in Los Angeles, Damiano wanted to showcase the beauty of French pastries in his pilot. His early stumbles on camera didn't last long, as he went on to find his groove and said: "Finally, I'm able to talk. I'm relaxed. I'm smiling. I'm having fun." He ultimately presented an impressive pilot, as Guy told him, "You improved more today from the beginning to the end than I've seen a lot of people do."
Despite a valiant effort and 10 weeks of hard work, Damiano fell to new Star Tregaye in the finale. Looking back on the experience, he couldn't deny that the American dream still rang true for him. "For people out there that don't think there is still the American dream, you know, I hope I can inspire them," he said.