The eighth finalist to leave the contest, Dom, a food truck owner from Staten Island, N.Y., left an impression on the judges with over-the-top, phenomenal cooking chops, but it was his weak camera presence and noticeable nerves when presenting — even eight weeks in — that caused his demise.
"As I'm trying to think about what dish will represent me best, I decided on ... " Dom wrote in his journal about how he came to execute poached shrimp and caponata for the premiere episode's food festival. "There's flavor here," Bobby said, pleased with Dom's initial offering.
Come Episode 2's leftovers challenge, Dom felt confident, explaining, "This challenge plays to all my strengths." Sure enough, his dish of pasta with salsa fresca impressed the judges, Giada saying, "The sauce is so fresh and has so much flavor." But as would soon define his stay in the competition, his camera work proved to be his weak spot. "How do I get past the nervousness in front of the camera?" he wondered afterward.
"Heading into the studio, I'm not even sure I'll be able to stay awake during today's cooking challenge," Dom revealed of how he was feeling during the baking test. "When the judges break down exactly what we're doing, I thought my head was going to explode. But then the perfect dish occurred to me," he wrote of his plan to make a pasta-filled pie, something that enamored Bobby.
Week 3's Mentor Challenge tasked the rivals with making a photoworthy dish that would entice Bobby and Giada. Sure enough, Dom succeeded in whetting the judges' appetites through a snap of his eggplant Parm, which Bobby found to be "well-seasoned." Dom's presentation, too, was so improved that Bobby and Giada crowned him the winner of the contest.
After earning an advantage from his Mentor Challenge win, Dom was able to select the teams for the dinner parties. "Boys versus girls," he revealed. He was tasked with preparing a stinky main dish: chicken with blue cheese polenta. While guest judge Sunny Anderson deemed the dish "awesome sauce," the Committee could tell from Dom's presentation that he's wasn't comfortable in his performance.
In perhaps Dom's greatest letdown of the contest, he was forced to give up the rib eyes he bought for the July 4th cookout after the Committee introduced an ingredient switcheroo. "They steak was so beautiful I picked out," he said. Instead he used flank steak, and he explained, "If you walked into a restaurant and ordered a rib-eye steak and they gave you a flank steak, how would you feel?
It was all about creating love on a plate in the Week 5 fusion challenge at Patina Restaurant, but Dom and Michelle weren't able to find a harmonious accord in their partnership — at all — as they bickered over their dish and presentation. "Like a true marriage, the husband can't get a word in edgewise," Dom said while presenting, much to the shock of the crowded room. "That was painful to watch," Giada admitted.
For the second time this season, Dom ran off stage before time was called during his four-minute demo at the comedy club. (The first time he did this was at the July 4th cookout.) "I don't know what else to say or do," Dom explained. "When it was over, it was over." While his duck was well-received, he appeared awkward on stage as he struggled to engage the crowd: "Anybody here eat duck on the regular?"
Challenged to deliver a portable brunch dish in only 20 minutes, Dom prepared eggs Benedict with meatballs, complete with poached eggs, something Giada struggled to eat neatly. He had a shining moment in his presentation, however, as he spoke of his buddies coming into Manhattan from Staten Island for brunch, which garnered laughs from the judges.
Working together on Team Taco in the Week 7 food truck challenge, Dom and Alex opted for the hilarious concept of Hot Slap Tacos, showcasing super-spicy tacos. The guys promoted their products via a slapstick video in which they delivered on their name literally by slapping each other. "I knew I was going to have to act a fool at least once while I was here," Dom said afterward. After viewing the cut, Bobby said, "It's insanity, but it's a funny concept."
In what would ultimately be Dom's last week of the competition, he experienced both extreme highs and lows. He seemed to have made a comeback in the Mentor Challenge with a strong presentation of his branded chicken cutlets. "For the first time in this competition, I really feel like I belong in the room," he said after Bobby and Giada noted his growth.
But of course as was the case with Dom throughout the competition, his high moments didn't last, and come the Week 8 Star Challenge — filming a holiday video — he once again faltered on the camera while talking about Christmas Eve fish stew. "He sounded scripted, which kind of bummed me out, because we've been telling him not to do that," Bobby noted.
"There's no magic here. We know that you can cook," Bobby told him. "But these gentlemen next to you, they're all good cooks too. And they're all really good in front of the camera." After learning that his time had come to say goodbye, Dom reflected on his journey: "If I said this was the most-worthwhile thing I've ever done, that would be an understatement."
Four rivals were in the running for three available pilot spots, so it was up to the guys to cook the dish of their lives, Bobby said. Dom chose Matthew as his sous chef to help him in this all-important challenge, for which he prepared homemade agnolotti and a savory Bolognese sauce.
"Without a doubt, Dom is the most-improved person," Bob said of Dom after watching his final presentation. Dom's skills and ease on camera following his growth on Salvation were so great that he earned the right to make a pilot. "You've come a long way," Bobby told him afterward. And Dom admitted, "It was like Mount Everest, this whole thing."
After a few early jitters during the taping of his pilot, which veteran Rachael Ray helped him through, Dom admitted, "I feel the juices flowing." He filmed at John's of 12th Street in New York City, where he sampled the restaurant's classic Tuscan ragu and chatted with diners. "This journey has worked out so much better than I could have ever imagined, than I could have ever dreamed and hoped for," Dom reflected later.
On the day of the all-important reveal, Dom was simply grateful, telling the Selection Committee, "I couldn't be happier to be in this position." No matter his impressive journey back into the competition, though, he didn't manage to clinch the title; Dom fell to new Star Eddie Jackson.