Dino Ferrari was sweating. Under bright yellow camera lights and in front of a hot teppanyaki grill in UMU in Dusit Thani, Eastern & Oriental Berhad and Asian Food Channel’s newest celebrity chef was cooking Japanese food for a small but eager group of press. While other chefs only have to worry about making the food taste great, Dino also had to entertain us. Yet despite the pressure, Dino shot us a rueful grin, shrugged off the heat and proceeded to sear two juicy fillets of steak. Indeed, we were entertained. As he prepared different Japanese-inspired dishes, he told us all about his experience in the television show E&O Search for AFC’s Next Celebrity Chef.
“It’s an experience I never want to go through again,” he laughs. “I’ve always just wanted my own cooking show, you know. I never wanted the fame—but I have to admit, the fame thing is pretty nice,” he reveals. When he saw the TV ad in AFC inviting people to try out for the contest, he called his girlfriend right away and asked her to help him with the audition video. And it really was an audition video. “Other people sent in interviews they did or clips of cooking shows they’ve done. My video was like, ‘Hi. I’m Dino Ferrari, and I am AFC’s Next Celebrity Chef!’”
Obviously, he was a charming guy, and continued to dazzle everyone all throughout the show. He actually won the most challenges out of all his competitors—five, in fact, in a span of eight episodes. But his secret to winning wasn’t just his excellent skills in the kitchen, honed during an apprenticeship in a kitchen in France and L’Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne (a top hotel and restaurant management school): It was his personality. “I want to build a name for myself, and be recognized as not only a good chef, but also one that entertains from the heart, making people laugh!” Talkative, personable and funny, Dino loves to entertain people with his food and his stories. It was incredibly fun watching him, revealing tips on searing beef (the pan should be very hot!) and making sauce, seamlessly weaving French cooking terms and Filipino words in single sentences, but being incredibly approachable all at the same time.
Over lunch, he told us all about his varied experiences in the culinary world. When he was just a ten year-old boy, he was bravely ordering escargot and watching cooking shows instead of cartoons. In college, he would concoct recipes in his university dorm using only a rice cooker (of course he had a rice cooker—he’s Filipino!) and a microwave. His apprenticeship in France taught him more than how to be a better cook, but how to be a stronger one, being the only Asian guy there. (“If you’re Asian, you’re automatically Chinese to them,” he chuckles.)
When he worked as a waiter in San Francisco, he practically had to drag himself away from the customers because he loved talking to them. In fact, his experience in waiting helped him with a challenge, where judge and resident tough guy Chef Bruce Lim challenged him to carry one of his elaborate creations. When Dino walked around with it, Chef Bruce just nodded. Apparently, Chef Bruce was the tough guy to please during the show. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s a really nice guy and he’s a big teddy bear that you want to hug,” Dino says. “But he was very tough on us, only because he wanted to get the best from us.”
Later, we finally got to taste sumptuous bites of his creations, my favorite being baked salmon in a cauliflower puree with truffle oil and pieces of heaven (actually I’m not sure, but it definitely tasted like heaven!). He’s definitely not all talk—he’s got the delicious skills! “I don’t really follow rules,” he declared. Whatever he wants to cook, he goes ahead and throws everything in. His specialty, for example, is a white chocolate-wasabi sauce, which sounds insane but has everyone clamoring for it. And he loves butter, having had lots of experience in French cuisine, so he puts it in everything.