Luca Manfe is probably not a person one would associate with Washington, or Daviess County.
He's Italian, lives in New York and is one of the top finalists on the FOX TV show MasterChef. But Manfe is connected to this area through his wife, former Washington native Katherine Arnold, and has made it to the top 10 on the reality show.
The rise from a restaurant manager to a finalist on one of the most popular reality shows this summer has found a following across the country as people have followed the show as the bombastic Gordon Ramsey leads the search to find the next great chef. Manfe has caught on with audiences with his skill in the kitchen and never-give-up personality.
"It is very exciting," Manfe said about the interest he has gained from the show. "People follow the show. It's awesome to read the posts on Twitter. I try to keep up for an hour so every day."
While cut the season before, Manfe did not give up and worked hard to become a finalist this season. During that time, he worked hard on his cooking, reading cookbooks and watching online videos. Since then, his skills are sharper and has become one of the favorites to win the grand prize.
"In the time between, I have improved this year," Manfe said.
And he has also survived in the face of pressure from the show's judges, Ramsey, award-winning chef Graham Elliot and successful restaurant owner Joe Bastianich. At first, the pressure to perform was intense, but he learned how to deal with the spotlight, even if that comes with Ramsey's trademark outbursts.
"That can be very tough," Manfe said about Ramsey when he yells. "Then you understand he is teaching."
He said the experience of learning from chefs and restaurateurs who have gained the highest honors in the restaurant world has been a great education.
"We are connected to the judges on a daily basis and they give us a lot of advice," Manfe said.
While Manfe might be known for his Italian cooking based on his heritage, he brings a diverse repertoire from the restaurants he has managed. In fact, he met Katherine while managing a Japanese restaurant. She came in for a job, Manfe said.
"She was very cute so I hired her," Manfe joked. "It wasn't love at first sight."
Recently, the couple visited family in Daviess County for the Fourth of July holiday, driving from their Astoria, N.Y. home to Indiana with their two dogs. Luca said it reminded him of his original home of Aviano, Italy.
"I'm a country boy, I grew up in the country," Manfe said. "Every time I can get out, I enjoy it."
The couple visited the Arnold family in Washington and also got to see what southwest Indiana has to offer, including Newburgh's historic district and Daviess County's Amish country.
"It was so green. The pictures we took were beautiful," Manfe said.
During their vacation, Manfe got to keep in touch with his in-laws who have since become some of his biggest fans. Count his father-in-law Mike Arnold in that group.
"I'm proud of both my daughter and him and they are making a go of it in the big city," Arnold said. "There's a kid that looks like he is going to make it."
While Manfe couldn't divulge what was going to happen the rest of the season, he said Wednesday's episode where the contestants faced a challenge on the campground was exciting.
"I've never been camping in my life," Manfe said. "It was really in the middle of nowhere."
His dream is to open his own restaurant in New York, something that he has been working toward. He also has other ideas, like a chain of gelato shops.
"I want to do things step by step," Manfe said. "The restaurant is something I have been working towards for 10 years."
Fans of Manfe can follow him online on Twitter and on Facebook at MC4Luca.
Local fans of Luca Manfe can follow his road to MasterChef glory on Twitter and Facebook at MC4Luca.