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My Best Dish Experience: Take 2

February 12, 2016 Menu No Comments

Before I get into the events surrounding the Best Dish pilot taping, I would like to explain to you that I am contractually bound to not share specific details about the taping, nor am I going to give away the final results. The show is currently being shopped around to various networks, and as soon as it gets picked up, I will be sure to let you all know. Although I was selected to be a competitor for Best Dish, this entire project is the creative child of Paul Tucker and Chris Kelly, of 4 Lion Productions. This show is their labor of love, and I was fortunate enough to be selected to be part of it. To give away too many details would be an injustice to their creative efforts. You will, however find some behind the scenes photos and an exclusive one minute teaser at the bottom of this post! Now, on to the conclusion of my Best Dish recap…


The Big Day!

My call time to arrive at the Best Dish taping was 8:00 in the morning. Although my mind was racing just a bit on not knowing what to expect that day, I was surprisingly not very nervous, but rather focused. I had to submit a handful of recipes for consideration a few days prior, and was asked to make my Chicken Cacciatore Casserole, which is a variation of my Grandmother’s cacciatore recipe. So not only was I given a chance to showcase my skills, I was also going to be representing my family’s honor. Stuff had just gotten real!

The episode taping was to take place at the beautifully renovated Dorrance Hamiton Culinary Center, in the University City section of Philadelphia. As I entered the facility, I could tell that production was already well under way. There were a handful of camera, lighting and sound people setting up and testing their equipment. I was immediately greeted by Paul Tucker, one of the show’s producers and one of the gentlemen who I had done my audition for (I would get to meet Chris Kelly, the show’s other producer, not long after). Both Paul and Chris couldn’t have been nicer and more enthusiastic about having me there for the taping. They both treated me as a friend that they may have known for years. I was then introduced to the crew, who all took time from their busy prep schedule to make me feel welcomed. I toured the facility and got to go back to the storage room to pick out whatever kitchen items I needed for the day. This was impressive for me. You name the kitchen gadget, they had multiple versions of it! The ingredients for the recipe were already purchased by the production team ahead of time, so from this point on, all I had to do was prep my food…while on camera. Yikes!

I was then brought into the ‘green room’ to meet the show’s hosts, Ralph Pallarino and Francesca Ruscio. Like the rest of the crew, they were very welcoming and enthusiastic. I also realized that they had much bigger duties than I did for that day, so I wanted to give them their space to focus on their scripts and whatever else they had to prepare for. But when the opportunity allowed, I had some great conversation with both Ralph and Francesca. Ralph is a former chef and owner of a handful of restaurants in the area, and he shared quite a few words of wisdom, which I very much appreciated. And Francesca, who many in the Philadelphia area would know as PHL17’s weather reporter, couldn’t have been more optimistic and encouraging. I knew that it would be a great experience having them both steer the ship.

My next stop would be to the make-up chair. Aside from Halloween and a few Mummers parades from many years past, make-up hasn’t been part of my routine. Luckily, I was in good hands with make-up artist Liz Jacobs. After spraying me with foundation, and adding stuff to my lips and eyes (can you tell that I have zero make-up knowledge?), Liz had me looking better than I have in a long time. And just like everyone else that I had met that day, Liz was just great. A friendly and upbeat personality who really made me feel comfortable and relaxed. Knowing that she would be there to powder me up before each take was nice reassurance!

I was so caught up in this surreal moment, that I had almost forgotten that I would be competing against another home cook. Jess Ragni, my competitor for the day, is a fellow DelCo resident and someone who, like me, is very passionate about her family and their cooking. We immediately got along very well, and spent a good amount of the early down time talking, joking around and comparing life stories while we waited for the day’s fun to begin.

As I said in my introduction paragraph, I’m not going to divulge too much information about the day’s taping. I’ll let the episode itself tell the story once the pilot airs on television. But I will now share with you some of my fondest memories of the day…

The Confessional Chair

The first segment that we taped was our interviews in the Confessional Chair. This is when both Jess and I got to tell our story to the camera, letting the viewers know who we were, why we were there and what out goals were. We also took advantage of this time to do a little fun trash talking about each other. This was a competition, after all! However, once the cameras and mics were off, we were rooting for and encouraging each other throughout the day. I’m not sure if this is how contestants treat each other on other cooking shows, but I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. It was an honor for both of us to take part in the pilot episode, so what better way to get through the battle than with a little extra encouragement?

Into the Kitchen

Once we were done taping our interview segments, it was time to get down to business. We were both set up at our own cooking stations in the big industrial kitchen. I had only been in a professional kitchen one other time, and it was about half the size of the room that I was currently standing in, so it was a bit overwhelming for me. The crew gave me plenty of time to become familiar with my surroundings and the big industrial stove that I would be using. From here on, I had convinced myself that it would be business as usual, and I would enjoy every moment of it.

I had told the crew that because my dish required a decent amount of simmering time on the stove, there would be some unavoidable boring down time. Filming someone stirring a simmering sauce pan for 10-15 minutes wouldn’t make for exciting television. Camera man Chad Jenkins took great advantage of filming the prep work that I was doing, which would make for the more exciting portions of the early cooking phases of my dish. Like everyone else who I had worked with that day, Chad was awesome. He would check in every few minutes to ask if anything exciting was about to go down. Once I gave him the heads up that some action was going to take place, he would jump right in and capture the moment, knowing what angles worked well and best highlighted what I was doing. Aside from occasionally having to stop taping due to the loud, revving sounds of a kitchen exhaust fan kicking in, my cooking segment was pretty much filmed in real time, which I found to be very impressive.

During my down time, while the team were either filming one of Jess’s segments or setting up for a different shot, I really took advantage of soaking in all of the goings-on that were happening around me. Although I have never before been around a film crew of this size, I have been in my own ‘rodeos’ quite a few times. Being a graphic designer by trade, I have been through my share of deadlines and production photo shoots over the years. Being among this stellar production team brought me back to my early days of being a production artist when I worked at CompArt, a comp shop that produced The South Philadelphia Review and The Philadelphia Weekly newspapers. I worked with a group of creative talents, each knowing their role and when to step up to be part of the big job that had to be done. We worked together as a unit, and got each other through the long grinding deadlines, with a beautifully finished product each and every time. Watching this team in action reminded me of those days, and actually comforted me a bit as we worked our way through the long day’s shoot.

Judgement Time

After a long day of prepping our food while being filmed, it was time to plate our dishes and step up in from of the judges. Just as you would see on many other competition shows, Jess and I were to present our dishes to three judges, all who have significant ties to the Philly food scene. This was the moment when my nerves started to kick in a bit. Not so much because of the fear of losing (or winning, for that matter), but rather because I was actually serving my dish to those who have legitimate clout. Here I am, someone who enjoys cooking at home as a hobby, with zero professional experience, getting ready to be judged on my cooking skills. How did I get here, again? Well, I’ll tell you how…passion and love.

Obviously, I can’t share the end results with you…you’ll just have to wait until it airs! Regardless of the final vote, I can honestly say that I came home that night feeling like a real winner. It wouldn’t have mattered if my recipe was voted Best Dish or not. I was blessed with the incredible opportunity to take part in a very special project with an incredible group of talented people. I had mentioned earlier a bunch of the people who I got to work with, but I cannot wrap this up without giving special thanks to James, who was there to help out with whatever I needed that day, whether it be in the kitchen, while filming, or during my down time. I also want to thank Donni James, who also spent time talking with me about food and cooking while he wasn’t doing his production duties (all of the photos below are credited to him and 4 Lion Productions). And I especially want to thank sound guru Artie Amici, who brought levity to the day. Aside from being comic relief, he offered up some great conversation throughout the day, about his line of work, music, and life in general. He is a dude among dudes, and I am a better person for having the opportunity to meet him.

I would again like to thank Paul Tucker and Chris Kelly for giving me such a unique opportunity to take part in their creative labor of love, and I look forward to more opportunities with their team down the road.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you who took the time to read my recap of this fun journey. I am very optimistic that this new phase of my food blog will continue in one form or another, and I look forward to continue sharing the details with you. I had learned so much from this unique experience, and if time and fate allow me to continue working with the Best Dish team, I’ll be sure to give it my all. Of all the things that I learned, I realized most of all that my true passion still lies in sharing my food experiences, techniques and stories with my readers, and I plan to continue this passionate hobby of mine for a long time to come.



The Best Dish Teaser Video and Behind the Scene Photos!

Courtesy of 4 Lion Productions

Best Dish Cooking CompetitionBest Dish Cooking Competition – Chris Kelly Francesca Ruscio Ralph Pallarino Dominic Condo Jess Ragni Kiesha Colbert William Dade – 4 Lion Productions

Posted by Best Dish on Monday, February 8, 2016


Prepping my dish!

Prepping my dish!


Explaining my cooking methods to Francesca.

Explaining my dish to Francesca.



Going over the ingredients.


Presenting my dish to the judges.

Presenting my dish to the judges.



Take 2!



Judgement time!


A Little of This and Some of That: Thinking Outside the (Pizza) Box

February 4, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

The big game is quickly approaching…it’s Super Bowl weekend, and I’m sure that many of you are already planning your game day party. No doubt that one of the signature foods that appears at big game parties, or any type of party or get together, is pizza. In today’s podcast I want to share with you some of my ideas and suggestions on how to put your personal touch on a home made pizza party, with a variety of ingredients and cooking methods…so today, we are thinking outside of the box…the pizza box, that is! Game on!



Crockpot Meatball Stew

January 31, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

There is nothing quite as old-world or rustic as a hearty bowl of stew. To add a bit of an Italian flare to this dish, my family adds meatballs in place of the more traditional cubes of beef or lamb. This is a recipe that has been in my wife’s family for a few generations, and we still consider it one of our favorite comfort foods. Because our schedules are always so busy these days, I’ve adapted this dish to work perfectly in a slow cooker. By using a pound of pre-cooked meatballs (using your favorite meatball recipe, of course), and letting the stew cook on low for at least 8 hours, you can enjoy a delicious old-world meal with minimal effort!




Crockpot Meatball Stew

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 16-oz package frozen peas and carrots
1 29-oz can tomato sauce
1 can (29 oz.) of water (use the tomato sauce can to measure)
1 beef bouillon cube
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional spices – chili powder, crushed red pepper)1-lb cooked meatballs, rolled small

Place all ingredients into a slow cooker. Cook on low temperature for at least 8 hours. Add additional seasoning to taste. Don’t forget the crusty bread for dipping!


I was very honored to have this recipe featured in the January 2016 edition of the Philadelphia RowHome Magazine. The magazine version appears below. Please be sure to check out all of the greatness that my good friends at RowHome have to offer at




My Best Dish Experience: Take 1

January 21, 2016 Menu No Comments

Over the years of writing my food blog, I’ve had a handful of opportunities come along for the chance to appear on televised cooking segments. The first, which was an opportunity to be a contestant on Rachael Ray’s Great Philly Grill-Off competition, almost seemed promising. I made it to the second phase of the phone interviews, but unfortunately the adventure ended there. Not long after that, my wife and I were both approached to interview for a potential Food Network competition show, featuring married couples in the kitchen. That opportunity went as far as a Skype interview with the Food Network, but it seemed as if that project fizzled out all together soon after that. Seeing how a lot of hope and excitement could quickly lead to nothing, I stopped pursuing opportunities to appear on TV. By this time, my food blog was really starting to take off. My recipes were being shared in both the DelCo Times and in the Philadelphia RowHome Magazine, I had a regular guest spot on Lorraine Ranalli’s Cucina Chatter radio program, and would occasionally appear with the Cucina Chatter cast on The Heron’s Nest video podcast with host Philip Heron. Considering that this food blog was all just a passionate hobby of mine, things were really working out well for me. Shooting for a spot on TV was never really part of my plan, and I was totally fine with that.

Just around this time last year, our dear friend Karen (who also happens to be a member of our extended family…South Philly Cousins!) had sent me a lead for a new cooking show based in Philly, that was looking for a host. Karen, who has always been one of my biggest supporters since day one, thought that the opportunity would be great for me. Being that I had started my podcast at this point (which I will be continuing with, I promise), along with the time that I spent on the radio and on the Heron’s Nest, I felt that I may have a chance at this. I was becoming more comfortable with actually talking about food, and was discovering my voice, so why not? I sent in the application, kept my fingers crossed, and just kept on moving along. Time went by, and the application process just became another thing of the past.

Fast forward to July…

Thinking that the opportunity to host a local cooking show was all just another pipe dream, I was both surprised and elated to be contacted in early July for an audition. I had never been on an audition, so I had no idea what to expect, and surprisingly enough my nerves were very much under control. When I showed up at the appointed location, I was asked if I was auditioning to be a host or a contestant. Contestant? I didn’t know that this was even an option! While hosting a cooking show would be fun, actually being a contestant on a cooking show was way more in my wheel house. I explained this to the person at the front desk, and she agreed to ask the people running the auditions if I could interview as a contestant. When it was my turn to head into the audition area, I was told that I would be auditioning as a contestant. Yes!


Image courtesy of 4 Lion Productions

I walked in with coolness and confidence. Again, I never auditioned for anything, and I felt that I had absolutely nothing to lose here. I was told to stand in front of a video camera, under a bunch of hot studio lights. The set-up looked exactly like an audition scene from a TV reality series. My goodness, this was really happening! Seated behind a table in front of me were three gentleman (including producers Chris Kelly and Paul Tucker of 4 Lion Productions) who proceeded to ask me about myself, my cooking style and other various food/cooking-related questions. Surprisingly, I felt very comfortable answering each question that was fired at me. I made sure to reference my food blog as often as I could…after all, it was the passion and dedication to my food blog that brought me to this situation in the first place. Deep rooted family values and the goal of sharing my knowledge and experience with my readers has always been my main focus, and I made sure to stress this while answering the questions. The audition took all of about 10 minutes, but when it was over I felt very confident and happy with the answers that I gave. After a round of cordial handshakes and thanks to the team that hosted me that day, I walked out of the audition feeling like a winner. The gentlemen who interviewed me had nothing but the kindest words to say to me as I left, which was the perfect ending to this unique experience. Regardless of whether I was called back for another audition, or whatever the next step would be, I was given the opportunity to speak truthfully and honestly about my passionate hobby..and it was all captured on film. This was already a crowning achievement for me. I drove back to meet my family for Sunday dinner, and after sharing the highlights of the day’s events, I was brought back to the beautiful reality of making Sunday dinner with my kids, my wife and my wife’s family. Life was good.

Fast forward to mid-December…

Once again, a few months went by and I never heard anything more on the audition. As I just said, having the opportunity to audition alone was both gratifying and an honor…but I did wonder if anything would ever come of this? Well, I would soon get my answer as I listened to a message that was left on my phone…”Hi Dominic, we’re calling to let you know that you have been selected to be a contestant on the pilot episode of Best Dish!”



Next, I’ll be sharing with you my experience of taping the pilot episode of Best Dish. It was an amazing opportunity, and aside from getting to cook on camera, I also got to spend the day with a group of super talented people. You’ll be able to read all about it right here. Stay tuned!


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