Three years later, the 46-year-old is living in Rome and pursuing his passion for food on Italian cooking show, Il Ristorante degli Chef.
Broadcast on Rai 2, the show is a combination of both MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen, and begins with a cooking challenge before proceeding to a real kitchen environment in which teams are required to cook for diners in a restaurant.
A graphic designer by trade, di Cecco was convinced to apply for the show by his friend, Joe.
“He’s always told me that I should be doing something with food,” he says.
“I think he is one of my biggest fans. He pestered me every day until I finally gave in and sent a video.”
Though di Cecco admits he didn’t think he’d get past the first round, he’s out-cooked more than 3000 entrants from Italy and beyond to make it to the final nine on the show.
Born and raised in Sydney, di Cecco believes his Australian background gives him certain advantages in the competition.
“Australians are resilient... we’re battlers,” he explains.
“We’re proud of who we are and where we come from. I feel the need to represent my country and prove to Italy that we also know what good food is.”
His main strength lies in having lived in a multicultural society like ours and experiencing different cuisines.
“My cooking style is classic with a twist and I use a lot of spices when I can,” he says.
Di Cecco’s lifelong passion for cooking was sparked at a young age, and he made his first ragù at just 10 years old.
He was raised by Italian parents, who migrated to Australia from Abruzzo in the 1950s and met and married in Sydney.
“My parents both worked long hours and that meant mum was time poor,” he recalls.
“So that dinner was always ready on time, she would get the ingredients ready and have them waiting for me when I got back from school.
“Then she would call me and give me instructions on how to make things.”
A young di Cecco spent much of his school holidays flipping through his mother’s recipe books and replicating the dishes that jumped out at him.
“Cooking was a creative outlet and it still is today,” he says.
Moving to Italy has allowed di Cecco to connect with his heritage on an even deeper level and boosted his creative energy.
The talented cook says he feels like Italy is where he belongs, despite having its challenges.
“I miss the clean streets and the beaches. I miss how easy it is to get around and how much space we have in Australia,” he admits.
“But most of all I miss my family and friends.
“But I compare Rome to a relationship; it’s that girlfriend or boyfriend who you know deep down inside isn’t right for you, but who you stay with because of the passion... the excitement.”
While di Cecco has his sights set on winning Il Ristorante degli Chef and opening up his own cooking school for tourists in Rome, or perhaps a restaurant with an Australian twist, he’s taking it one day at a time for now and soaking up every second of his “dream come true”.
In bocca al lupo!
Watch Valter di Cecco on Il Ristorante degli Chef on RaiPlay.