Ten rising culinary stars, four of which hail from New York City, are battling it out in the kitchen in a new Italian cooking competition on Food Network.
“Ciao House” is a truly one-of-a-kind competition for Food Network. Hosted by Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Tuscan-born Chef Gabriele Bertaccini, the competitors compete against each other as individuals and in teams to prove their mastery of Italian cooking techniques and dishes, but there’s another twist: all of those competing on the show are living under the same roof in an Italian villa in Tuscany.
The winner of “Ciao House” gets an immersive culinary education across Italy by training with renowned Italian master chefs.
“Ciao House fuses the beauty and culinary traditions of Tuscany into a high-stakes competition,” said Betsy Ayala, Head of Content, Food, Warner Bros. Discovery. “These talented chefs must live together as a family in a jaw-dropping villa and simultaneously compete against each other for the prize of lifetime – it’s not just a battle of cooking skills, in ‘Ciao House’ personal dynamics, loyalties and rivalries create the perfect storm to create one of our most exciting series to date.”
Four chefs with New York City backgrounds are taking on the challenge of “Ciao House”: Matt Wasson, a Staten Island native and a private chef who owns The Tailored Night; Sarah Raffetto, owner of New York City’s Raffeto’s Pasta; and Omar Ashley and Corey Becker, both of whom are Brooklyn-based chefs who have worked in several restaurants in the city.
For the competitors, being in Italy competing in “Ciao House” was an absolute game-changer. Wasson had previously been a competitor on the hit Food Network show “Chopped” and found that being in Italy provided the opportunity to work with higher-level ingredients.
“The ingredients are such a different level. I remember the first time when I went to Rome just smelling the black peppercorns, I only started to cry because it’s just so natural and just beautiful,” Wasson said. “[In] the villa where we were, there was this whole lemon tree that was the size of my head!”
“You be in a studio and have to reproduce things, but when you’re on that soil and you’re using ingredients from out of the garden — when something comes together [like that], it’s like a whole 360-type moment,” said Ashley. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I’m actually here and it actually made me want to do the best that I can’ because I’m actually using these Italian ingredients.”
“Rather than being in the studio in New York, we got to really immerse ourselves in the culture that I love so much. To be surrounded by the ingredients and just being in that part of that world made it that much more special and more of a unique opportunity,” said Raffetto. “In my mind, that made me want to take it out and do the best that I could that much more because it felt extra special.”
“This competition was a much larger scale being on location in Italy and that really added to the pressure and the stress. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform when it comes to cooking, and if the network is gonna fly us out and spend all this money and do all these things, that’s a little added pressure,” said Becker. “You want to make everybody proud, you want to really show up and do the best you can.”
Like in other Food Network competitions, the contestants work against the clock to create delicious Tuscan meals that must wow not only the judges, but their fellow competitors. While some of the challenges are solo, for many of them the chefs had to work in teams to create a meal.
For Ashley and Becker, working in a team was something very familiar to them having worked in bigger kitchens before.
The team challenges didn’t really bother me in a way that I think people would expect if they know me,” said Becker. “It’s like going to work, you’re in a kitchen surrounded by people that you may or may not really even know, especially their skill level, so you just kind of, at least for me, just kind of pivot into that mindset of like, OK, I’m at work.”
Ashley noted that going up against the clock proved to be a challenge throughout the competition.
“The biggest challenge was the time. Normally when you put out food for service or even for a party, you still have time to get it there when you have to,” said Ashley. “When it’s a competition, there’s not a lot of time to get things done, so your mind goes all over the place and you don’t want to miss a step.”
Raffeto and Wasson, on the other hand, found that, though it could be fun and interesting to cook alongside these other chefs, the personalities clashing could be challenging at times.
“You’re going into something that is unfamiliar so you don’t know how you’re gonna get along. What’s it gonna be like me and these people and being like also in the kitchen with them?” said Wasson. “We’re all strong personalities. So just the fact that us having to navigate how to balance out all of each other, that’s a challenge in itself.”
“I found that while I do have a lot of culinary knowledge, I lacked confidence in certain moments. That was disappointing to me because I knew that I would know an answer, but because I was surrounded by people that I felt had stronger skills and backgrounds, I lost my voice a bit,” said Raffeto.
All four NYC competitors are looking forward to the premiere of “Ciao House.” For Raffeto and Wasson, who both grew up in Italian-American households, they are most looking forward to viewers seeing their love for the cuisine that helped shape them as chefs.
“I am primarily looking forward to people being made aware of my family business and how it shaped me as a cook because you don’t always have to go to culinary school to gain life experience and to learn what it is like to be a cook or to be a chef because you don’t learn everything in school,” said Raffeto.
“I think it’s just gonna be my love for my culture. Certain dishes, like, really kind of brought me back to being there but on a broader scale,” said Wasson. “I just felt like we did something so special that truly has never been seen.”
Becker hopes that the show can help viewers get real insight into what they do for a living while Ashley is excited to see everyone’s creativity showcased.
“I would say I’m most excited for people to see that this is really what I do. I would say that the majority of the people in my life have never seen me cook in a professional setting, just because I’m in the back or downstairs or whatever it may be,” said Becker. “So, there really is a completely other side of my personality that most of my friends have never seen. They know me as a relatively quiet laid-back person, but in the kitchen, I am the complete opposite.”
“Everybody did bring something different, with our different backgrounds, culturally, where we’re from, I personally don’t feel like it was a one-sided type of competition,” said Ashley. “I really feel like this group of people were put together to display who they were and I think that they did that in a very beautiful way.”
“Ciao House” premieres at 9 p.m. ET/PT on April 16 on Food Network and will stream on discovery+ the same day. Visit FoodNetwork.com/CiaoHouse to find Italian cooking inspiration and follow #CiaoHouse on social to join the conversation.
You can follow the New York City contestants on Instagram: Raffetto @pastaheiress, @petitepastajoint and @raffettos_pasta; Becker @coreytylerbecker; Ashley @chefbklyn; and Wasson @matt_wasson_ and @thetailorednight.