‘Ciao House’: Alex Guarnaschelli on Season 2 of the Cooking Competition, ‘The Bear,’ & More

TV Shows

Food Network fixture Alex Guarnaschelli is back alongside fellow celebrity chef and host Gabe Bertaccini for another season of Ciao House. This time the picturesque southern Italian region of Puglia is the chosen destination for the competition. The show challenges a dozen culinary pros from various backgrounds to bring their A-game as they face cooking challenges and maneuver team dynamics. Adding to the pressure cooker situation is the fact these participants have to cohabitate in a 16th-century villa.

Those who win challenges earn the opportunity to lead teams, but that could be a double-edged sword if you’re on the losing side. Guarnaschelli and Bertaccini have the arduous task of helping decide who truly masters Italian cooking techniques and honoring the culture, history, and traditions of the region. In the end, the winner will be named Capo di Casa and receive an immersive culinary education across the country, training with acclaimed Italian master chefs.

Guarnaschelli, who can also be seen working with Bertaccini on Chopped: Battle Italiano, previews what’s to come inside and outside the kitchen.

Ciao House Season 2

Contestants Austin Cobb, Hanna Haar, Phuoc Vo, Brittney “Stikxz” Williams, Ivan Barros, Shannon Rufo Odom, Devan Cunningham, Jan Parker, Tiana Gee, Drew Keane, Maria Lara-Bregatta and Zev Bennett posing in a group shot as seen on Ciao House, Season 2. (Food Network)

How excited were you that the show was getting a Season 2? 

Alex Guarnaschelli: I was thrilled. I met Gabe the night we first began shooting. That could have gone a number of ways, but we completely hit it off. I call myself an expert judge on cooking and competition. I’m Italian American, but I’m French-trained. Gabe is like Mr. Italy, I called him the “Tuscan Terror” for his nickname. The king of wearing a white T-shirt when we have to make tomato sauce. It never fails. We just hit it off. I think right then and there we have the cornflakes and the milk. All you need to do is put it in a bowl. The chefs were also so fantastic. I think Gabe and I were inspired by the cooking we witnessed and the risks taken. We were certainly excited to step into a new villa with a new group of chefs and try to recreate that magic. In all honesty, I didn’t know it could get better because I thought Ciao House was this funny little Italian unicorn that ran out of the barn and around the field and was fantastic. It may be more magical this time.

What made Puglia stand out to you?

First and foremost Gabe was from Tuscany. So the first season, he invited us to his literal backyard. In Puglia, it’s in the South. Gabe and I were always joking about the tagline for Puglia. We settled on the breadbasket of Italy. That’s apparently what it is called, and there is great bread. I was equally impressed though with the produce and seafood. It was magical. We have different groups of chefs, but also different ingredients to channel in terms of local cooking. I think the seafood is hard…I also think seafood is good for one minute and the next it’s terrible. Or if you overcook it there is nowhere to hide.

That inherent body of ingredients the chefs were able to work with was very delicate. They required and demanded a delicate hand. I know people think I’m the tough crowd, but we’re in Italy. Gabe can get grumpy. I don’t know how many great-grandmothers he had, but it seems at some point one of them was offended. That was fun to unpack. I enjoyed watching the chefs cook and be creative, but I equally enjoyed Gabe. We sort of felt like mom and dad with the kids at the villa.

Gabriele Bertaccini and Alex Guarnaschelli on Ciao House, Season 2

Food Network

What stands out about this show is the competitors are living together. That can bring its share of drama. It’s something we don’t typically see from Food Network fare. 

I think Food Network is exploring the concept of chefs living with each other. That kind of house reality added another layer. Of course, you’re going to then let in a lot of spaghetti but a lot of tears in equal measure. When chefs are under the gun or thrown under the bus, we’re kind of like pirates. We can kick it into high gear and bust out the rum and swab the deck or go stoic and steady and quiet. After the competition, they have to go to their rooms and look at each other and go to bed, and get up in the morning.

They could be drinking their coffee and shaking off the night before with the person who threw them under the bus staring at them. There is no relief. It’s unrelenting. I know this sounds funny to say but there is something unbelievably dramatic about it is also wonderfully playful about it. You also see a lot of growth within these chefs along this journey…A lot of these chefs run kitchens or are in charge of their thing. Now they relinquished that. Not everybody processes that well if you know what I mean.

The Bear has been so popular. Do you think it’s inspiring people to get in the field? 

I think people watch it like they watch a movie. I don’t know if it necessarily sends people to culinary school the next morning. I think it’s more about examining a lifestyle that people don’t know a lot about. I think Ciao House on the other hand would inspire someone to go to cooking school or go to Italy to explore what it has to offer. Don’t get me wrong. I like them both. It’s an apple and an orange. It’s a dramatization of a group of people. It’s not a competition where it’s a group of people or family that gets smaller every week like ours. That changes a lot. The Bear is a delicious, thick-skinned, tasty floral navel orange. Ciao House is a juicy Italian fuzzy sweet sun-ripe peach. It’s not the same.

You’re used to fancy meals. What’s your idea of a guilty pleasure meal that isn’t so fancy? 

I’m a New Yorker. I was born and raised in New York, so my guilty pleasure is weirdly not in New York. One of my favorite things to do is to go to In-N-Out Burger closest to LAX on Sepulveda Boulevard. and eat a double-double animal style in the car preferably with tinted windows so you have privacy. I want an icy cold soda with bubbles going up my nose. That feeling measures up to one of the most fancy restaurants I’ve ever eaten in.

That’s amazing. You there with Gabe would be a fun visual. 

He lives in Los Angeles, so believe me, we’ve had In-N-Out Burger together. We even have the same dogs, Australian shepherds. We’re dog parents. We chill and genuinely love each other. We hope that comes across on the show.

Ciao House premiere, May 19, 8/7c, Food Network 

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