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In Tuscany, Ciao House shows promise, but struggles to find its point of view

In Tuscany, Ciao House shows promise, but struggles to find its point of view
Ciao House hosts and judges Alex guarnaschelli and Gabriele Bertacciniciao (Photo by Food Network)

The same-sameness of so many Food Network competitions is due to location: a studio with identical stations, pantry against the wall, judges at a table.

You can do interesting things in those spaces, but it’s also easy for them to all blur together.

Location is a big part of what sets Top Chef apart in the food cooking space: Despite having a beautiful studio space, it takes the competition elsewhere almost every episode, even if it’s often using those spaces as mere backdrop.

Thus Food Network’s newest competition, Ciao House, announces itself as immediately and significantly different, as the green hills, vineyards, and tall trees of Tuscany appear in its opening moments.

The photography is not as skillful or alluring as on other shows, but it’s certainly more visually interesting than most studio shows.

While Ciao House’s season preview suggests the chefs will venture out into the Tuscan countryside, the competition’s home is a massive villa in stunning Tuscany, Italy. Its rustic kitchen is modern but seems to have been cooked in for years, not constructed out of plywood last week for our benefit.

It’s a refreshing and beautiful setting. So what about the competition that takes place there?

10 people posing in three tiered rows; those in front have their arms clasped in front of them
The chef contestants of Food Network’s Ciao House (Photo by Jay Maidment SMPSP/Food Network)

As a fan of reality TV competitions and food competitions, I appreciate when Food Network wanders outside its lane, but in recent years, it’s struggled to do that with confidence.

After one episode, which is on YouTube, Ciao House shows a lot of promise, but also a level of insecurity about its difference.

The first challenge is standard stuff: show us your culinary point of view, in 45 minutes. The winner gets an advantage, the loser goes home.

The chefs are split in half to cook, so the kitchen isn’t overcrowded. Yet the second set of chefs is given a huge advantage: they get to hear the critiques from the first group.

That matters because, as private chef Trenica says, “I’m not sure what they’re judging on.” She’s concerned that making a jambalaya arancini may not be Italian enough; it turns out to be exactly what the judges want.

That’s a problem for a competition. Obviously, the food has to be good. But is this an Italian food cooking competition? Or a cooking competition in Italy? Ironically, it’s Ciao House that needs a point of view.

10 people standing and posing in front of two people who are sitting at a small table covered with a tablecloth; their backs are to us
Ciao House’s contestants face the first judging in episode 1 (Photo by Food Network)

Alex Guarnaschelli hosts and judges alongside chef Gabriele Bertaccini, who you may recognize from the one-season Netflix show Say I Do.

Alex is excellent here: more relaxed than usual, with specific commentary that’s both supportive and zesty. She’s extremely complimentary to some chefs, telling one, “I don’t know if I would have been this smart.”

Judging a dish that she and Gabriele agree is too spicy, but Alex says: “I don’t care. I can’t believe you made fresh pasta in this amount of time.”

This seems like the kind of show that would have benefitted from not eliminating someone every week, for letting them just stay and cook, learning and growing.

Alex seems to agree. On Twitter, Alex wrote, “We didn’t feel ready to send anybody home yet, as we were really just getting to know everyone.”

Alas, someone has to go, and off they do. (The show is produced by production company Super Delicious, which also produces the staples Cake Wars and Cupcake Wars, and the disaster that was Candy Land.)

But the elimination makes little sense—and the show has one of its other contestants commenting on that. When the judges declare the bottom two are Justin and Jess, Trenica says, in an interview, “Omar didn’t complete his dish. They said they felt like they were eating baby food. I felt like he was going to be the one to go.” Why wasn’t he?

10 people standing and posing in front of two people who are sitting at a small table covered with a tablecloth; their backs are to us
Ciao House’s contestants face the first judging in episode 1 (Photo by Food Network)

Trenica, as you can see, gives good quips, and the producers go to her a lot for commentary in the premiere episode.

“What the hell? You got about six little uncooked food—salads, whatever, on your plate,” Trenica says about another contestant’s decision to serve a raw plate. “They cook food in Italy. That did not show me any skills at all.”

Another contestant, Preston, comments on Jess’s raw food by saying, “I need to think about this answer, because I don’t want to be an asshole on TV.”

But based on the constant commentary from other chefs, the producers seem to want assholes, or at least they want the chefs to criticize each other. The cooking is constantly interrupted by commentary; everyone is always nervous, or judging, or both.

I did, however, appreciate when the contestants criticized the show. Here’s Trenica again, after learning that, starting in episode two, the chefs will be in teams. “That’s kind of really jacked up,” she says, adding that “having competitors cooking as a team, it’s a little challenging and scary.”

Why are teams necessary? Is this an Tuscan thing? Nah, it’s a conflict and drama thing. It seems Food Network couldn’t let the show relax into the Italian countryside.

“You didn’t think you were enough,” Alex tells one contestant while critiquing their dish. While the season may surprise me, I kind of wish she could have said that to the network and/or producers, too. Because there’s something different and interesting here, and leaning into that would have been enough without bringing in the overly familiar.

Ciao House

Alex Guarnaschelli’s Italy-set competition has a promising location, but parts are already falling into a well-worn rut. B-

What works for me:

  • The location
  • Alex’s judging

What could be better:

  • More of a point of view for the show
  • Not falling into the same tropes as other food competitions
  • Fewer soundbites, more cooking

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Tuesday 6th of June 2023

It's over. I found this to be the least exciting cooking contest ever. That I thought of the 'Funeral March' playing spoke volumes. I'm a fan of 'blind judging' to be the best unbiased type. No one appeared to enjoy being there.

l. pell

Monday 5th of June 2023

I've watched every episode but what bothered me in the beginning still stands: casting Corey as the villain. It's artificial, it's obvious and now it's repetitious. I mean - having him sip his coffee, taking a break while the 2 ladies are scurrying around to complete their shopping felt very very scripted. And both Alex (!) and Gabriele are becoming so arrogant and deliberately snotty, makes me want to slap them both. Actually Gabriele - just my opinion here - is acting like he feels threatened by Corey's skill. This show had great concept and location but I'm liking the "lead actors" (and that's what they are doing - acting) less and less with every episode and that's hard to believe with someone who is usually so warm as Alex. It's like there were writers for each episode and that nothing was naturally and authentically ....performed. Doesn't feel natural all. Which leads me to - how were these contestants chosen? To play pre-written characters?


Monday 29th of May 2023

Very disappointed that they brought all the competitors back after they failed in order to have a "second chance." Not fair at all. I don't even feel like watching anymore.


Monday 29th of May 2023

@Christine, it's as if the producers etc do not want to give up. OMG the ones that didn't cook before, didn't cook this time; the ones who over complicated before, ditto, and the arrogant ones, returned, with even more arrogance. So in the end, nothing changed. The thoughtful ones, remained thoughtful and the clueless remained clueless and pitiful.


Sunday 28th of May 2023

Its Survivor in Tuscany - not about who is the best chef, but who is best at making voting alliances.


Thursday 25th of May 2023

I think that this is the most negative and boring show that I have ever seen. So much negativity. Not enjoyable at all.