Ciao House, Food Network’s Tuscany-set cooking competition which is approaching its finale next week, had everything going for it: an outstanding location, a rich culinary history to draw from, and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and her friend and chef Gabriele Bertaccini as mentors and judges.
The chefs also learn from what Food Network described as “local experience[s] steeped in tradition,” which ranged “[f]rom real-life nonnas showcasing how they make pasta from scratch to a lesson with the head butcher of a three centuries-old family butcher business.”
Then, the chefs were tested based on those lessons, preparing meals for Alex and Gabe, and for each other. They all sat around a wood table and ate together, tasting and commenting on each other’s dishes.
This was a perfect setup. So why was did it produce such a massive fail?
From the way Ciao House was presented, I expected a format similar to Netflix’s School of Chocolate, on which pastry chefs also competed in teams, judged by Amaury Guichon.
While I thought that show had too much manufactured drama, it did make one brilliant choice: keeping all eight contestants through all eight episodes. Those who didn’t do as well got one-on-one feedback from Amaury Guichon, and therefore an opportunity to get better.
With just eight episodes and 10 chefs, Ciao House could have used this format.
That would have allowed the 10 chefs—Omar Ashley, Corey Becker, Saba Duffy, Trenica Johnson, Jess Mahoney, Preston Paine, Sarah Raffetto, Justin Robinson, Natalia Rosario, and Matt Wasson—so savor their time in Tuscany, learning from Alex and Gabe and all of the experiences.
It would have also allowed them to connect with each other—competing, yes, but also sharing in their common experience.
Instead, as I wrote in my review of the premiere, it sent home one person for a nonsensical reason, and then just got worse from there. That was a fatal decision, at least in terms of Ciao House’s potential.
The deliberations were awkward, just the chefs standing around in the dirt and turning to each other and then turning back around to cast their votes out loud.
If a show is going to do voting, it should at least give it some formality and weight, like RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars does (even though voting doesn’t work there, either), or make the ritual seem like less of an afterthought.
Why not have everyone gather around a table to discuss and vote?
Having a competition where competitors vote each other off is nothing new, but doing that 1) in teams with 2) just 10 contestants totals meant many of the decisions came down to friendships or alliances, none of which were developed enough to make them interesting.
If you want a strategic show, make that! But Ciao House produced drama that is both unnecessary and unearned.
This format flaw opened up a dam that allowed a torrent of the Internet’s misogyny. At the end of episode five, Sarah and Saba voted Corey out of their three-person team—because that was the best move.
Saba admitted that. “I want to get rid of the strongest player,” she said. Of course, the player, not the game, got all the hate. (And let’s not forget Corey screwed up a farro dish admid all this.)
Sarah, meanwhile, was criticized both on the show and online for making it farther in the game because she’s not as strong a chef.
Preston said, “It’s really tough. To see Sarah still here is difficult for me because I know how badly Corey wants to be here.” Oh yes, Preston, it’s only Corey who wanted to be there.
Cut to Sarah crying, and then buying into this very dumb argument, saying she made it to episode six with “a bit more strategy and luck than out-chefing my peers.” Of course you did! That’s the game.
When even the show’s own contestants are blaming themselves, that’s a signal that the format doesn’t work. Survivor players certainly struggle with decisions and relationships, but they know they’re there to compete based on strategy, not talent.
At every opportunity, the producers tried to ramp up the tension. Preston and Corey, as team captains, got to go to a cheese tasting, and then select cheeses their teams would cook with. That was revealed t the other three contestants as a kind of gotcha moment: haha, your captains went and you didn’t! There were five people left! Why not take them all?
All of Ciao House was unnecessarily structured around creating that kind of artificial drama, instead of giving more time and attention to the chef’s work, and everything that surrounded them.
Although they lived together, they might as well have been staying in a Hampton Inn on an interstate exit, that’s how much it seemed like they were in Italy together.
There are more unnecessary twits to come: Food Network teased that, in the penultimate episode, “The two remaining chefs’ finale plans are turned upside down when hosts and judges Alex Guarnaschelli and Gabe Bertaccini invite some ‘familia’ back to the villa for one last chance at redemption.”
Ugh. How dumb and uninspired. Again, why not just keep everyone for the entire eight episodes? And why take the success of the two finalists away from him?
In the finale itself, there will be “a cooking duel to see which previously eliminated chef will earn a spot in the finale” and its “winner will join the other two finalists to cook one last meal,” Food Network said.
Whoever wins after all that—whether it’s Saba continuing to dominate or Corey coming back from the dead to win—good for them, and my deepest regrets that they had to go through this to get there.
Instead of leaning in to the joy and experience of living together in Tuscany, and experiencing its food and locations, Ciao House took that away from the chefs, and stuck them into this wreck of a show.
A great set up, which I originally graded a B-, but since that was followed by terrible execution, for the whole season it’s a D
What works for me:
- The location
- The lessons in Tuscany
- Alex and Gabe as a duo
What could be better:
- Allowing everyone to participate in the lessons
- The voting format
- The unnecessary drama