Food Network & discovery+’s new series Ciao House, hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli and L.A.-based chef Gabriele Bertaccini, premieres on Sunday, April 16 and according to born and bred Valley Girl contestant Jess Mahoney, it’s not your typical competition show.
The new eight-episode series was shot on location in Italy and features 10 rising culinary stars who live together in a Tuscan villa and compete against each other as individuals and in teams to prove their mastery of Italian cooking techniques and dishes.
The competitors navigate alliances and rivalries as they pick their own teams and each week, the losing team must vote off one of their own. In the end, only the last chef standing wins the grand prize, an immersive culinary education across Italy and training with renowned Italian master chefs.
“People go into these competitions with the idea of winning this grand $100,000 or any money at all, which changes how people behave,” Mahoney, who works in the front of the house at Mirate in Los Feliz, tells L.A. Weekly. “I can’t say that I would be any different, but we all went in not really knowing what the prize was going to be. We’re all cooks with respect and appreciation for one another and taking away that money factor really allowed us to be more human. Any amount of money is great, but when it’s $100,000 things can get really cutthroat.”
In the show, during a 105-degree heatwave, the skateboarding butcher who also spent time as a vegan and began her culinary career at the seafood-focused Son of a Gun in Beverly Grove prepares a scallop crudo with gin and citrus in an herb oil.
“I found Tuscany similar to California in a lot of ways,” says Mahoney. “We have such beautiful terrain here and driving through old Tuscany, it reminded me of California. The mindfulness and appreciation for fresh ingredients is similar to how we Californians approach food. We’re at the forefront of which farms our food comes from and how the animals were treated. Italy likes to really keep things local from the farms.”
Contestants get pasta lessons from nonnas, visit vineyards, and learn from butchers who come in and cook meat over open flames in the rustic kitchen villa’s wood-burning stove. Other chefs on the show include Omar Ashley (Avenel, New Jersey); Corey Becker (Brooklyn, New York); Saba Duffy (Framingham, Massachusetts); Trenica Johnson (Houston, Texas); Preston Paine (Dallas, Texas); Sarah Raffetto (New York, New York); Justin Robinson (Atlanta, Georgia); Natalia Rosario (Chicago, Illinois) and Matt Wasson (Staten Island, New York).
“I went in there and knew it was a reality show,” Mahoney says. “But it just isn’t one of those look-hot-in-a-bikini and hope you get a million followers kind of things. Some people in my field actually will watch it, so I really wanted to be super true to myself and not solely focused on winning, but to be a sponge and learn. My greatest takeaway from the experience was meeting and working with the other chefs from all these different backgrounds and some of the best restaurants in the world. Americans think Italian food is a heavy bowl of carbs with hot tomato sauce on top. Ciao House really showcases the diversity of Tuscan fare.”
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