Casting directors have been trying to get Preston Paine onto their shows for a while now, he says. But it wasn’t until the opportunity to go to Italy with Ciao House, a Food Network show that debuts on Sunday, April 16, that he took the bait. After getting a DM on Instagram, Paine decided to hop on the phone and feel it out. “I went through the interview process and that ended up being a couple of months long. It went from 100 people to 100 people to 50 people to 20 people. And in the end, I was chosen,” he says.
Paine is best known to Dallasites as the executive chef for Exxir Hospitality, working at Paradiso (among the city’s most-Instagrammed restaurants), Tejas, Mermaid, Botanist, and Casablanca, all found in Bishop Arts. He’s also the co-founder of Shug’s Bagels, one of the city’s best bagel shops.
The show is hosted Food Network star and chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Italian chef and food expert Gabriele Bertaccini. It features 10 chefs facing off against each other and in teams in competitions across various locations in Tuscany. But it’s no Iron Chef Italy — the contestants all lived together in a villa for the duration of the competition and learned techniques from a variety of experts, focused on local traditions.
Diners can expect to see the results of what he learned while in Italy in his dishes. “One of the things that I realized and picked up on [cooking] in Italy, was the beauty in simplicity,” Paine says. “There’s there’s no covering up any of the ingredients or techniques because of how incredible all of the individual ingredients they choose are.” To those ends, Paine says that hearing stories from chefs in Italy who have been buying from the same butcher shop for hundreds of years, over generations, inspired him to cultivate a more mindful approach with his vendors and focus on building relationships with those who have “more family ties to the companies that they’re selling.” It also encouraged him to think more minimally about what goes on the plate at restaurants like Paradiso, focusing on higher-quality ingredients over modern techniques.
As for Shug’s, Paine says he wanted to get involved because, after his time working as chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park in New York City, he was spoiled by the bagels. Moving back to Dallas during the pandemic, Paine says his sister Nila introduced him to Justin Shugrue, who he calls “the mastermind” behind Shug’s. What started between the two as a text invite to see the kitchen and advise on finishing it out turned into Paine becoming an investor, with cash and six months of sweat equity working in the shop. “We’re really proud of what we’re doing there,” Paine says. “Justin has done something in Dallas that I don’t think anybody’s been able to do. And I think it speaks volumes about Shug’s [and how it has] people in line at any given moment, even after being open for almost three years.”
For Paine, who grew up watching Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network and still feels drawn to his charisma, there is a little trepidation on how things will turn out on camera in a competition show. “When I got there, I was was in game mode, I was dialed in,” Paine says. “So, I’m not sure how they’ll edit it. Luckily, there were no big blow ups. Nobody threw anything, nobody cursed. But who knows? Reality TV shows can always be edited differently.”
Ciao House premieres Sunday, April 16 at 8 p.m. on Food Network and discovery+.