Corporate chef Preston Paine recalls working at Nicola’s ahead of Ciao House air date

Contestants cook in the first trial, as seen on Ciao House Season 1. Photo provided by Food Network.
Exxir Hospitality Chef Preston Paine, who will compete in Food Network competition Ciao House, got his Italian start at Nicola's.

Delizioso! Corporate executive chef Preston Paine is one of ten contestants competing on Ciao House, a Food Network show where 10 American chefs compete in team activities to see who is the most authentic Italian cook.

“I got into the industry for my love of Food Network, so it’s kind of a full circle moment,” Paine said. “For my 10-year-old Christmas I asked for two things. I asked for a new shotgun to go hunting with my dad and I asked for a set of Emeril Lagasse pots and pans. Those two things played a very integral role in my life.”

Paine began his culinary career at Culinaire, where he was a corporate chef, working with teams that developed 2017 James Beard Foundation’s “Best New Restaurant” semi- finalist Esker Grove and 2019 Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient Marisol.

One of the Culinaire restaurants he trained at was Nicola’s Ristorante Italiano, an Italian restaurant in Plano that closed in 2019 after 15 years.

“[It was] a scratch Italian restaurant, all fresh-made pastas. Everything was done in-house,” Paine said. “I pulled a lot of influence from that as well. I learned some really great things from the team that worked there and was able to implement that and some of the challenges that we had.”

After traveling the country in the corporate world, Paine shifted to a lead chef position on week-long yacht charters, where he traveled along Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and Greece. His time in Italy prepared him for the  show.

“I spent months and months and months in Italy in 2018 when I was working on private yachts. I spent time in Sicily, time in Florence, time in Milan,” Paine said. “The Italian influence that I was able to pick up while I was in Italy obviously played a huge role in what I was able to do and accomplish while I was on the show.”

Since leaving the yacht scene, Paine has worked at Eleven Madison Park, Thompson Dallas, Apheleia Restaurant Group, Shug’s Bagels and Exxir Hospitality.

He currently serves as Exxir Hospitality’s Corporate Executive Chef, where he said he has pulled some of the stuff he did on the first episode of Ciao House for the current menu.

“I’ve had the opportunity to explore my Italian techniques and recipes throughout dinner serves and lunch services at Paradiso,” Paine said. “Getting those reps in prior to going into a competition show was super important.”

Ciao House, which filmed its first season in July, is coming out with its first episode on Sunday April 16 at 8 CTE. Hosts/judges Alex Guarnaschelli and Gabe Beraccini will welcome chefs from around the United States to a Tuscan villa where they lived and worked together for the competition, cooking with ingredients sourced from the area.

“The quality of the ingredients was the most surprising thing. Everything there was either from the small compound that we were staying on or within a few miles of the kitchen that we were cooking in,” Paine said. “So for me, just being able to use these really unbelievable ingredients was probably the biggest change for me.”

Now that he is back in Texas, Paine hopes to implement some of that culture in Exxir restaurants.

“After having the chance to work with some really incredible ingredients, I’d like to be able to spend more time doing that in the restaurants here… trying to build relationships with the right people is something that I’d like to be able to take away from the opportunity out there to try and build the same quality of ingredients and the restaurants.”

After Sunday’s episode, new episodes will air every Sunday for eight weeks with one chef going home from the competition each week.

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