Sarah Raffetto brings tradition yet prefers to keep this ingredient off the table, interview

Contestant Sarah Raffetto cooks in the first trial, as seen on Ciao House Season 1, photo provided by Food Network
Contestant Sarah Raffetto cooks in the first trial, as seen on Ciao House Season 1, photo provided by Food Network /

In New York, Raffetto’s is an institution. Whether it is a chef looking for the best ingredients or the home cook wanting authentic Italian flavor, Raffetto’s is the place to go. Currently running the business, Sarah Raffetto understands that she has an obligation to honor that tradition. As she embarks on a new journey via Food Network’s Ciao House, she learns to balance those Italian traditions and learns a few lessons along the way.

The new Food Network culinary competition, Ciao House steps beyond the kitchen. As the chefs live and work together, they explore more than just the cooking techniques and ingredients that are the foundation of Italian cuisine. It is about immersing themselves into the culture, atmosphere, and experience.

Recently, FoodSided spoke with Sarah Raffetto. While Sarah is well known through her family’s store, Raffetto’s, this Food Network competition is more than a way to bring more recognition to that business. It is time for her to showcase her culinary knowledge.

Speaking to her connection to the food industry, Sarah Raffetto spoke about her knowledge and her family’s approach to cooking. She said, “For my family specifically, our recipes are northern Italian inspired so you won’t find the usual, southern Italian suspects here. I have an appreciation for all regions but enjoy our emphasis on non or subtly tomato-based sauces and preparations. This tradition flavors our Italian dishes differently because we’re not a red sauce joint- we pride ourselves on the quality of the ingredients that make up our dishes, namely because we don’t encourage our customers to smother them in sauce. They’re delicious on their own!”

Sarah Raffetto on Ciao House Food Network
Contestant Sarah Raffetto cooks in the first trial, as seen on Ciao House Season 1, photo provided by Food Network /

While Raffetto’s might be an institution, the space has evolved over time. Speaking to those changes, Sarah said, “It had been a long-time dream of mine to own a restaurant, but my dad insisted it was more work than I realized. Sure enough I experienced it firsthand with a restauranteur boyfriend and decided to revert back to my idea of capitalizing on the space we already own and doing popups with minimal overhead and stress. I wanted to indulge in my restaurant fantasy and experience the parts of cooking and hospitality that made me happiest. I sought out female cooks and chefs on Instagram to work with, but never worked with anyone else because my best friend and business partner, Emily Fedner turned out to be the key to everything and my inevitable other half. I have learned so much throughout the past four years since we started Petite Pasta Joint- I am very humble but confident, which is challenging at times. I have learned that I do possess more experience and resilience than I give myself credit for and am constantly hungry to learn more. The repetition and maintenance of Raffetto’s lacked the culinary exploration I now have with PPJ, and it continues to fulfill me as I evolve and grow as a cook. I’m so grateful that I took this chance and have learned that I actually prefer events over a traditional brick and mortar.”

While Sarah has looked to expand the business, those changes had to have people buy into the evolution. Speaking to those changes, Sarah said, “When you own a business that has been around for over a century, there’s a pride in maintaining such quality and yet the itch to create something new and exciting. The balance between traditional and innovative comes naturally to us because that’s how Nonna raised us to take a traditional recipe and if there was an ingredient or adjustment that you preferred because it tasted better, made it yours, etc. then do it! There are countless recipes at Raffetto’s where this has been done and it had shaped my culinary thinking, just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s the best version out there, and making something your own can be exciting if you have the flexibility to modify a recipe. Honor tradition, but yourself and your intuition as well.”

While a family business might need to balance the personalities under one roof, the same can be said about Ciao House on Food Network. Speaking to the personal experience on this Food Network culinary competition, Sarah said, “I didn’t find it difficult to live with the other chefs because I’m pretty easy going, and for the most part everyone got along. Many of them have become and will continue to be good friends that played a role in a significant life experience, and I’m so grateful that we crossed paths in such a unique way. Competing was interesting because one minute you’re on a team with someone, and then you might be against them. Inherently that felt difficult at times, but I think we did a decent job of trying to win while also being respectful of each other.”

Sarah Raffetto on Food Network's Ciao House
Contestant Sarah Raffetto, as seen on Ciao House Season 1 /

Although there is tremendous pressure within this Food Network competition, Sarah appreciated the opportunity that it offered. When asked about what she learned, Sarad shared, “The biggest lesson I learned is that I don’t thrive in a competition setting because I lose confidence competing against others who I know have substantially more experience than I do. In life I am usually more of a leader than a follower, but my modest culinary experience definitely had me questioning myself more than I ever would, even in moments when I 100% knew what the answer was or what to do, but the stress and limitations would turn my brain to mush! It was great to experience because even though I cringe while reflecting at times, so do my supremely talented peers, and it’s something I am aiming to work on going forward.”

Periodically, Ciao House asked the chefs to share dishes that captured their culinary point of view. On the opposite side, the dishes that the chefs do not prefer are not often displayed. When asked about her favorite dish, Sarah said “My favorite Italian dish to cook is also my favorite plate of pasta, pappardelle all fiesolana. Pink sauce holds a special place in my heart and stomach, and this particular dish is the most nostalgic for me.”

In contrast, Sarah said, “A dish I would prefer never to serve is any form of a ‘parm’ because it’s not something I grew up with, yet everyone things we/I make it just because we’re Italian. I enjoy eating it once in a while, but I find it to be a bit overplayed and since both of my grandparents are northern Italian it wasn’t a traditional dish of either of their regions. I joke that Raffetto’s is a, ’no parm zone.’”

Whether or not that no parm zone is part of the Ciao House conversation to the finale remains to be seen. Be sure to watch Sarah Raffetto on her Food Network journey Sunday nights at 9 p.m. or stream episodes on discovery+.