Hanna Haar, of Montauk, travels to Italy's Puglia region to...

Hanna Haar, of Montauk, travels to Italy's Puglia region to compete in Food Network's "Ciao House" season 2. Credit: Food Network

A Montauk chef says hello to “Ciao House” season 2, Sunday at 8 p.m. on Food Network, when Hanna Haar competes with 11 other promising talents to prepare Italian food while living together in a villa in Italy’s Puglia region.

And while the historic surroundings and the potent, powerful traditions of Italian cuisine impacted mightily on her, she recalls by phone with Newsday, real life had a way of affecting her just as much.

“We were down by the docks when we first arrived” in April, says Haar, who turns 29 next Wednesday, “and there's the fishermen that stand on the docks and they have this beautiful, fresh seafood that they caught literally feet behind them. And they’re, like, ‘You want to try some?’ Obviously we're going to say yes — we're chefs. So we're tossing back raw octopuses, raw cockles, all these little raw shrimp. And all of a sudden the producer goes, ‘Stop! Don't eat that food! It's been sitting there five hours while we set up this shot!’ The producers were terrified we were all going to get food poisoning — and two of us ended up actually getting food poisoning!”

She chuckles at the humorous-only-in-retrospect memory. “Those fishermen, they can eat anything. I'm sure their stomachs are steel. But ours apparently were not!”

Under chefs Alex Guarnaschelli and Gabe Bertaccini, one contestant is eliminated weekly as they prepare Italian meals toward the prize of “an immersive culinary education across Italy, training with acclaimed Italian master chefs,” per Food Network. Even during production, the chefs spent time learning from experts, including old nonnas — Italian for “grandmothers.” “That was probably the most valuable thing I took from the show,” Haar says. “That education I received from all these masters, hundreds of years of experience combined.”

The charismatic Haar projects hundreds of years of experience herself. Born in Bethpage and raised in Islandia, she and her younger sister, Jessie, were raised by mom Lynn and late dad Jeffrey Haar, who worked for the Town of Oyster Bay’s sanitation department for 25 years until his death in 2010. He was from a carnival family — his father, Edward Haar, owned the traveling Empire State Shows, and from 1990 to 1999, Jeffrey and Lynn owned and ran a goldfish-game concession with the carnival Silver Dollar Shows.

Then her father died when Hanna was in her mid-teens. “My mother just kind of checked out a little bit and me and my sister were kind of left on our own and it got really rough.” Hanna found her first job at a pizza shop “because it was a place I could get a paycheck and could get something to eat. I didn't have to spend my money on food, and that was very important.”

The Connetquot High School graduate’s rise up the ranks could already fill a memoir. Starting as an overnight baker at Whole Foods in Lake Grove and then the counter at C’est Cheese in Port Jefferson. She soon became mentored by the famed chef Guy Reuge, as pastry chef at his Mirabelle in Stony Brook and then chef de cuisine at his Le Vin in Lake Grove. At age 19, she went through “a crash course on running a restaurant.”

Haar became executive chef at The Montauk Beach House in 2017 before stints and adventures at restaurants in Manhattan, East Hampton, Colorado and Uruguay. Forced to reinvent herself during the coronavirus pandemic, when restaurants closed or severely cut back, she found success as a private chef.

Haar continues to live in Montauk, with her photographer/designer boyfriend Ben Papaleo. But part of her remains the 5-year-old whose parents let her use the microwave for the first time to make her own breakfast.

“It was just the coolest thing to make a hot meal for myself, and I loved waking up every day to cook something,” she says. And cooking proved an anchor in her life. “I grew up watching Food Network,” she says, making “Ciao House” “kind of a full-circle moment.”

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