Just when we thought we had binged everything on Netflix during quarantine, the streaming service premiered the queer fairy-tale reality show of our dreams. Say I Do follows “gayngels” Jeremiah Brent, Thai Nguyen, and Chef Gabriele Bertaccini as they plan dream weddings for eight deserving couples. The precedent of juxtaposing gorgeous weddings and vulnerable human experiences was set in the first episode when Bertaccini revealed his HIV-positive status—a decision he says was unplanned, unscripted, and a testament to the power of sharing your story.
The self-described “passionate Italian chef” and “best dog-dad ever” (his Australian Shepherd named Miele makes a cameo in the first episode) traveled the globe before moving to America. “I landed here when I was 20, so almost 15 years ago,” he recalls. Having made a name for himself in the culinary world since then, Bertaccini jumped at the chance of a lifetime when an opportunity with Netflix popped up. He explains that his involvement with the project was serendipitous, and a perfect fit. “Like anything in life, [the perfect opportunity] comes to you when you least expect it,” he says. “Sometimes you have to let go and surrender, [which is what] I did when the show fell in my lap. I let the universe work its magic.”
Bertaccini admits that he’s had opportunities for his own show presented to him in the past, but they were all too self-serving. When he found out he would be playing a part in a larger narrative on Say I Do, he knew it was the right fit. “What attracted me to Say I Do was that it wasn’t about me, Thai, or Jeremiah, but about the experiences of the couples in the show,” Bertaccini notes. “It makes my trade so much more meaningful.”
It also helped that the chemistry with co-stars Brent and Nguyen was immediate, and their brotherly love was apparent from the very beginning. “Thai, Jeremiah, and I really bonded—it was love at first sight. We felt like we were long-lost brothers.”
Bertaccini chose to share an intimate part of his life in the premiere episode that has received incredible feedback from around the world. “I think that when we open up about our own stories, we give permission for others to do the same. That’s exactly what happened there,” the chef explains. In that episode, groom-to-be Marcus revealed his Type 1 diabetes diagnosis in an emotional scene. Bertaccini empathized with Marcus by sharing his HIV-positive status, bringing all involved, including viewers around the world, to tears.
“Marcus sharing his story triggered me to open up about my own struggles,” he says. “It’s a different diagnosis, but there’s a fear of not being worthy, [questions about] how my life is going to change, shame, and so forth. So it came naturally.” The tattooed tastemaker hopes that by sharing his story, others will be inspired to wear their struggles “proudly on their sleeve.”
“We shouldn’t be ashamed of what has happened to us or what we are going through,” he says adamantly. “I told Marcus I am HIV-positive, and I know what he’s going through. It came very naturally, and it was something I was called to do. It also speaks to the power of food. I did it while we were eating at a table.”
The moment lasted just a few minutes during a segment focused on preparing the wedding menu, but the response was immediate. “From Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Barbados—places I can only dream about at night—messages like ‘Thank you for taking us on this journey,’ ‘Thank you for confirming that I am worthy of love.’ People feeling compelled to express their emotions about where they’re at. It really speaks to the power of the show.”
The series is indeed rich with emotion, but there are also lighthearted moments sprinkled throughout as the chef and his fellow “gayngels” bring the laughs. Bertaccini notes that the viewer feedback he’s received is just further proof that the universe placed the perfect opportunity in his lap. “It resonates with a deeper, broader concept: we have to share our stories,” he says. “The only way to connect with one another and create something magical in this world is through sharing our stories.”
When asked to reflect on what he wants viewers across the globe to take away from Say I Do, the disarmingly relatable chef lands on the importance of love. “No matter what life presents you—hard times, failures, struggles—no matter what you’re going through, there’s always a safe space that you can bask in [as you contemplate] the meaning of life, and that’s love.” While the series focuses on love between engaged couples, Bertaccini reiterates the importance of self-love. “I have so many friends that are single, and they say they wish they had someone to love. I tell them they do—love yourself! You’re first and foremost in a relationship with yourself, so it’s absolutely important to learn how to do that. Learn how to love yourself and know that you’re worthy of love, because you are.”
Bertaccini is using his platform and personal journey to bring people together through food and the power of storytelling to remind us that we are all in this together. He is inspiring people around the world to, in his words, “love more, and to ask to be loved more.”
“When we share what we’ve gone through, we allow others to connect and open up about their own story, and it becomes a beautiful moment,” he says. “You realize you have more in common with someone you may not otherwise know, or even think to talk to.”
Say I Do is now streaming on Netflix. Keep up with Gabriele Bertaccini on Instagram @chefgabebertaccini.