Interview with Iron Chef Judge Donatella Arpaia


Iron Chef Judge Donatella Arpaia shares her cooking secrets, her favorite places to eat, and her pregnant cravings.

Donatella ArpaiaNew York, Aug. 2011— Donatella Arpaia is a restaurateur, cookbook author, Iron Chef judge and soon to be mother. As a frequent judge on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America and the Next Iron Chef, she’s become a household name.
The route to becoming one of America’s top restaurateurs wasn’t exactly a straight one, though it was a natural one. She studied law and even became an attorney, but her love of food—inspired by her Italian family—kept calling to her.
Growing up Arpaia spent summers in Naples and Puglia, where her family’s focus was decidedly on the kitchen. Each aunt had her own specialty, whether it was pressing olives for olive oil, preserving vegetables, jarring tomato sauce or making fresh pasta by hand.
“Some of my happiest memories involve food and family,” she says. That’s precisely what was the inspiration for her to take a chance and open Bellini, her first restaurant, the success of which led to davidburke and donatella with Chef David Burke. Later, she teamed up with Chef Michael Psilakis to open Dona, Anthos and Kefi. Donatella is her tenth restaurant and Dbar her first bar/lounge.
Arpaia, sat down to share her take on everything from the best New York pizza to her cravings (she’s currently eight months pregnant) to what she really thinks about her fellow Iron Chefs.

What’s hot in New York right now? Besides Donatella?
Gourmet food trucks. The craze that started in LA has now fully entrenched New York City with everything from Tacos, Barbecue and Burgers to cupcakes and pastries…with every ethnic category offered in between. It’s affordable and fun.

What’s your favorite place for pasta? What do you order there?
Fiorini on 56th between 3rd and 2nd avenues. They do the classic dishes like Bucatini Amatriciana really well .

I don’t like huge gourmet burgers. I love classic joints like JG Mellons. Its a big chef hangout – its open late and the burgers are awesome!

The best place for pizza is, Donatella of course! Ever since I created it I can’t eat pizza anywhere else. I think it’s the best Neapolitan pizza in New York City.

Coffee? Espresso? What do you drink?
Both – I drink espresso in the afternoon and American coffee in the morning, but I use espresso beans to brew my American coffee. I like my coffee really strong.

Ice cream? Favorite flavor?
Grom—coconut. I’m obsessed with coconut (especially since being pregnant).

Seafood? Favorite dish?
I think David Pasternak of Esca does an incredible job with seafood. I love his crudo and fritto misto.

Fine dining? Favorite dish?
I love the look of Daniel. It’s old New York but modern and fresh. For food, though, my favorite is Jean Georges. I still think about his young garlic soup.

Street food?
Although popular, I have a very sensitive stomach so I stay away from most. I do like the fruit drinks and smoothies.

What restaurant do you find yourself at often, besides your own?
I’m always trying something new because I am always looking to learn so I don’t really have regular hangout places. Not to mention after 15 hours per day in your own restaurants it’s hard to frequent any others.

What cuisine do you love besides Italian?
Japanese – I love sushi, sashimi and soba noodles. I’m a big fan of soba Nippon.

Who cooks at home?
Me, of course! Best to have only one cook in the kitchen and my husband likes it that way.

Have you been craving anything since being pregnant?
I have gone through phases. In the beginning tons of citrus, oranges and tangerines, then lots of pasta and starches.

What’s food fad you are tired of?
I am tired of chefs playing with molecular gastronomy. There are few chefs that do it well. Most need to get rid of their smoking gun and sou vide machine if they can’t execute properly.

What’s a good easy recipe?
Pasta with oven roasted tomatoes topped with burrata – so good!

What’s the last book (not a cookbook) you read?
Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I found myself laughing out loud repeatedly.

Three words that characterize your management/leadership style:
I would like to say that I am democratic because I am a good listener but in the end when I make a decision I rule like a dictator.

What’s the last thing you learned?
That I am carrying a baby inside me and its OK to let things go a bit and rest when I need to.

What do you want to learn next?
I have been spending time improving my baking and pastry skills. Perhaps its all the carbs I am craving. I’m trying to master the classic Italian pastries. Heritage is important to me!

When you’re judging Iron Chef and Next Iron Chef, is it as much fun as it looks?
It’s a lot of fun. I am exposed to a lot of talent and a lot of food but the days can be long and the amount of food that is consumed is scary.

What do you think of the other judges? The chefs?
I get exposed to a lot of different judges, serious foodies and celebrities. I was recently on a panel with Kelly Ripa and we had a blast. As for the chefs, I am a huge fan of Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Morimoto – as Iron Chefs they always bring it!

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