This week marks the Food Network’s premiere of The Next Iron Chef. The show aired last night and the theme of this season is redemption, giving previous competitors a second chance. Possible redemption for the contestants lies in the hands of the judges, one of whom is a favorite of ours – Donatella Arpaia. Arpaia is the “tough but fair” judge (she is also a recurring judge on Iron Chef) who has also referred to herself as a cross between Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. It’s an accurate depiction – and it’s the thing that makes both contestants and viewers hang on her every word. Arpaia is a restaurant mogul as well, most recently adding her passion project Donatella – an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in New York – to her long list of restaurants. We sat down with Arpaia to talk about authentic Neapolitan pizza, fellow judge pitfalls and of course what to expect from the new season of The Next Iron Chef: Redemption…
What would be your ideal food day?
For breakfast, caviar and eggs – really well done the way Jean Georges would do it – with really great coffee. For lunch, I would say bucatini with sea urchin butter. For dinner, Neapolitan pizza from my restaurant Donatella, and a tasting of cheeses.
How has the industry changed since you first started?
Oh my god…I mean, I think the Food Network changed everything. Chefs are celebrities now. The food world has become a celebrity world and I think it’s really affected the restaurant industry. It used to be about restaurateurs and maître d’s and now it’s about the chefs. A more chef TV driven world affects how restaurants are run.
Also, people in general are more educated about food, which is a great thing. Another thing is that it’s harder to make money than ever before in the industry. The costs of food and liquor have increased so much.
Could you tell us a bit about the passion project that is Donatella?
This has been in my mind since I first started. I spent my summers in Naples; my Father was born in Naples. I have these memories from my childhood of eating Neapolitan pizza and the flavors and taste were things I dreamed about.
I wanted to open an authentic restaurant featuring the food and pizza of Naples. I went to great lengths to do this; I had my chefs trained in Naples; my oven was hand-built from Stefano Ferrara and all the stones came over from Mount Vesuvius by ship. I really made an effort to make it the most authentic experience possible.It all came from my childhood and memories of food and my happy place. It’s been a long time coming.
There seems to be a Neapolitan pizza trend in New York. What’s different about Donatella? What are other people doing wrong?
I don’t want to say other people are doing it wrong. There is a trend. There’s a lot that goes into making a pizza, from creating the dough, to the oven and to training. I went to great lengths to make it as authentic as possible. There’s certain criteria for that, and some places are more loose about adhering to the criteria.
Also, Donatella is casual and fun but at the same time we take things seriously. There’s wine, a pastry chef with a pastry program, and a real commitment to the experience in general – not just to serving pizza. Whereas some places just serve the pizza. It’s something that should be treated reverently.