Everyone has a story and today’s Chef in the Spotlight is no different as the child of first-generation Italian immigrants, Donatella Arpaia spent summers in Naples and on her mother’s family farm in Puglia as a young girl growing up. Those summer months were full of family activity which was centered in and around the kitchen; pressing olives for olive oil, preserving vegetables, jarring tomato sauce or making fresh pasta by hand. This all had a formative influence on Arpaia and provided the foundation for her expertise in southern Italian cuisine.
Those familiar with EOS and bistro e in Miami Donatella partnered with Michael Psilakis on those concepts bringing their wave of talent and NYC glamour to the Magic City albeit for a short time as they are no longer affiliated with the restaurant.
Donatella is Arpaia’s 10th restaurant and it is her most personal endeavor to date as this restaurant brings Donatella herself full circle. Donatella [the restaurant] is a true embodiment of both Arpaia’s rustic heritage and her role as a modern New York woman. Arpaia’s list of accolades and distinctions include Crain’s “40 Under 40”, the “Hostess with the Mostest” by Zagat and one of the ‘Most Powerful Women in Manhattan” according to the New York Post. Her first cookbook, Donatella Cooks: Simple Food Made Glamorous was released in April of 2010. In addition to numerous TV appearances, Arpaia holds a recurring role as a guest judge on the Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef” and “Iron Chef America” and a contributor to NBC’s “Today Show”. I present this week’s successful and glamorous Entrepreneur in the Spotlight, Donatella Arpaia.
South Florida Food and Wine: You’re a busy woman running your company which encompasses a string of restaurants, your first cookbook and you are a Food Network personality. What is a typical day for you as the “brand” behind your company?
Donatella Arpaia: It’s hard to say as it differs from day to day. Generally, I’m running all over town between meetings with potential new business ventures, handling publicity requests, and spending time at the restaurant to make sure it’s operating smoothly. Plus, I’m trying to fit in time with my newborn son and my husband.
South Florida Food and Wine: You’re not just a chef but an entrepreneur as well, what is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
Donatella Arpaia: You have to risk big which means sometimes you can also lose big; you have to have an iron stomach to deal with today’s economic environment. You can never get comfortable so you must constantly evolve your businesses and your brand to keep up and stay in the game.
South Florida Food and Wine: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Donatella Arpaia: Italy and my extensive family in Italy. Plus my parents of course. My father is a restaurateur and my mother grew up in an agricultural town in Southern Italy. Growing up, I spent my childhood summers on my mother’s family farm in Puglia where I learned to make fresh pasta and olive oil and jar tomato sauce from my mother and several of her sisters.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite dish to make at home?
Donatella Arpaia: I love to make orecchiette by hand with braised broccoli rabe and sweet fennel sausage in a simple garlic and olive oil sauce
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Donatella Arpaia: Hmmm… it runs the gamut from really fresh oysters to caviar with warm blinis and crème fraiche to French fries.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Donatella Arpaia: My chef makes this pizza with crème fraiche, bacon and chives that’s to die for!
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Donatella Arpaia: Extra virgin olive oil. It’s the foundation of Italian cooking and it’s so versatile.
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at? (other than your own)
Donatella Arpaia: My dad’s restaurant in Midtown Manhattan: Fiorini. He has the best foccacia and old school Italian food!
South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
Donatella Arpaia: I’m a typical Italian daughter; my dad was a pioneer in the restaurant industry in the 70′s and 80′s so I’m still trying to impress him. He is the toughest critic I know (and I am a judge on “Iron Chef”)!
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Donatella Arpaia: I like to relax and cook at our country home on the lake in Connecticut. If I’m up for it, I’ll take a drive in my yellow Lamborghini. It’s so much fun to drive!
Love the South Florida food scene? Check out our newly published book (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), Food Lovers’ Guide to Miami & Fort Lauderdale