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DONATELLA ARPAIA

As a longtime New Yorker, Donatella always longed for the impossible: a big home kitchen. So when the restaurateur and frequent Food Network judge bought a Connecticut weekend house with her husband, Allan, a heart surgeon, she built giant kitchens — inside and out. "Our life here is outdoors," says Donatella. "I'm always the one cooking, and I wanted to enjoy it." Her first priority was to put in a pizza oven (a hit with her 4-year-old son, Alessandro) and to install professional-grade Lynx appliances, including stovetops, sinks and an integrated trashcan. Having a complete setup outside allows her to entertain without frequent trips in and out of the house. She has enough to worry about when the couple hosts a party, especially when Allan is in charge of the guest list. "It starts off small," she says, "and then my husband casually invites an extra 50 people!"

IT ALL BEGAN IN ITALY
“When I think about my summers in Toritto, I think about the scents, the smells, the colors,” says Donatella Arpaia about spending childhood summers with her grandparents in the small village in southern Italy.

 

“I remember smelling bread being baked in ovens built in the sixteenth century. Cauldrons of bubbling tomato sauce and my grandmother baking potatoes in the coals. Figs as big as pears and as sweet as candy.”
 

This is where Donatella learned to love food. Her family taught her how to love others through the food she made. “I want all of my guests to experience the smells, the colors, the flavors like I experienced them during those summers in Italy.”
 

GROWING UP IN THE RESTAURANT

Donatella’s father was a first-generation immigrant from Italy. He worked hard, starting as a busboy and eventually opening his own restaurant in New York City. Donatella was raised in the restaurant. Her crib was even placed beside the dishwasher, the wish-wash lulling her to sleep.

 

“My father was the first restaurateurs of that time to elevate Italian food beyond checkered table-cloths and less-than-authentic dishes.”

 

Donatella says her father taught her about the beauty of their heritage and how to put that beauty on display for guests. “My father had an eye for detail, style, and elegance. I brought that special sense of hospitality to my own restaurants.”

 

IRON CHEF JUDGE
Donatella judged the most episodes of Iron Chef America and the Next Iron Chef than any other person in the history of the show.

 

“When I was younger, I had a tremendous fear of public speaking. In law school, I was afraid to get called on, much less be in front of cameras and a national audience. As you can see, I’ve overcome that fear!”
 

After opening Bellini, her first restaurant, Donatella began making local TV appearances, “just to get feet in the door. At the restaurant, a producer asked me to be a guest host. And they just kept inviting me.”
 

Donatella says watching the contestants work so hard under such extreme circumstances constantly inspired her. “Those shows are the realest reality TV.”