One on One with Celebrity Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia
By Fabiana Santana
Donatella Arpaia is the definition of no regrets. Secure in her job as a corporate lawyer, the good life was already in the works for her at a young age. But the lure and love of the restaurant world she was raised forced her to take stock of her life and realize that actual stock was more important to her than stocks and bonds. Within five years of her life changing decision, Donatella had a handful of successful restaurants under her Prada belt and requests from everyone from Elle Magazine to Isaac Mizrahi for her entertaining and style advice.
Today, Donatella, whom Crain’s named one of their “40 under 40”, runs four restaurants, oversees her own product line, is a regular on Food Network and Bravo’s Top Chef, and still has time to make fresh pasta from scratch.
How did you decide to make the career change from lawyer to restaurant owner?
It was a very scary move, but I’m a big risk-taker. I grew up in my father’s many restaurants and felt so passionate about them that I started researching and looking at spaces and when one of my bids was accepted I gave my resignation at the law firm the next day.
What was your first restaurant project?
Bellini, a traditional Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s east side.
How hands on are you in developing and designing the menu at your restaurants?
The relationship between my chef and I is very important. For our Italian restaurant, Mia Dona, since I had the frame of reference I was much more involved. For Kefi and Anthos, our Greek restaurants, Michael [Psilakis] was the driving force. In either case, there is always an open dialogue.
David’s whimsical menu combined with your style and name made visiting the restaurant a no brainer for food lovers. Your partnership with David Burke has come to an end. How do you feel about that?
Timing in life is very important. When I entered the partnership it was the best decision but I also left at the best time as well. I feel very positive about it.
You have built not just restaurants, but a brand for yourself with Donatella Style. You own restaurants, produce culinary products, put out a magazine, consult as a lifestyle expert, and appear on TV. What advice would you give to women who are working on fulfilling their dreams?
Don’t be afraid to be aggressive in going after what you want. I find that too many women are shy about thinking big. Dream big. Be fearless, especially of failure and making mistakes.
How hands on are you in the production of the Donatella products?
Extremely. I went to Italy to develop my sauce, found the people to make it, tested the recipe with them and was there when the first samples were made.
Which is your favorite?
The Puttanesca sauce. I think it’s so delicious with the chunky olives and salty capers. It’s such an easy meal.
How did you conceptualize “Donatella Style”?
It really just evolved naturally from who I am; modern, urban, professional, stylish, but also driven and very focused without taking myself too seriously –and of course, I love food.
Of all your restaurants, which is your favorite?
That’s like asking which child is my favorite. I love each of them for different reasons.
What is your favorite dish to order when you are eating alone?
A great Bucatini all’Amatriciana with a glass of red wine.
Do you cook? If so, how did you learn and what is your favorite make at home meal for yourself?
Yes, my schooling started with my aunts and mother in Italy and finished at the French Culinary Institute’s Italian program. My favorite thing to make at home for myself is fresh pasta. I love orrecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe and pepperonchini.
- 1 cup double zero flour
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ cups tepid water
- On a lightly floured wooden board combine both flours in a mound and create a well. Add half of the water and the salt, slowly incorporating more water and salt as needed until dough forms into smooth and elastic ball. Keep adding water until smooth (more or less water may be required depending on humidity in air).
- Let the dough relax for 20 mins. Then, cut the dough in half and flatten each piece. Cut them into 1/4 inch strips. Cut each piece about 1 inch. With your finger flatten each one inch piece of dough dragging it slightly so that the dough curves around the finger to form a shell shape.
- Then, slightly dust all Orecchiette pieces with flour. Boil in salted water until al dente.
- Orecchiette with sausage, white beans, Tuscan kale, and pecorino romano.
- Handmade Orecchiette, recipe above
- 4 pc spicy Italian Sausage, casing removed
- 1 bu Tuscan Kale, finely julienned
- ¼ cup of sliced garlic
- ¼ cup chopped shallots
- 1 cup pre cooked white beans
- 4 T of white beans pureed
- ¼ cup white wine
- ¼ cup of grated pecorino
- Chili flake, salt, pepper, and sage
- 1 cup EVOO
- ¼ # butter
- In a large pan, add olive oil and sausage.
- Brown the sausage, add the garlic, shallots and the sausage- cook until tender- add fresh sage
- Add the kale, wilt kale for 10 min- deglaze with white wine
- Reduce wine, add white bean and white bean puree
- Toss in orecchiette and adjust with some pasta cooking water if needed
- Finish with butter and grated pecorino.
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