Judge’s Tables: Next Iron Chef’s Donatella Arpaia, Pizza and Prime Time

by in News, Shows, October 1st, 2010
Next Iron Chef Judge Donatella Arpaia--courtesy Caroline Owens
Next Iron Chef Judge Donatella Arpaia looks relaxed--but she's in the midst of super-busy times.

No matter how you slice it, this is an exciting moment for New York City restaurateur Donatella Arpaia. Doors opened this past week to her eponymously named pizzeria, Donatella, and Sunday starts her reprise run as a judge on the new season of The Next Iron Chef. “Donatella is my most personal project to date–it’s the first to carry my name. I wanted to create a rustic but glam environment and to use authentic ingredients,” says the attorney-turned-culinary-mogul and author of Donatella Cooks. “For some time I’ve wanted to go back to my roots, so I traveled to Naples and had in mind that I wanted to make the most authentic Neapolitan pizza possible.”

Donatella and her chefs traveled to Naples, where she spent summers in her youth, returning with tried-and-true artisanal techniques, ingredients (Caputo flour for the pies), and volcanic salt, sand and rock from Mount Vesuvius for the gilded wood-firing oven. It’s early, but her efforts are paying off with a big dose of attention to her plate-sized pies and antipasti (see for yourself at Zagat, Eater and Slice). “I didn’t really understand that other people are as obsessed with pizza as I am,” she says.

Donatella Arpaia, judging Next Iron Chef with Michael Symon, Simon Majumdar and Alton Brown.

For the moment, she’s enjoying the flip side of her role on Next Iron Chef. For this season, premiering Sunday night at 9 pm ET, each judge comes with a different perspective: Chef Michael Symon, a former contestant, is focused on the rivals’ technical abilities, and Simon Majumdar critiques the dishes based on his worldly travels. For her part, Donatella brings balance. “I’ve been on both sides,” she says, reviewing dishes for Next Iron Chef and receiving feedback for her own restaurants’ cookery. “I really take my job seriously as a judge, because one wrong bite can take them home.”

“I can usually see who’s going to be on the top and bottom, but this season the competition is extremely fierce,” Donatella says.  Even skilled chefs, she says, need words of wisdom. Here are some of her suggestions to the hopefuls:

  • Strive to be better all the time.
  • Remember that taste is the most important thing.
  • Taste your food—be sure it’s seasoned properly.
  • Use the ingredients in creative ways.
  • Pay attention to the way your dish looks—we eat with our eyes first.
  • Cook outside the box; bring your own voice but take it to the next level.

Why not take her own advice, put down the pizza peel and jump into the competition? “No way! A judge in that seat? I don’t think so,” she says. “You can be an incredible chef in your own kitchen but they’re competing under a lot of pressure. They’re put through trials and tribulations under difficult time constraints—you have to be a fierce competitor and a warrior.” No, no, she says, for now she’s good, immersing herself in helping get the best out of the rivals–and out of her sparkly pizza oven.

Tune in Sunday at 9 pm ET for the premiere of The Next Iron Chef.

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Comments (5)

  1. Brian O'Shea says:

    I can find no where else to post this, so I guess it will be here. I was a big fan of the original Iron Chef, and, although the reality show The Next Iron Chef is a compelling idea, I feel that you are fast on the track to overkill. The original show had six iron chefs, only four reigning at a time, and a new one selected only after one retired. There are already six iron chefs, and none have stepped down. How many is too many? Aren't you watering down the concept? With so many Iron Chefs, you cheapen what it means to be so called.

    • Guest says:

      I think you have made some good points. Even in the advertisements for Next Iron Chef, you can hear Alton Brown say that this is the third season. What is this? It's now a regularly scheduled yearly event for no other reason than to get ratings? They now have five Iron Chefs (if you don't count Batali) and only three are used regularly. The two newest aren't used much and they've even had to create another show for Symon on Cooking Channel. Yearly contests with no reason seem to dilute the whole thing, in my opinion.

  2. Jo Ann says:

    I'm voting for chef Tsai because (1) He's an awesome chef and a seasoned television personality (2) He is highly professional (3) mostly because it seems EVERYONE on the show is in some cases intimated by his success and in most cases envious of his success including the judges. Get rid if Garces, replace with Tsai and move on.

  3. D Robinson says:

    I think that Symon should be canned from this show !!! Tonight Burrell should have stayed and Jeff should have been sent home. Favoritism from Symon, the other two judges liked Burrell dish much better. Maybe the producer of Food Network will wake up one day and find out they will have to do something to keep the show on the air.

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