About Donatella Arpaia
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.”
Following the Heart
“My father told me after I got my degree I could do anything I wanted.”
After completing her law degree and passing the bar, Donatella found out she wanted to run restaurants. “I had been practicing law for three months and was sitting at the bar at my brother’s restaurant. For some reason, he needed some help at the door. So, I got up and I hosted.”
Guests asked about the beautiful blonde smiling at the door. Then, it clicked. Donatella knew she would never be more happy outside the world of food.
“In my career, I’ve done everything in reverse; that’s just my personality. I opened my first restaurant at 25. Then I opened a second. And a third. Then I began making TV appearances. After all that, I finally went to culinary school.”
“My classmates would look at me and say hey, didn’t I see you on TV?!”
Donatella says she has always built her restaurants on stellar service and authentic Neapolitan cooking.
The Meatball Queen
Perhaps the most perfect encapsulation of Donatella’s cooking philosophy is her meatball. “The meatball is, for many, the ultimate comfort food. The meatball is, for me, my childhood.”
Donatella recalls her mother making meatballs, the smell of fresh herbs, day-old bread, and lean veal drifting out of the kitchen. She remembers sneaking meatballs off the pan before they even made into the sauce.
“I used that same recipe to win the New York Food and Wine Festival’s Meatball Madness two years in a row.”
That same meatball is still served in her restaurants, and is a favorite at Prova Pizzabar.
Queen of New York City
“I love this city,” says Donatella.
She has been a New Yorker since moving into the city after college. She says she cannot imagine living anywhere else. “I love the energy, the pace, the people. Plus, as a chef, there is no better place to be.”
Donatella says she is constantly inspired by the immense talent all around her. “As chefs, we are constantly having to push ourselves. This is a tough business and you always need to be improving.”
She says in the world of food, New York is always 10 years ahead. “It is a food-lover’s paradise!”
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.”
“Having my son changed my life. It changed everything!”
Donatella’s son was born on her 40th birthday. Her son, she says, has given her a new understanding.
“I now understand the busy mother. The strong, independent woman who works hard, loves her family, and always finds a way to put food on the table. I understand that woman.”
Donatella says it can be difficult to keep her work and family lives balanced, but that is important for her son to see her mother work and provide. This understanding has informed her business and the brands with which she partners.
Shake Shack was the answer of Burger King. Prova Pizzabar will be the answer to Domino’s.
“We get ancient grains to make our flour. We let our dough rise 2-3 days where other shops only let theirs rise 2-3 hours. Our well-hydrated dough is strong to hold hearty toppings, but still very light.”
Donatella studied in Naples under a pizza master, Enzo Cocci. She tooks what she learned there, considered a modern lifestyle, and drew from her family’s heritage to create what she calls a “perfect hybrid.”
She opened her first Prova Pizzabar location in Grand Central Station in 2015. She looks forward to seeing it grow across the country.
Prova Pizzabar will serve authentic, healthy, convenient, and–most importantly to Donatella–delicious pizza.