After all, these days the 41-year-old restaurateur has a lot on her plate.
When she’s not opening up a restaurant, whipping up some of her award-winning meatballs, penning her own cookbook, dishing out her opinion as a guest judge on “Iron Chef America” and “The Next Iron Chef,” popping up on morning shows to offer home chefs advice or hawking her own line of food and homewares on HSN, Arpaia is also a busy wife and mother.
But Arpaia has been able to squeeze in a few hours of her time for a trip to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town on Sunday, May 19. From 4 to 6 p.m. Arpaia will offer recipe advice, answer questions and give samples of her own recipes, including a cucumber soup with crab, a yogurt-and-dill shooter, and her famous Mama’s Meatballs.
Although Arpaia has made a name for herself in the world of cooking and entertaining, she originally was serving the bar of a different kind as a corporate attorney.
Arpaia grew up in the restaurant business and, as a first-generation Italian American, she spent summers in her family’s home country of Italy in what she calls “a very food-focused family.” When her dad came to the U.S., he started working at restaurants as a busboy and worked his way up to be a restaurateur.
“I literally grew up with my crib next to the dishwashing station,” she said. “And that being said, there was one thing I knew for sure: I would not be working in the restaurant business.”
Her family, she said, had dreams of her becoming a doctor and lawyer, which she fulfilled. But once she had worked her way up to achieving her goal, Arpaia said she realized it wasn’t what she wanted.
“I wasn’t passionate about it,” she said.
Her oldest brother had a restaurant and one night she stopped to see him and have a drink at his bar. That rainy night he was short staffed and Arpaia said she started to pitch in.
“And all of the sudden I had my ah-ha moment. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m kind of a natural and this is what I’m meant to do.’”
But first she had to tell her father that she wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“He was not exactly thrilled because he had paid for a very expensive education,” she said, “and because I don’t think he anticipated that the food world would have exploded into this arena. He didn’t want that life for me. Not that he didn’t think I could do it, but it’s a very difficult life.”
However, her legal education did help her as she navigated early on in her food career.
“It taught me how to think in a certain way and I think was a big advantage over many peers in the industry who don’t have an education,” she said.
She said she had a “small, small trust fund and borrowed the rest” to open up her first restaurant, Bellini, in 1998.
Arpaia eventually decided to study at the French Culinary Institute in classic culinary arts. She has opened a slew of other restaurants including davidburke & donatella, which received the Five Diamond Award, and the now-closed Anthos, which also garnered her a nomination for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation.
Additionally she has the Greek restaurant Kief in New York’s Upper West Side, as well as Donatella, a Neapolitan pizzeria, and its neighboring bar, DBar, also in New York.
When she’s not overseeing the opening of a restaurant, Arpaia is serving as one of the judges at “The Next Iron Chef” and “Iron Chef America” where celebrity chefs battle each other in a game of culinary wits for a crisp Iron Chef chef’s jacket and bragging rights.