Donatella Arpaia: “I’m A Cross Between Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul”
The ‘Next Iron Chef’ judge chats with Betty about judging, switching careers and dressing like her food.
The Next Iron Chef’s ‘tough-but-fair’ judge, Donatella Arpaia, is back for round three. When it comes to her style of judging the chefs, “I’d say I’m a cross between Simon (Cowell) and Paula (Abdul),” she tells BettyConfidential. Luckily these chefs will not be breaking into song during the competition.
What’s Donatella up to offset? “I’m a very busy girl!” she says. And she’s not joking. This New York-born foodie just opened up her first bar, and her ninth restaurant (yes, ninth.) She also just released a cookbook, Donatella Cooks. There’s even buzz about a TV show of her own that’s in the works.
We’re hungry just thinking about all that.
You’re returning for the third season as a judge for The Next Iron Chef. What should we expect to see?
I think the popularity of the show has really raised the stakes. The stakes are also higher because people have seen what has become of the past winners. We have an extremely interesting group of contestants this season. It’s a big rollercoaster ride, but that’s what I loved—I was surprised every week. Whatever direction you think it’s going to go, it goes somewhere else. It’s very engaging.
How would you describe yourself as a judge?
I’m fair but tough. That’s what the contestants need. Each judge brings a different prospective. It’s interesting to have Iron Chef Michael Symon judging, because he went through the process and can give a chef’s perspective. I focus a lot on technique, and I look at the presentation more than the others do. I’m a stickler for that.
What really make it or breaks it for you when deciding if a contestant moves to the next round?
There are times when it is really tough deciding between two people. One wrong bite can send someone home. Honestly, it comes down to who I want to give another chance to. When I judge a dish, I ask myself, “what’s the ‘it’ factor?” It’s a tough thing to quantify, but because I’ve been in the industry and have eaten around the world, I have that skill. A chef needs technique or they can’t move further. You also need a certain soul and point of view to make yourself stand out.