Two New York City Food Network Stars Talk Gastronomy

Innovative chefs, culinary diversity, and patrons who expect nothing but the best all combine to make New York City a hotbed of gastronomic exploration. In a city that’s bursting at the seams with talented chefs, it takes a yeoman’s effort to stand out in the kitchen.

These two Food Network stars, each a highly respected restaurateur whose creativity knows no limits, have risen to the top of their profession. Fueled by a passion for food along with the tantalizing effect it has on people, they continue to create dishes that not only please the palate but often times break the mold in the process.

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Donatella Arpaia

Celebrity chef, TV personality, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Donatella Arpaia is best known for her role as head judge on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and “The Next Iron Chef.” She is also a regular contributor to NBC’s “The Today Show,” where she offers her culinary expertise and delectable recipes.

As the child of first-generation Italian immigrants, Donatella fondly remembers spending her summers in Italy. These early years provided her with the foundation for her expertise in southern Italian cuisine. After a very brief career as an attorney, she decided to follow her passion and opened her first restaurant, Bellini, at the age of 26, which celebrated the Italian cuisine of her youth.

Donatella furthered her expansion by teaming up with then unknown chef Michael Psilakis as they opened a string of highly acclaimed restaurants, such as Dona, Anthos, and Kefi in Manhattan, as well as Eos and Bistro E in Miami. In 2016, she debuted her first upscale quick service pizza concept, Prova Pizzabar, in Grand Central Station, where she is chef/partner, and then opened her second location in the Moxy NYC Times Square Hotel.

How is the New York City food scene evolving?

Sadly, the city has become so expensive. It’s very hard for the single first-time chef or restaurateur to launch a  concept, so the larger corporations and experienced chefs and restaurateurs are really the only ones that are opening spots.

Are there any new specialty dishes that people can expect to find on menus throughout the city this year?

There are a lot more plant-based options with a focus on sustainability and locally-sourced food.

In such a saturated food market, is there still room for start-up restaurants in the city?

Sadly, it has become more and more difficult with the high rents. It is more difficult now, but still not impossible.

Other than Manhattan, which boroughs are doing innovative things in the kitchen?

Brooklyn, Astoria, and Long Island City, where it’s more affordable.

When you eat out, what is your favorite meal?

My first love is Italian food and it’s my passion, but when going out, I love to have Japanese, especially in New York City. I think New York City has the best Japanese restaurants.

Describe a favorite Food Network moment.

Oh boy, I have so many, but, I did love the battle with scotch on “Iron Chef America,” with co-judges David Burtka and his husband, Neil Patrick Harris. They were both so fun.

Geoffrey Zakarian

Throughout a career spanning 30 years, Geoffrey Zakarian has made his mark as an accomplished chef, host and culinary consultant. In 1987, Geoffrey took his first turn as executive chef at the legendary 21Club, and from that point on, there was no stopping his rise to the top of the culinary world.

In 2010, Geoffrey opened both The Lambs Club at The Chatwal Hotel and The National at The Benjamin Hotel in New York City. The National will be unveiling its newly designed “Sleep Suites” in the hotel this March during Sleep Week, and Geoffrey will be offering items on the in-room menu featuring “sweets” for bedtime.

In 2011, Geoffrey opened Tudor House at Dream South Beach, Florida, a neighborhood gastro-cafe rated as the Best Hotel Restaurant in Miami in 2012. He has also partnered with Norwegian Cruise Lines in a three-restaurant deal aboard their vessels, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. In 2017, Zakarian launched one of his most exciting projects yet—Point Royal at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, a Coastal American restaurant.

Outside of the kitchen, Geoffrey is an accomplished author, philanthropist, and notable television personality. In addition to his status as a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped” and as an Iron Chef, he also serves as a co-host on Food Network’s “The Kitchen.”

How is the New York City food scene evolving?

Well, it has never stopped evolving in the 40 years I have been here, and it will continue at a rapid pace, but it does seem to be headed in a healthy-ish, simpler, more focused horizon.

Are there any new specialty dishes that people can expect to find on menus throughout the city this year?

Vegetables are the new truffles. All are celebrated, from legumes to fresh from the market. New York City has really  become a leader in market-driven cuisine.

What are the latest food trends sweeping the city? 

Small, focused, simple restaurants that are delivering very  specific and delicious foods. These restaurants are not trying to be everything to everyone.

In such a saturated food market, is there still room for start-up restaurants in the city?

The suggestion that it’s saturated is something I personally don’t believe. It is always cycling through itself and getting better. I don’t believe it can ever get saturated in theory or reality.

Other than Manhattan, which local areas are doing innovative things in the kitchen? 

Brooklyn is on fire right now. So is Jersey City and New Jersey.

When you eat out, what is your favorite meal? 

Whatever I am in the mood for, as long as it doesn’t take  more than 60 minutes.

Describe a favorite Food Network moment.

There are so many, but we just reached our 200th episode on “The Kitchen.” It’s a very special show.

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