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Donatella Arpaia
Donatella Arpaia
Courtesy of SOBEWFF

Meatball Queen Donatella Arpaia Begins a New Life in South Florida

You might not know that Donatella Arpaia, the acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and TV personality, was once an attorney in her early 20s. But after practicing law for about three months, she sat at the bar inside her brother's restaurant and realized there was no place she'd rather be.

Now, more than 20 years later, the 47-year-old Arpaia has positioned herself as one of the most powerful figures in food. She's best known for her role as head judge on Food Network's Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, and she's also a regular contributor to NBC's Today. Her fast-casual Italian restaurant, Prova Pizzabar, is in the midst of expansion, and her award-winning meatballs, along with a signature line of kitchen solutions, are sold on HSN.

But TV appearances and recipe-testing aside, Arpaia's main focus right now is her children. This past October, she and her husband, cardiac surgeon Allan Stewart, welcomed twins Emma and Noah after multiple failed rounds of in vitro fertilization.

"It's amazing," she says. "These two little babies are my miracles. I tell the story about how my son knew we would have twins, and everyone gets goose bumps. He even knew they would be a boy and a girl."

As the child of first-generation Italian immigrants, Arpaia was raised inside her father's Italian restaurant in New York City. She spent her summers in Italy, where she watched her grandparents bake bread and simmer tomato sauce. After her brief career as a lawyer, she followed in her family's footsteps and, at the age of 26, debuted her first restaurant, Bellini, which celebrated the food she grew up with. After opening a few restaurants in New York, Arpaia expanded to downtown Miami with two concepts: Eos and Bistro E.

"It's shocking how much Brickell and downtown has changed," she says. "I had my restaurants when Brickell was just starting. Back then, everyone kept saying it would be the next big thing. At the time, it's hard to believe, but the area has completely flourished. It's fun to see and exciting to be around."

Earlier this summer, Arpaia and her family left New York for Miami after her husband was named chief of cardiac surgery at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida. Arpaia, who now lives in Pinecrest, says the move couldn't have come at a better time.

"It was right around when I found out I was pregnant with twins," she says. "The idea of having twins in New York City wasn't great. Not to mention, Miami has grown into such a unique food town. If I was going to move somewhere, it would be here. Now look at me — I have twins, I have a minivan, and I even have a dog."

Though her home base is South Florida, she frequently travels up North to film segments for Today and other, national cooking programs.

"I actually have a segment coming up in March," she says. "I have every intention of appearing and doing regular appearances on Today and Beat Bobby Flay.

Her first upscale quick-service pizza concept, Prova Pizzabar, which opened a few years ago in Grand Central Terminal, is gearing up to open a second location in NYC and later expand throughout the country.

"I'm really excited about this next location," she says. "I wanted it to feel like a pizza place that can also transition into more of a club feel in the later hours."

Asked if she envisions opening a Prova Pizzabar in Miami, Arpaia says it's "definitely a possibility."

"Everyone keeps asking, and I keep saying, 'Give me a break and let me enjoy my babies,'" she says, laughing. "But in truth, I'm already starting to scout and look at locations. I definitely think Miami could use some Prova pizza. It seems like a natural place to open next."

This year, Arpaia is most excited about being only a drive away from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. She'll kick off the extravaganza with a dinner she'll cohost with chef PJ Calapa at Terra Mare in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday, February 20.

"When I was asked to be a part of this year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival, I was eight months pregnant and couldn't even imagine committing to something else," she says. "I'm so glad I did, though. This is my official comeback."

Dinner Hosted by Donatella Arpaia, PJ Calapa, and Terra Mare. 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, February 20, at Terra Mare, 551 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $175 per person via sobewff.org/terramare.

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