Each week we take a quick,
cautious look at what's going on with televised cooking. This week:
The Donatella Project, a new Dirk Balthazar novel by the
Hugo-award winning author of the Sigma Protocol and the Prometheus
Deception, on March 10 and 11 on the Cooking Channel.
What's the Donatella Project? Ask three
different people and you'll get three different answers.
What's the Donatella Project? I can't
answer that. Nobody can answer that. Nobody knows what all the parts
are. Nobody has seen the whole thing.
What's the Donatella Project? It is
everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can
see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your
television. Wait, that's the Matrix.
What's the Donatella Project? It's
Kitchen Nightmares, it's Chef Hunter, it's every show
that's ever visited a sausage factory, it's the service plan for a
yellow Lamborghini, it's Color Splash, it's Sheer Genius,
it's a cautionary tale about Rocco DiSpirito, it's the world that has
been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth (sorry,
Matrix), it's a trial balloon sent up to float free in the
deep-channel airwaves and whisper, "What I do best? Do I do any of
What is the Donatella Project? It's
whatever the hell she wants.
She is Donatella Arpaia, restaurateur,
former lawyer, and judge on Iron Chef. Her project looks
great at first, billed as such a complete rip-off of Kitchen
Nightmares I expect Chef Ramsay to knock on my door and demand to
know what the fuck I am watching donkey. The promos claim that
Donatella and her yellow Lamborghini are opening a restaurant
consulting business and will be traveling around laughing at dumps.
Fair enough. That's a tidy project. Let's see someone take on Ramsay
But on her first job, she just has to
help a New Jersey restaurant choose a new chef, so she stages a
cooking competition among the four candidates, Chef Hunter-style,
with all the "Your time starts now!" kill-me-now
host-deathspeak. It's a show within a show, with her playing the
radiant judge. Then she's gone, the winning chef picked, the
consulting finished. That's not consulting, by the way.
Next we're in the yellow Lamborghini
speeding to Florida to find a real dump, like on CSI. Wait,
no. We're in a cab heading to her own Italian restaurant in
Manhattan, which she just opened under her own name (she's opened
nine restaurants in less than ten years) (NINE) (9) (Donatella Arpaia
has opened nine goddamn restaurants) and suddenly we're in the
Restaurant, the sorely missed network show of 2003-4 starring
Rocco DiSpirito, who has been such a letdown to everyone since (You
did this, Chodorow!). Donatella has her mother and father eat at her
own restaurant and review it, on camera. Their advice: Pictures of
Naples and more tentacles, Daughter.
Next, Project returns to
restaurant consulting at another Italian restaurant, in which
Donatella diagnoses the problem as the proprietress's hair. She also
hates the floor. Imagine Color Splash and Extreme Makeover
mashed together for a three-minute Webisode. Donatella meets the
husband-and-wife owners, who are half a million in debt, and gives
the woman a salon makeover and the restaurant new paint and a wood
floor. Poof, that half million in debt is just gone.
Then we cab back to her titular
restaurant so she can get another ten minutes of ill-gotten,
nefarious free advertising under the guise of serving dinner to some
hotshot critics and chefs. (That's at Donatella, 184 8th Ave, New
York, 212-493-5150. Try the sea urchin.) It's like the judges' table
of every cooking show that has the pull to get Jeffrey Steingarten,
because this table has Jeffrey Steingarten. That's quite a get. The
food editor of Vogue doesn't do just any show. Wait, he does,
Curiously, we don't hear the "judges"
talk much about the food, though, because what is real? How do you
define real? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can
smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical
signals interpreted by your brain. (Morpheus.)
Finally, four hours into the one-hour
show, Donatella gets into the Kitchen Nightmares territory
promised in the promos, at a bad place in New Rochelle. It's a
legitimate dump. It serves wraps. The guy who writes the menu spells
"turkey" with other letters. She strides into the walk-in
freezer for the big reveal, and it's beautiful. It's disgusting.
Rotten food, a sheepish owner admitting to serving frozen food, and a
terrible business that needs serious help. Let's go, bitches.
She takes to the owner to a sausage
And suddenly it's every food show that
visits a sausage factory. I can think of eight. Sausage, fabricated.
She suggests that I don't know, maybe the restaurant could not serve
frozen food? She takes the chef to another restaurant she's opened
(one of the nine -- the NINE) and makes her hotshot cooks teach this
sad guy how to cook, and he learns how to cook. That's a new show
right there, anybody.
And that's it. She's done. She's done
consulting. The consulting is finished. We're supposed to think this
New Rochelle dump is now a fancy place.
The Donatella Project is no
Kitchen Nightmares. It's not sure what it is. It's like a show
by committee. It's like an audition tape for everything. That's what
a yellow Lambo does to you.
Previously, Michael Leaverton watched:
Bama Glama, the show all Alabama loves to fight over in comment threads