The Donatella Project: All We Can Say for Sure after Watching Is That This Awful Show Exists

Categories: Food on TV
Donatella has a show.

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 this best?"

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 head on.

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, doesn't he?

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 factory.

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:

The Sandwich King
The Worst Cooks in America

Food Hoarders

Rachel vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off

The Ice-Carving Show that the Food Network Somehow Ruins

The Show Paula Deen's Kid Was Given Because His Mom Makes Terrible Food

Bama Glama, the show all Alabama loves to fight over in comment threads

Guy Fieri's Weird Man Fort Mystery Diners Food Jammers

Have Cake, Will Travel

Chef Hunter

Baron Ambrosia

Sweet Genius

Best Thing I Ever Made

Sandra Lee's Hard-Drinkin' Halloween Special of Madness

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Too bad "Selling LA" isn't on the Food Network (because it's about real estate).

Five or six shows into the season and Selling LA has yet to sell a single property! What's the show about again?

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