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“Esquire” Names Roberto Donna Chef of the Year

The controversial Italian chef is reemerging in the spotlight.

Roberto Donna wins (back) points for his work in the kitchen at Al Dente. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

It’s been quite a week for Washington dining and drinking spots in the national press. Esquire just posted its annual roundup of Best New Restaurants. Sadly there’s not a single DC eatery among the top 15 (Bon Appétit disagrees), but one well-known face made the list: Roberto Donna, who clinched Chef of the Year for his recent reemergence at Al Dente (formerly La Forchetta) in Upper Northwest.

Critic John Mariani notes in his writeup that Donna, “despite being one of America’s greatest chefs … had a habit of leaving restaurants before the paint dried.” There’s no mention of why Donna departed said restaurants (multiple lawsuits, perhaps?), among them the original Galileo that put him—and high-end Italian food in Washington—on the map, Bebo Trattoria, and Galileo III. Maybe Al Dente is the official new era that Donna has been striving for. Mariana marvels that “he’s cooking his pants off, serving dishes so deceptively simple they seem like sleight of hand.”

Check out the issue when it hits on the stands on October 16 for a “classic” recipe from the Italian toque.

  • Mark Soberman

    Bravo! It's unfortunate that Chef Donna has created so many problems for himself and others with his mangement gaffes. The courts and the IRS can sort that out. What is undeniable is that he is a remarkably talented chef who brought sublime Italian cooking to DC. While we now have several outstanding oprions for high end Italian (Fiola, Bibiana, Tosca, Elisir), first there was Galileo. and who can't wistfully recall Laboratorio?

  • Donna fan

    Many thanks for reporting this honor for Roberto Donna. As your article notes, he brought high-end Italian food to Washington. Among our best culinary experiences have been the incomparable New Year's Eve feasts which he prepared himself and served in his kitchen, and his cooking classes. The classes were small and personal, with invaluable tips and stories of growing up in Italy, making ravioli at the family kitchen table and harvesting parsley on his grandfather's farm. We have him to thank for rescuing us from the rich formal French cuisine that dominated Washington before he opened Galileo. With all the Italian restaurants he helped start, it is hard to imagine that his "life style" consisted of anything but work to introduce Washingtonians to the rich variety of Italian cuisine. He has his detractors, but it is important to note that many staff members who have moved on to other restaurants still speak of him fondly and with respect.

  • asshole

    Roberto Donna should be in jail awaiting trial for theft. He allegedly stole tax receipts etc again to fund his lifestyle

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