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Rocco DiSpirito Talks About His New Italian Cookbook and Olive Garden

Rocco DiSpirito Talks About His New Italian Cookbook and Olive Garden


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During some time off from teaching kids at local New York City schools how to eat healthy, Rocco DiSpirito was charming mamas in Italy while prepping for his latest cookbook, Now Eat This! Italian.

Coming Sept. 25, Now Eat This! Italian combines DiSpirito’s cooking methods with Italian-American dishes that are less than 350 calories. But that's not the only thing on DiSpirito's plate — he’s thinking of expanding his Now Eat This! Truck to Los Angeles in the next six months, he’s also planning on starting delivery with his New York truck, and is launching a new healthy-eating show this September.

We chatted with DiSpirito at Nestlé’s launch of new Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss about his time in Sorrento, Italy, and Italian-American cuisine’s downfall.

So tell us about your trip! What did you learn over in Italy?
It felt like cooking school because I was once again reminded that chefs do too much to food. That’s why I specifically worked with moms there and not with professional chefs. Moms are where it’s at, especially in Italy. Moms run the world over there.

How did you have to think about cooking over there?
They really respect what each ingredient contributes to a dish, and do nothing to get in the way of that ingredient living to its fullest potential. They constantly say, "No, don’t put that in there! It doesn’t need black pepper, no pepperoncino, no parsley, no more herbs." We in America we’re always looking for big flavor but we don’t have ingredients they have, so we’re adding seasoning to constantly make the flavor happen. Whereas for them a tomato is a hand grenade, they just have to light the fuse. Here, we have to build the bomb.

Well, we have such a great Italian-American scene here.
A lot of people think of New York as the 21st region of Italy because of its Italian food, but it really isn’t. Italian-Americans, when they came here, had to adopt new ingredients that didn’t have as much flavor. They weren’t necessarily grown locally. So they compensated by adding more sugar and more fat to the food.

So that’s how we end up with Olive Garden, where everything is three-cheese and four-cheese and something that should be 400 calories is 1,200 calories.

Have you heard about Marilyn Hagerty? She went viral after writing a positive review of Olive Garden.
I wasn’t aware, but I’m glad she had a positive experience.

Well, so why Italian for your first single-ethnicity book?
I wanted to take Now Eat This! into a direction that separated ethnic foods and focused only on those ethnicities one at a time. I started with what I thought was the most popular ethnic food in the country, and I’m hoping to do Asian next and Latin after that, and continue to travel to these countries to learn how these dishes are actually made the original way. I base my makeover on that, versus what we think is our best guess of how they’re made.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


With new cookbook, lessons learned, Rocco DiSpirito attempts a comeback

NEW YORK – Rocco DiSpirito presents a cautionary tale for all those would-be celebrity chefs.

Sometimes, fame plays hard. And it won’t hesitate to take you down, no matter how serious your kitchen cred. So it was with DiSpirito, who in a flash went from culinary superstar to reality TV burnout.

But DiSpirito’s story is un-finished. And the moral may yet be that tenacity and talent can triumph.

“I’ve learned a couple of important things along the way,” he said recently while cooking from his new book, “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” (Meredith Books). “No. 1, don’t bite off more than you can chew. That’s been a pretty big lesson for me.”

These days, DiSpirito is chewing far less. His restaurants and television show are gone. His new cookbook got a quiet rollout. And he’s spending time with family and friends while doing charity work.

It’s an unlikely formula for a relaunch, and it might just work.

For years, DiSpirito was amazingly surefooted. In 1997, he opened New York’s Union Pacific restaurant to acclaim. Food & Wine magazine named him “Best New Chef” in 1999. A year later, Gourmet magazine called him the nation’s most exciting young chef.

In 2003, he starred in an NBC reality show, “The Restaurant,” which would chronicle the opening of a second eatery, Rocco’s 22nd Street. A year later, his cookbook, “Flavor,” won a James Beard award.

Then, things crumbled. The show and new restaurant started strong but soon were shuttered, thanks partly to infighting between DiSpirito and his business partner. Meanwhile, DiSpirito left Union Pacific, and a new cookbook got panned.

“I thought our differences could be overcome. In some ways, they were more true to themselves than I was,” DiSpirito said of his business partners from that era. “I should have been honest with myself.”

A few years of wound licking later, a newly buff DiSpirito is inching his way back. He has made guest appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “Today” show, has a new cookbook and is in talks for a new television show.

“If Rocco genuinely gets back to wanting to cook, then he will have a comeback ahead of him,” said Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine. “To me, that’s where he shines. He is a great cook.

“But that requires focusing on a single project and putting his passion – and he has a lot of passion – into one project.”

Informing DiSpirito’s re-launch attempt is a new mission – returning people to the kitchen. And he sounds practically evangelical talking about the triumvirate of food, family and friends.

He praises America’s growing focus on artisanal and high-quality ingredients, but he worries it can border on obsession, which ultimately detracts from what he considers the real value of cooking and eating. “Which is being with people.”

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and DiSpirito acknowledges he is entering a crowded field.

“There definitely are a lot of people out there trying to talk to the home cook,” he said. “But there aren’t a whole lot of professional chefs out there doing it.”

He’s using those skills – learned when he was 16 at the Culinary Institute of America and honed in restaurants from Paris to Boston – to show that everyday ingredients can produce at home the “lusty, big, powerful” flavors people expect from restaurant cooking. Which might make the new DiSpirito equal parts Rachael Ray and Gourmet magazine.

What remains to be seen is whether that’s what people want. It’s her everyman appeal that pushed Ray to the top. Americans associate culinary high rollers like DiSpirito with fussiness and may not feel his tricks belong in their kitchens.

Perhaps anticipating this, DiSpirito opted for an intuitive approach for his new cookbook, one that simplifies shopping and meal planning and focuses on recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare.

He also favors prepared ingredients, often by brand name. This is where the realism slips a bit. Few of the shoppers DiSpirito is targeting are likely to hunt for his favored brand of marinara.

Recipes run from a broiled salmon with miso marmalade to a chicken risotto drawn from instant rice and rotisserie chicken.

If that last item seems unlikely for a chef of DiSpirito’s caliber, that’s his point. DiSpirito is a chef without a restaurant, leaving him to cook like the rest of us. And he’s finding he likes it.

“I’m pretty pleased with what it’s like to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running a restaurant,” he said. “I get to cook more than ever, and I get to do it for the reason that matters, to enjoy other people.”

Shrimp Parmigiano With White Beans And Olives

Recipe adapted from “Rocco’s Real Life Recipes” by Rocco DiSpirito (Meredith Books, 2007).

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans

½ cup olive bruschetta topping or other olive condiment (such as tapenade) (see shopper’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled, veins and tails removed

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare beans: In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine beans, marinara and olive topping. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To broil shrimp: Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high. Brush foil-lined broiler pan with oil. Arrange shrimp on foil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with cheese. Place shrimp under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese bubbles and turns golden brown.

To serve: Divide beans among 4 large bowls. Set shrimp over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Shopper’s note: If you can’t find olive spread, use chopped olives.


Watch the video: Cooking with RHONJs Caroline Manzo. Spaghetti Aglio e Olio Recipe (July 2022).


Comments:

  1. Jared

    your phrase simply excellent

  2. Chuck

    I can advise you on this matter.



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