Born: November 19, 1966, Queens, New York
Occupation: Chef, Author, Radio Talk Show Host, and Reality Television Star
Marital Status: Natalie David (Divorced)
Education: Culinary Institute of America, Jardin de Cygne, Boston University
“Be curious, learn and read as much as you can about food. Don’t worry about making money. Focus on learning at various venues before you down for a steady position.”
It seems mother, does in fact, know best or at least that’s the case when it comes to Rocco DiSpirito’s mom. DiSpirito learned many traditional Italian dishes from his mother Nicolina, an excellent home cook. She had a tremendous influence on his cooking and career. The Queens native’s Italian heritage formed the basis of what would help him rise to international fame.
DiSpirito would further his skill by entering the Culinary Institute of America. After he completed his program in 1986, he elected to study at the Jardin de Cygne with Dominique Cecillon and Gray Kunz. After he left France, he would earn a Bachelor’s Degree from Boston University in business. After college, he got his first big break by getting a job in the kitchen at Kunz’s four-star French restaurant Lespinasse. It was a very popular New York City restaurant in the ‘90s.
DiSpirito opened his first restaurant – Union Pacific – in 1997. His unique cuisine made him an instant culinary star. He was named “Best New Chef” by Food and Wine magazine in 1999, and also named “America’s Most Exciting Young Chef” by Gourmet magazine in 2000. He also began his television career with the launch of The Food Network program, The Melting Pot, in 2000.
His first venture into reality television would occur in 2002, with The Restaurant. DiSpirito allowed cameras to follow him behind the scenes as he prepared to open a new restaurant in New York City with business partner Jeffrey Chodorow. It was called Rocco’s and it would serve Italian cuisine.
At its peak, the show would draw an audience of 9 million viewers. Unfortunately the success would not last. The Restaurant would return for a second season, but the show focused on the growing conflict between DiSpirito and his business partner, Jeffrey Chodorow. They disagreed on the direction of the restaurant, and couldn’t resolve the situation. The restaurant would close a few months after the show ended.
Luckily, DiSpirito had success with his first cookbook, Flavor. It received a James Beard award in 2004. For his second book – Rocco’s Italian-American – DiSpirito worked with his mother to record the story of their family’s journey to the United States from Italy. The cookbook also had numerous recipes reflecting the family’s southern Italian heritage.
While not being active in the restaurant business anymore he continues to build his status as a celebrity chef. He hosted a radio program from 2004 to 2005, and written more cookbooks. In his most recent effort, Rocco Gets Real, DiSpirito helps home cooks improve their skills with easy, non-complicated recipes. In 2012, he also became the host of Now Eat This! with Rocco Dispirito. Here is a clip from one of the episodes:
Rocco DiSpirito’s talent and hard work might have helped in his ascension to the top of the culinary world, but his loyalty to his roots made him the household name he is today. He never forgot who he was, he embraced it and it has paid off ways he probably couldn’t have imagined.
Featured Image Courtesy of Electus