Also Credited As:Rocco Di Spirito
|November 19, 1966|
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Born Nov. 19, 1966 in Jamaica, Queens, NY to Italian immigrant Nicolina DiSpirito, the youngster developed an aptitude for the culinary arts at 11 years old. Discouraged from eating out at restaurants while growing up, DiSpirito instead joined his mother in the kitchen, where he developed a love of food and learned how to make his mother's famed Italian meatball recipe. At the age of 16, DiSpirito enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Upon graduating with honors in 1986, he went on to hone his craft abroad at famed restaurant Jardin de Cygne in Paris, where he studied French cuisine and wine with chefs Dominique Cecillon and Gray Kunz. Returning to the U.S., DiSpirito went on to earn a BS in business from Boston University in 1990. DiSpirito's career as a chef began at Adrienne in New York and continued on at Aujourd'hui in Boston, where DiSpirito served as Chef de Partie. Serving under Chef Mark Baker at Aujourd'hui, DiSpirito began to combine French cooking techniques with Asian ingredients - a fusion that would later become his signature culinary style. Offered a spot on the opening team of chefs at Lespinasse by former mentor Gray Kunz, DiSpirito returned to New York.
Branching out on his own, DiSpirito opened his first restaurant, Dava, in 1995. Though it received favorable review, the restaurant closed its doors after only six months. Undeterred, DiSpirito went on to open Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park, serving as Executive Chef and owner. This second venture into the restaurant business proved more successful; DiSpirito's unique style of cooking quickly earned him three stars from The New York Times and Union remained open until late 2004. Opening the doors of his culinary expertise to a television audience in 2003, DiSpirito embarked on the reality series "The Restaurant" (NBC, 2003-04). Documenting the opening of DiSpirito's third restaurant, Rocco's on 22nd Street (with financier Jeffrey Chodorow), the series premiered to 7.5 million viewers. Conflict arose, however, between DiSpirito and Chodorow during the show's second season. Despite the restaurant's appeal, it showed a lack of profit. The New York Supreme Court issued an injunction on Chodorow's behalf, barring DiSpirito from the restaurant and giving Chodorow the right to sell or reopen Rocco's under a different name. Closing its doors in July 2004, the restaurant was reopened without DiSpirito in 2005 as a Brazilian steakhouse by the name of Caviar & Banana.
DiSpirito went on to develop new ventures. In 2003, he published his first cookbook, the award-winning Flavor, which broke down the concept of building dishes on four basic flavors, and a year later, served as host of the morning radio show "Food Talk" on New York City's WOR 710. The gig ended abruptly in 2005 after a conflict with the station about the content of a new afternoon show. DiSpirito next appeared as a guest sous-chef on the season three finale of "Top Chef" (Bravo, 2006- ), as a guest judge during the show's fourth season, and appeared as a guest judge on the NBC reality show "The Biggest Loser: Couples" (2008). Paired opposite dance veteran Karina Smirnoff in 2008, DiSpirito joined the celebrity lineup on the seventh season of the mainstream monster hit, "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ).
Although DiSpirito only managed to place 9th in his run at the mirror ball trophy on "DWTS," the celebrity chef earned kudos doing what he did best when he published his fifth cookbook, Rocco Gets Real: Cook at Home, Ever Day in October 2008. Sampling a taste of the actors' life, DiSpirito later appeared as himself in a 2009 episode of the romantic mystery series "Castle" (ABC, 2008- ), which revolved around the murder of a recent cooking competition winner. That same year, he made a cameo as a guest on a daytime talk show in the Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler romantic-comedy "The Ugly Truth" (2009). Exhibiting a discerning taste for beauty as well as food, DiSpirito served as a judge on "The 2011 Miss USA Pageant" (NBC, 2011). In more familiar territory, he produced and hosted the series "Rocco's Dinner Party" (Bravo, 2011- ), on which four culinary contestants competed for the privilege of catering a sumptuous private banquet for DiSpirito and a select group of celebrity quests. The following season, he was one of the single celebrity contestants looking to hook up on the quickly canceled dating competition show "The Choice" (Fox, 2012).