Rocco DiSpirito was born November 19, 1966, in Jamaica, Queens. Rocco started his culinary career at age 11 in his mother's kitchen.
At 16, Rocco began his studies at the Culinary Institute of America where he graduated with honors in 1986. He then studied French regional food and wine for two years at the prestigious Jardin de Cygne restaurant in Paris with Dominique Cecillon and Gary Kunz. In 1990, DiSpirito graduated cum laude from Boston University with a B.S. in Business.
Returning to New York in 1988, Rocco went to work at Adrienne in Hotel Maxim's de Paris (now the Peninsula Hotel) under Jean-Michel Diot and Jacques Chibois. He later became Chef de Partie at Aujourd'hui in Boston. While working for Chef Mark Baker at Aujourd'hui, Rocco learned to combine French techniques with Asian ingredients, now part of his own signature style.
Curious about this style of fusion cooking, Rocco returned to New York to study under great chefs Charlie Palmer, David Bouley, Gilbert Le Coze, and Gary Kunz. Kunz later included Rocco on the opening team of the famous Lespinasse restaurant.
On His Own
In 1995, Rocco opened Dava Restaurant in midtown Manhattan. The restaurant closed within 6 months despite many favorable reviews. In 1997, Rocco opened Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park. His innovative cooking quickly earned him 3 stars from the New York Times. Union Pacific closed in late 2004, supposedly from a mutual agreement between Rocco and owners.
In 2003, Rocco opened Rocco's 22nd Street, the subject of the reality television series, The Restaurant. The show, although somewhat unfair in its portrayal of Rocco, correctly depicts the power struggle between Rocco (part-owner) and financier Jeffrey Chodorow. Although extremely popular, the restaurant apparently was a financial failure.
In July 2004, New York Supreme Court Judge Ira Gammerman issued an injunction barring Rocco from Rocco's on 22nd Street and also gave Chodorow permission to sell or reopen the restaurant. Rocco's on 22nd Street closed in September 2004 and was reopened in 2005 as the Brazilian steakhouse, Caviar & Banana Brasserie, obviously without Rocco.
In 2004, Rocco started his career in radio as host of the morning show Food Talk on New York City's WOR 710. His radio career ended abruptly in December 2005 as Rocco and the station disagreed over the content of a new afternoon show. Currently, Rocco is without a restaurant or talk show but can be seen hocking his product line, Rocco Cookware on QVC.
- Flavor (Hyperion 2003)
- Rocco's Italian-American (Hyperion 2004)
- Rocco's Five Minute Flavor: Fabulous Meals with 5 Ingredients in 5 Minutes (Scribner 2005)
Awards and Accolades
- 1999 Named one of Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs
- 2000 Gourmet Magazine America's Most Exciting Young Chef
- 2000 Nominated Best Chef: New York City by James Beard Foundation
- 2001 Nominated Best Chef: New York City by James Beard Foundation
- 2002 People Magazine's Sexiest Chef Alive
- 2003 Nominated Best Chef: New York City by James Beard Foundation
- 2004 Winner James Beard Award: Best Cookbook - Cooking From A Professional Point of View