Born in Queens, NY, and educated at the Culinary Institute of America, Rocco DiSpirito is well-known as a celebrity chef, cookbook author, TV host, and food truck purveyor.
1. How do you juggle it all?
"It's not easy. You have to carve out time, make decisions. It's like expediting in a restaurant kitchen, where every 3 seconds you have to make value judgments on time priorities. I've got the books, the TV show, the food truck, the catering, and I have to prioritize based on deadlines and the people I work with. But I always leave time for my family. My 86-year-old mother lives next door, and I show up at her place every night at 7 p.m. to watch her game shows with her. She's always asking me, ‘Why don't you go on the shows?’"
2. Your Now Eat This food truck and the Now Eat This book series all serve up healthy, low-calorie recipes. Why is healthy cooking such an important part of your repertoire? Has it always been a priority for you?
"A confluence of things put me on the path. First, getting out of the day-to-day restaurant business gave me time to think about my health, which was good because my doctor was urgently requesting that I reassess what I was doing. I had 20% body fat and weighed 214 pounds. Then, in 2006, my chiropractor asked me to do a charity event, and I agreed. The event turned out to be a triathlon. At the time, I couldn't walk a mile. So I started to eat better and exercise. And the harder path paid off. I got down to 170 and 10% body fat, and eventually did an Ironman."
"I have always eaten high-quality foods, but they used to also be high in fat and calories, so I took those out as much as I could. I quit refined sugar cold turkey. And I dropped 10 pounds in 2 weeks. When I realized that I could take something like lobster bisque and make it lighter and taste just as good if not better, I said to myself, ‘If I could do this with everything, I should share.’"
4. How did your efforts to eat better impact you professionally?
"It was a culinary challenge. Taking apart a classic dish and then rebuilding it as something healthier -- it felt like the Bionic Man each time. Often these were dishes that no one had really looked at or considered changing in a long time. Some, like lobster bisque, wound up better than the originals. In terms of my culinary journey, that was a very satisfying thing: to reduce the calories, yet retain the flavor. It's a type of cooking I had never done before. I was incredibly surprised by the results."