By: JENNIFER AGRESS
Forget fame, celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito cooks for a higher purpose.
For Rocco DiSpirito — James Beard Award-winning chef, Food Network star, South Beach Wine & Food Festival headliner, and the author of 14 cookbooks, including five New York Times bestsellers — food means community.
Growing up in Queens, NY, he got a job at a pizzeria at the age of 11 for one reason: to be able to make enough money to buy KISS’ Love Gun album. But the joke was on DiSpirito. In his first week, this chef-to-be earned enough money to buy that record and enjoy a day out with his mom on Coney Island on his dime. DiSpirito also found something money couldn’t buy. He found his calling.
“When I worked at that pizzeria, I learned that the simple act of slicing a piece of pizza and filling a fountain soda could make someone so happy, and it stuck with me,” DiSpirito says. “I’ve lived in that moment for 40 years, and I’ve never worked in another industry since.”
This love for making people smile has been evident in more ways than one. He has become a major advocate for healthy living, debunking myths about food and weight loss along the way. That dedication led DiSpirito to “The Biggest Loser,” where he helped to shape the food programming. Today, DiSpirito’s commitment to better choices can be found in a namesake line of superfood supplements and snacks available through his website.
DiSpirito has seen similar goodwill in restaurants and people who work in them over the past year and half. “Without the restaurant community in New York City during the pandemic, I don’t know that we would have come back so fast. The restaurants that fought to stay open and continue to serve food, they built communities and brought them together,” DiSpirito recalls. “Food is powerful. I’ve always felt so lucky that I get to play in this kind of work.”