Rocco DiSpirito On His Upcoming ‘Healthy + Delicious’ Cookbook

As one of the most famous chefs in America, Rocco DiSpirito has never been very far from a good meal. By the time he turned 20, he was the food world’s very own George Clooney – working in the kitchen of legendary chefs around the world, gracing magazine covers and running his own 3-star restaurant (Union Pacific).

He could have anything he wanted. As his fame grew, so did his indulgent lifestyle. All it took was one conversation with his doctor to walk away from it all. “He told me a lot of things I wasn’t ready to hear. There were some scary consequences to my lifestyle and at 38, I wasn’t ready to face those.”

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The fun-loving indulgent Italian chef turned away from the meat-heavy rich diet that made him a household name and instead looked to the garden for salvation..

“I am returning to my roots. The original form of the Mediterranean lifestyle.” What that entails, he says, is cooking fresh. “Not out of a package, but out of a kitchen.”

In 2002 DiSpirito, already a James Beard Award-winning chef was named the “Sexiest Chef in America” by People Magazine.  All eyes were on him as he entered primetime with a reality show, The Restaurant, chronicling his journey of opening a restaurant in NYC, alongside one of the industry’s most volatile partners, Jeffrey Chodorow. The restaurant was going to be called Rocco’s and paid homage to his Italian-American background, drawing inspiration from his mother’s cooking (truth be told, she is the genius who started the meatball trend in NYC). The show was a hit.

In an instant, Rocco became a red carpet celebrity, living it up with HBO stars and Hollywood movers and shakers. The lifestyle caught up with him. “My doctor basically said, hey buddy, you have to make some changes. Now.” He was looking at high cholesterol and high blood pressure – serious stuff for a guy not yet 40.

Instead of dose himself up with symptom-treating medicine, DiSpirito decided to completely overhaul his diet and lifestyle. The diagnosis forced him to look at the food industry as a whole, too, not just his role in it.

“We overindulge and it’s a shame. We have more food per person than we need yet there are 60 million who are food insecure and hundreds of millions more overweight or malnourished. I am inspired to undo all that damage.”

Driven by a mission to help people eat nutritious real food, he founded The Pound a Day Diet meal delivery service where he cooks for and coaches clients to achieve their best health. What followed that was an all-natural product line and healthy cooking show called Now Eat This! with Rocco DiSpirito airing on Z Living.  He has guided life-changing transformations as the healthy food coach on ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss and serves as an Ambassador for HealthCorps where he regularly visits schools across the country performing cooking demos and kids to build healthier habits.

Rocco's Healthy + Delicious FINAL Book Cover 10.17.17

His new book Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious (launching October 17features over 200 (mostly plant-based) recipes that Rocco says serves as a guidebook for kick starting those healthy habits – and for encouraging less waste in the kitchen. The recipes are designed to be mixed and matched so that you can eat multiple times a day. There is not creating a giant meal and having half of it go to waste here. With recipes like snickerdoodle green smoothies, healthy fried chicken with coleslaw and avocado and espresso meatloaf, we have a feeling waste, or leftovers, won’t be a problem.

Was it hard to translate Italian cooking into healthy cooking? 

No, It was not difficult at all to translate. That is because Italian is a more plant based lifestyle. Fruits and veggies are an important part of the Mediterranean diet and that’s why it is one of the most sustainable diets out there. The diet pattern contains the basic tenants out there – getting your carbs from fruits and vegetables. This lifestyle and this book is more about embracing my Italian heritage in the original form, which is closer to the food my grandmother provided me as a child.

What kind of food did you eat growing up?

My grandmother rarely went to the store. She had apple trees, cherry trees, peach trees.  She raised or grew everything she needed. We ate a lot of whole wheat and whole grains. That was as close as she could get to recreating the Italian way of life in American. And by the way, we were all the healthiest back then. She left us and those traditions left us, too. I remember it happening. I could see it happening. I could plot on a chart the decline of the American diet.

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What are your tips for someone hoping to change their lifestyle?

One, eat more plants and aim to make fresh, organic fruits and vegetables the star of meals, with high-quality meat playing a supporting role. Two, ditch dairy which can have an inflammatory effect in the body. And three, choose gluten-free grains. Gluten can promote chronic inflammation and trigger leptin resistance making you prone to overeating.

Can an Italian really live on veggie noodles alone? Is veggie pasta even acceptable for a red blooded Italian?

Hey, spiralized veggies have arrived. I’m not worried about that. I am a big fan of them and I know how to make a great tomato sauce so I am not worried about that. I make home made, protein based flour out of lentil flour and chickpea flour so I can make delicious pasta that isn’t all carbs. Mix the spiralized veggies with a half serving of that pasta, the tomato sauce and you’re all set. I always say, ‘if chubby flat footed chef with a crooked spine can get healthy and lose weight after a year anybody can.