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Dancing For Publicity


Almost any chef/restaurant-owner/entrepreneur would not snub a turn at national publicity. At one time most would have coveted the kind of run Rocco DiSpirito had. Two years after opening his Union Pacific restaurant in New York City’s Gramercy Park in 1997, he was named Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef.” Soon after, Gourmet magazine hailed him as “America’s Most Exciting Young Chef.”

One of an exclusive list of celebrity chefs, DiSpirito had the kind of media exposure that was said to eclipse even Emeril Lagasse. However, after DiSpirito’s 2004 reality television show The Restaurant set in his namesake Rocco’s tanked – amid an ugly public feud with the TV eatery’s money man Jeffrey Chodorow, DiSpirto’s toque dipped dramatically. The timing was unfortunate: it happened just as he was attempting to expand his brand. Despite the nasty made-for-TV thrashing, in the intervening years DiSpirito (now sans a restaurant) seems to have spent the time rehabilitating his image as a talented celebrity chef mostly with a spate of TV appearances: hawking a line of cookware on QVC, acting as a guest judge on Top Chef, cooking up healthy fare on the weight loss show: The Biggest Loser…

Now comes word from ABC that the telegenic foodie is set to appear on the new season of Dancing With The Stars. DiSpirito’s dénouement seems to have resulted in his initial tango with reality TV. Rather than head back into the kitchen (even a TV kitchen), DiSpirito, when it comes to being a celebrity chef has chosen to emphasize celebrity. While the show has injected some life into some of its B-list celebrities, somehow I can’t imagine Emeril or Mario Batali doing the Foxtrot on national television — or needing to.


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