Rocco DiSpirito has been a fixture on the American food scene since the 1990s. He has owned a three-star restaurant, been a reality television star and written over a dozen cookbooks, which range in theme from Italian American to “comfort keto.”
These days, he runs a custom food delivery service, Made by Rocco, has a product line of raw and organic shakes, protein powders and bars, and still makes regular television appearances. Originally from Jamaica, Queens, Mr. DiSpirito is now a long-term resident of TriBeCa, where he lives with his family, two dogs and two cats.
FIRST ATTEMPT For some reason, somewhere between 5 and 6, my brain just wants me to get up. And I’m not an easy sleeper, so it’s usually a short night. So I get up just to get it over with. I’ll have a protein shake and check emails for a while, deal with some of the things that got me up in the first place, and then, after 90 minutes or so, I go back to sleep.
TAKE TWO Between 8 and 9, I’m officially up, and round two of daily life begins with pets. I take the dogs for a long walk. One of the reasons I live in this part of TriBeCa is because there’s a dog park nearby. While I’m walking the dogs I start thinking about the main pleasurable activity of the day. It involves food, not surprisingly.
ADMIN I need to sneak in some work at different intervals each day since Made by Rocco is basically 24/7. I check in with my clients and make sure their needs are being met and to plan the upcoming week’s menus. I usually have about 15 clients at a time, and I’ll hope to be in touch with half of them in the morning. And then I’m off, almost always, to Balthazar.
THE RITUAL I try to get to Balthazar around noon. It’s basically a standing reservation with a rotating group of friends. The brunch/lunch/dinner can last up to three hours. It’s a big deal for me because it’s usually the only time I allow myself to have that kind of very long meal and the company of friends. It’s like my church. I’ve been a fan of Balthazar and the owner, Keith McNally, since they opened in 1997. I used to come here almost every night after work, and we’d sit in the same booth where I still sit every time I come here and stay for hours, just like I still do. I actually have a credit card lost behind the banquette somewhere.
THREE-MEAL COURSE I try to plan it so that this Sunday meal serves as breakfast, lunch and an early dinner. They have an amazing basket of pastries, so I have some pastries first with some coffee, and then in an hour or so, I order the seafood tower. Always. Having a seafood tower at Balthazar is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. It was what I dreamed of more than anything else during the dog days of the pandemic. An hour or so after the seafood tower, I might have steak frites or maybe duck or trout. Something very typically French. This is a magical place for classic French food and brasserie ambience that you don’t find much anymore.
STROLL, VISIT I love to walk, especially after a long meal. Where I go depends on my mood, but most Sundays I’ll go to the Lower East Side to a small gallery called Chinatown Soup to find my friend Tim Hsu, a brilliant graphic designer who has worked on many of my books. I love the small galleries of the Lower East Side and especially Tim’s, as it represents what New York was built for, a place where someone with 50 bucks could start something and be underground, and that’s Chinatown Soup. Tim has really cool, community-based exhibits. He makes amazing tea and has fine cigars, so we’ll smoke cigars, drink tea, check out the art and just hang out.
BRAINSTORM I’m involved with the Downtown Alliance, working with a small team there on a series, Dine Around Downtown Cooking at Home Edition. We started it early in the pandemic to bring attention to chefs who were reopening or struggling with reopening, or pivoting into takeout and delivery, and to help bring awareness to them and their charities. Every three weeks or so we do a presentation on Zoom featuring a restaurant from the area. I’m the host and part of the planning, so every Sunday the team and I connect to discuss the next presentation.
TALK IT OUT I check in with more of my clients, those I hadn’t been in touch with already. After that, I’ll hop on the phone with my therapist. I’ve been in therapy, I believe, since the second grade. They didn’t call it that, and I didn’t realize what it was until I was in college, but it’s been a consistent in my life. Early in my career, I worked for a restaurant owner who really believed in consistent therapy, as a way to make management stronger and better and more empathetic. So it was reinforced many times in my life that this was a good idea.
FAMILY DINNER Around 7 there’s more food. I cook. My extended family comes over, sometimes my neighbors, too. There’s always pasta on Sunday night. Other things, too, but pasta is the constant. I’ll make carbonara or a meat ragout, something like that. When I’m working on a cookbook, I am often inspired by whatever I make on Sunday, so the menu may lean toward my needs. My family and friends don’t know that they’re involved in recipe testing, but I don’t think they mind. Right now I’m working on “Rocco at Home,” my next cookbook, so the menu is definitely comfort based and well received.
SLEEP AID I’ve been a contestant or judge on Guy Fieri’s “Tournament of Champions” for all three seasons. The judging, as I’ve done the last two seasons, is all blind and really monitored. I mean, it’s like witness protection. I have no idea whose food I’m tasting or even the results of the competition until the season premiere. Just like everyone else, I have to watch to find out, so now I’m watching Season 3. I hate seeing myself on TV. I’m a shy person. An introvert. But I have to watch each episode to see how it turned out and to know how to get better at my job as a judge. The only time I can do this is last thing on a Sunday night. It’s so excruciating to watch myself on TV that it actually helps me fall asleep.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Rocco DiSpirito on Twitter or Instagram @roccodispirito.