- Profession: Chef and author
- Age: 45
- Hometown: Queens, New York City
- The Car: 2012 Prius v
- His first cookbook, Flavor, won a James Beard Award in 2004; Now Eat This! and Now Eat This! Diet were bestsellers
- Launched his TV career with the Food Network show, The Melting Pot, in 2000, followed by other cooking shows including Rocco Gets Real, Rocco’s Dinner Party, and The Restaurant
- Touring to promote new book: Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes From the Real Mamas of Italy – All Under 350 Calories
- His weekly TV series, Now Eat This! with Rocco DiSpirito, is syndicated across North America
- Runs a food truck, Now Eat This Truck, in New York City
Rocco DiSpirito is a star on the culinary stage.
He’s the host of the syndicated weekly TV series, Now Eat This! with Rocco DiSpirito, and is the author of several best-selling cookbooks. In his latest book, Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes From the Real Mamas of Italy – All under 350 Calories, DiSpirito dishes out the goods on low-cal Italian-American cuisine.
When he’s not in the kitchen, he’s driving around New York City in a 2012 Prius v.
Why did you buy a Prius?
I was tired of spending all that money on gas.
When I got my last car, a BMW X5 diesel, I figured I was beating the system. Diesel was $1.50 a gallon cheaper and it got roughly twice the mileage. And, now, diesel is far more expensive than regular gas.
While I was still getting better mileage I had to fill up the car twice a week. Now, I fill the car twice a month. Not only am I filling up twice a month, the tank is half the size.
It’s a 9-1/2-gallon tank versus a 25-gallon tank.
I was actually going to buy a Fisker hybrid. I actually bought it. I ordered it and waited almost 3-1/2 years for it. And then, when it arrived, I heard a lot of conflicting reports about how much gas mileage it got.
It also had this diamond flake in the paint – it looked like a crystal disco ball and I didn’t want a car that brought attention to me, so I decided not to get that and go with the Prius.
You don’t strike me to be a hybrid driver – I expected you to drive a flashy sports car.
Listen, who doesn’t want a beautiful race car?
Its just not practical at all. Some day, when I have my own personal race track and Jerry Seinfeld’s money, I’ll have 90 Porsches like he does.
What does a Prius say about you?
It says I’m not as flashy as you thought.
I’m realistic about my carbon footprint and I’d like to spend less money on energy. I’m fairly practical. And I think clean energy is cool.
If it were an Italian dish, what would it be?
It would be the strawberry instant Italian ice because that’s the one dish that delivers surprising results for very few calories. Its 55 calories for four ounces – down from 450.
You make it in 30 seconds in a blender. It’s sexy and tastes delicious. That says everything I want to say about the car. It delivers surprising results, it looks great and it uses very little energy to do so.
What was your first car?
My first used car was a 1970 Dodge Charger – the Dukes of Hazzard car.
Aquamarine blue in mint condition. It had hide-away headlights and the gas cap was on the back of the right quarter-panel – it was so cool.
I bought it from an old couple, the original owners. It still had the instruction manual and the plastic around the sun visors.
It was a gorgeous car, but definitely not fuel-efficient. Big engine. Very fast. Not the kind of car a 17-year-old should have.
I drove it for almost a year and then one night I drove it to an outside party near the Throgs Bridge in New York and it got stuck in the mud. In the time it took me to go home, get a tow truck and come back, the car was vandalized.
Everything that could be broken on it was broken. I ended up junking it. That’s what happens when you grow up in New York City – things are tough.
If we talk about it too much, I’ll start crying. It felt like I lost a family member. It was so sad. I’ll never forget it.
The very first new car I bought was a 1986 Renault Alliance. My best memory was driving across country in my little Renault Alliance with a U-Haul container strapped to the top with a few friends driving to California and back.
There were times when we had to push the car ourselves, but it made it the whole way – 10,000 miles or something like that. It was really great. I saw the Grand Canyon, Indian reservations, Dollywood, and I camped at Yellowstone. It was wonderful.
What’s funny is in 1986 they made cars that got 50 miles to the gallon. How is it 30 years later they can still barely get 50 miles to the gallon? I don’t get that.
How could you afford a Charger at 17?
It was only $500. I bought it used – it was about 13 years old.
I worked in a pizzeria. I was working in restaurants since I was 11 so I had money saved. I started working because my mom refused to buy me an album I wanted from a rock group called Kiss. She was convinced they were the devil. She told me I had to go to work and earn money to support my Kiss habit. I called her bluff and that’s how I got started in the industry.
You must have gotten into trouble with that Charger – any speeding tickets?
I got my permit the day I turned 16. How many times do you think I sped sitting in a Dodge Charger? That was a daily thing. I got enough to be annoying.
Would you ever buy a new Charger?
They’re kind of cool. They look pretty good. But when you experience a muscle car in the muscle car era I don’t think there’s any point in trying to recreate it. I don’t think the new ones will do the trick.
Growing up, we were huge fans of the muscle cars. My brother had a ’70 Camaro, which he still has. I was a motor head. I had pictures of cars airbrushed on the back of my jean jacket in high school.
My brother – he’s older – sparked my interest in cars. I wanted to do everything he did. I was free labour – one of the few people he knew who was willing to lay on my back in a puddle of transmission fluid for 10 hours while he tried to attach the transmission to the car.
I was very handy. I rebuilt engines with my brother during our entire high school years. I did tune-ups for extra money. Now, I open the hood and I don’t even know where to start. Tell me to find a spark plug and I don’t know where it is.
If I can bring you the keys to any vehicle what would it be?
There are so many vehicles – an MGB, a Ferrari, a Jaguar E-Type from the ’60s, anything James Bond drove.
Actually, the car I still covet is a stock mint, original-condition 1960 [Chevy Camaro] Z28.
This interview has been edited and condensed.