Once upon a time there was a talented young chef. He was a bit of a "mama's boy", but his mama was in her own right a culinary force to be reckoned with named Nicolina. Nicolina's boy graduated from the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park in 1986 and went on to pursue a business degree, graduating from Boston University in 1990. Not only was he a smart, talented guy, but he was "pretty", too. He'd been named "Sexiest Chef Alive" by People Magazine, "Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet Magazine, and "America's Best New Chef" by Food and Wine Magazine. Nicolina's son impressed the culinary world with his wizardry at Union Pacific in New York City, and eventually he began to write cookbooks and started his own restaurant, the foibles of which were chronicled on the small screen.
Legal problems ensnared the young chef in his restaurant venture with a quarrelsome partner, but he forged on with writing cookbooks and making the occasional small screen appearance. I have to admit, he was not a favorite of mine because of the entire TV "reality series" and what specifically was portrayed onscreen. He struck me as a rather spoiled boy basking in the limelight, and fully buying into the PR of "young and sexy and the latest and greatest". His latest book, however, has shown me that he's seen the light, and that alone would be enough to make me recommend it.
Rocco DiSpirito pulls no punches in his latest literary foray, entitled "Now Eat This!", and for that he has my complete respect. In the introduction, he reveals that he was, as so many are, in denial over his weight gain, until the sad truth was made apparent by his performance in a charity triathlon. DiSpirito candidly reveals that his times were bested by a group of women in their 60's, and this proved to be his wake-up call that he was overweight, out of shape and needed to gain better control of his health and eating habits. Crippling back pain had begun to affect him to the degree that he couldn't stand for hours at his beloved stove and he'd resorted to painkilling medication to help him get through the day.
In this book, DiSpirito set out to "re-make" some of America's favorite foods into healthier versions. I would say this is a mixed bag (sorry, Rocco, hon, but after 12 years of Catholic school, there's no one on the planet who could get me to eat tuna, ever), but is mostly successful. DiSpirito embraced the challenge, and states frankly that some recipes (such as Nicolina's meatballs) took multiple attempts to re-make. Throughout the book, toward the bottom of each page, there are values given for fat content and total calories per version both for the "original" version of the recipe, as well as "Rocco's re-made" version of the recipe. Most ingredients are easily obtained at your local market,and all the recipes are indeed America's favorites---mac & cheese, General Tsao's chicken, filet mignon Bernaise. Tex-Mex delights like steak fajitas, and tortilla soup appear with Italian favorites such as chicken Alfredo, eggplant manicotti and spaghetti carbonara. Also featured are salads, sauces, and pizza, not to mention sweet treats like brownies and frozen yogurt pops. Some of the ingredients Rocco advocates using are great and so readily available (Greek yogurt) others a bit more exotic (duck liver pâté for use in Beef Wellington) but at the risk of being repetitive, most are in your local grocery store. One thing I take issue with is Rocco's role as advocate of the use of sweet potatoes. He says this is a wonderful, vitamin-rich vegetable, and while that's hard to argue with, I'm not into "sweet" as a vegetable other than corn in summer and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Little tips on cooking are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, and seem like simple enough things to lower calories.
It's my understanding that Mr. DiSpirito's latest ventures include re-made menus geared toward kids. Well done, that's where it's at--make future generations of Americans healthy while staying healthy yourself. Between DiSpirito and Jamie Oliver, perhaps we'll be able to turn the tide of diabetes, high blood pressure and morbid obesity threatening American kids today.
I can highly recommend this cookbook as a primer for healthy, tasty eating. Really.