Rocco DiSpirito

Rocco DiSpirito explains the differences between Natalie's and Vanessa's French-inspired dinner parties.

on Jul 21, 2011

Vanessa did Porcini Dusted Scallops over Creamy Leeks. She used sunny-side-up quail eggs as a garnish, a surprising and mild counterpoint to the rest of the dish. 

And then there was Natalie’s Pan Seared Alaskan Cod, served over white sweet potatoes, turnip puree, and roasted corn. Of the three dishes it tasted the best, but it looked like it had been hit with a bomb, a real mess. I was really concerned about having her anywhere near my guests. I feared for the future of French cuisine.

In the end Daniel was out -- I felt he was more interested in making an impression than making a memorable evening for my guests. 

So I’m down to Vanessa and Natalie who are as opposite as the oil and vinegar they’d be pouring into food. I asked Vanessa to tone down her technical perfection, take some risks, and be more crazy. I asked Natalie to be less crazy, and at least learn how to use my beloved vita prep blender.

Vanessa won the Signature Challenge because her dish tasted good, and it looked good. Natalie failed the “look-good” part of the test.

Their assignment was to put their personal stamp on French classics popularized by the iconic Julia Child in her famous book, The Art of French Cooking. For more than 35 years, Child sliced, diced, and whisked into our homes through TV, and I’m a huge fan. Having hardly set foot in a kitchen until age 34, she nevertheless raised the bar on home cooking. She wasnt just a great TV chef, she was a great woman. At a time when most women on TV were portrayed as either a homemaker like June Cleaver or a dumb blonde like Goldie Hawn played on Laugh-In she was a real standout. She was skilled, articulate, and strong. She wasn’t happy playing into the stereotypes, a first for women on television. She also happened to pave the way for chefs like me. I love to cook, and I love to teach others how to do it. Unlike many TV chefs, she embraced incompetence and you got the feeling that she was saying, “Hey, if I can do this, you can, too!” cooking great food is for everyone and she embodied that. 

Vanessa chose the intimate dining room and added a Haitian spin to it (she is of Haitian descent), and there’s a huge French influence in Haiti. Once Jes Gordon got through with it, the room was energized with blues, aquas, and dashes of yellow accents. The toile tablecloth and the key lime centerpiece were great touches. I was happy to learn what toile is. Its not a towel and its not tulle. Glad we cleared that up.