Rocco DiSpirito

Rocco DiSpirito explains why both chefs were winners, and reveals set secrets.

on Jun 24, 2011

Back to the party. My guest list had “classy” written all over it: the stunning style and beauty expert Mary Alice Stephenson, fashion editor Harper's Bazaar; the supremely talented singer/songwriter Bebel Gilberto; the renowned fashion designer Gilles Mendel; the delightful Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour; and amazingly funny actor/comedian D.L. Hughley. And of course, our distinguished Mystery Guest, the lovely Padma Lakshmi, Emmy Award nominated host of Top Chef, and a successful cookbook author. Padma literally tastes 1000's of dishes a year for a living, and I was honored to have her as my guest.

When I finally revealed to King and Joel that Padma was our Mystery Guest they were knocked out. She brought some of her spices with her and I asked both chefs to prepare something for Padma with them in five minutes. King and Joel scattered like dry leaves in the wind. Watching both chefs create and prepare each dish was exciting, and the energy in the kitchen was buzzing.

Cooking can be as complicated -- or as simple -- as you make it. And there’s no reason why these guys couldn’t whip something great up in a heartbeat. I told them I had some tuna, salmon and paneer (Indian cheese) in the fridge and they both did something with fish, which always cooks up fast. Joel, with tuna; King, with salmon. But both guys shined under pressure. I think the consensus was Joel's tuna was the best of the two.

Joel chose to serve dinner first: Parmesan Tuiles with prosciutto; Steamed Mussels and Clams served with a parsley and fennel salad; Barlotti Bean Stew with Dijon Sausage (Joel bravely decided to make his own sausage); and Sourdough Bread Pudding with Cardamom Ice Cream. What’s up with bread pudding? We had that last week. Must be a fave with more chefs than I thought.

Here’s something you didn’t see on the show: Joel was the only chef who tasted all the wines I suggested to make sure they complemented the food to his liking rather than take my suggestions for granted. I liked that a lot! Btw, that’s not grape juice, folks. Yes, we are enjoying fine wines provided by my good friend Fred Price and The Gotham Wine Group. A dinner party just isn’t right without it.

Joel’s Chicken Confit was turning into disaster; he tasted it and it was really dry – so bad that he didn’t want to serve to his dog. He switched gears pretty damn fast after that fumble – that’s the mark of a resourceful chef – and substituted prosciutto for the chicken. He got points in my book for having the gumption to acknowledge his error and do something about it last minute. The prosciutto was a brilliant choice.

Two of my guests didn’t like mussels or clams, but felt so comfortable they tried them anyway. That's a good sign. It means your guests feel safe in your hands and are willing to experiment. Joel made believers out of them. He definitely worked some magic there; they were a hit. Padma dealt a blow to his bean stew; she didn’t think the sausage, homemade or not, had much flair, even though it used dijon mustard, one of my favorite flavor detonators. A little dijon served on the side would have been terrific. The wine he eventually chose helped a lot it though! It was a Gigondas, Les Espalines Cuvee Romaine, from Patrick Lesec 2005. A gorgeous French Southern Rhone that's a blend of Grenache & Syrah. It was elegant, yet rustic and had the guts to stand up to Pork sausage stew.