Rocco DiSpirito

Rocco DiSpirito explains why Frank won the fashion forward challenge.

on Aug 4, 2011

It was a night I will never forget. Two of the most creative fields in the world came together -- Food and Fashion. Did they click or clash? You be the judge. It was a crazy night of poorly-timed servings, mounds of caviar -- and a discussion about whale vomit!!!! I just never know what’s going to happen when I allow chefs to innovate and guests to (hopefully) hit it off.  

The craziness started from the get-go, with three chefs coming from totally different backgrounds. Were they competing on level playing fields? Probably not, but the “field” is a kitchen, and the floor is level the last time I checked. First, there was football player-turned chef Bill Haley, who is a sous-chef at Plaza Food Hall. I love sous-chefs. When I was an executive chef, I couldn’t do without mine. The word sous (pronounced sue) comes from the French word for under or beneath, or, in this case, assistant. He’s the go-to guy, the heart and backbone of the kitchen, and typically the person who puts in the longest hours. To put it in Bill’s language, the sous-chef is the quarterback; the executive chef is like the coach.

Sharon Robustelli is self-trained and has been in the business for only two years. Amazing -- clearly she’s someone who just doesn’t follow her dream; she makes it come true. I love having self-taught chefs in my kitchen and on the show. Because they’re not classically trained, I think people can relate to them. 

Then there was Frank Otte Jr. What a kick he was. If he ever loses his job as an "Executive" private chef, he might do well as a stand-up comedian, or a drill sergeant. He ran his kitchen with military precision, no question.

Well, the pans started clattering right away. Bill’s “Amazing Rack” was pan-seared baby rack of lamb on top of a succotash-like dish of baby carrots, fresh English peas, and herbs. I got on his case because he trimmed too much fat off the lamb. I love the unique flavor of really good lamb, and I know that cooking the perfect lamb rack can be a little tricky. But cooking it without its attendant fat, that’s just crazy. It tasted good, not great. His dish underwhelmed me.