This is not a story about a food truck.
Although it could be; they certainly are famous enough to warrant their own stories these days. But celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito’s New York-based “Now Eat This!” mobile food truck does play a supporting role; a truck dedicated not only to feeding people healthy, delicious food, but also to teaching kids “where food and flavor come from,” it’s been making delicious waves in the city and local schools. Brooklyn-born reality TV star, author, renowned chef (and heartthrob) Rocco DiSpirito developed the food truck concept as a philanthropically-funded “vehicle, no pun intended, for getting healthy, tasty food concepts to kids outside of their schools, where I’m not allowed to actually come in and teach them. The truck enables me to go to schools and get kids interested. I always wanted people to taste the food that I write about in my cookbooks, so this is a way to offer the tangible proof that the recipes are healthy and also delicious.” He adds, “The truck is an example of a great social enterprise business model where we’re doing good and still able to pay people and manage the business side of it.” Expansions of the successful food truck concept are already underway for LA – and beyond, if the deliciousness of the gluten-free, 77-calorie brownie cupcake has anything to do with it.
His recent series of four Now Eat This! cookbooks – including Now Eat This! Italian that comes out in September – showcases, as he says, “the missing voice” of the chef in the worldwide discussion of healthy food. Despite the fact that politicians as well as health and research professionals frequently voice concerns over what constitutes healthy living, you don’t often hear from the actual professionals creating and serving the food. “The new book is about comfort foods made healthy,” DiSpirito says. “These foods are getting a culinary examination, a makeover, that they may not otherwise have.” The latest cookbook series showcases DiSpirito’s dedication to exposing as many people as he can to a healthy lifestyle, one that he learned himself after years of living the stereotypically unhealthy chef’s life. “I used to spend my time trying to make the richest emulsions, figuring out how to add the most fat and butter and make the most indulgent foods. If I can do an about-face and make my life about eating healthy food, anyone can.” He adds that as a chef and budding food authority, he’s spent years working 90-hour weeks, eating horribly, not balancing work and life – but today he’s eating healthier than ever and spending the little off-time he does have with family and competing in triathlons. It comes as no surprise that someone as driven as DiSpirito has a simple, straightforward approach to dealing with willpower and healthy living issues: “It’s just about setting your mind to it, and being serious about it. The moment you make a conscious decision to make a change, you can do it. You give yourself plenty of excuses, like you’re too busy, but it’s about making the decision and holding yourself to it.”
DiSpirito knows the life of the celebrity chef better than most – and speaks to the myth that the “celebrity chef” fetish of recent years is new. “The trend of the celebrity chef is not a new one. Chefs have become the gurus of the good life over the past 15 or so years, although it may be heightened due to the recent spate of reality TV and social media surrounding the industry.” And speaking of celebrity, the progression of DiSpirito’s growth as a chef and food authority has shifted significantly since his early days working in restaurants and wowing famed New York Times reviewer Ruth Reichl with his innovative, mouth-watering dishes. “Ten years ago, I would have said having a story about myself in the New York Times would be my greatest accomplishment, but today I think it’s my connection to my family. I have a large family and I’ve really reacquainted myself with them… my mother lives right next door to me, I see her every day. I’m proud that I can do these exciting things with my career and still have a rich family life and take care of my health.”
The chef’s Italian heritage makes him especially sensitive to the unhealthy approach Americans take to their food. “We are one of the only countries that don’t eat meals together. We’re so isolated in America, we could be sitting eating in front of a TV miles away from anyone else; shared meals help you relax, enjoy your food, eat slower, and connect with people. It reminds you that there is humanity and intimacy in the world,” he shares. “It’s about giving value to your life and your family – then [eating healthy] is an easy decision. You gotta be around to provide for them.” He adds that getting commercial food manufacturers to provide healthier, less processed foods will be a huge step in the right direction, and he’s seeing positive changes already. “We have to demand something different. If you don’t buy it, they won’t make it. And America’s ready for healthy. Most people, if given the chance, will make the right choice.”
While DiSpirito works on making the world a healthier, fitter, happier place, continues his steady stream of wildly popular cookbooks, and launches a new TV show concept this summer (Rocco will visit with families afflicted by health problems and help them work on on fixing their eating habits), let’s go back to our story’s supporting star: the food truck. Imbued with the passion of its creator, it’s changing people’s minds about healthy food, one delicious meal at a time. “The biggest challenge is getting people to believe healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive,” says DiSpirito. He stresses that health is a conscious decision you have to make – and of course it’s not easy; if it were, we’d all be healthy. “Sure, it’s hard to eat right and exercise,” he laughs, “but it’s worth it when you’re sexy as hell, everyone’s hitting on you and the doctor says you’ve given yourself an extra twenty years of life.”
Words of widom from Mr. Dispirito. Now those are definitely words to live by… Now follow that truck!