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Rocco's 'Restaurant' battles continue, as Jeffrey Chodorow takes on Mama DiSpirito


By Wade Paulsen, 07/16/2004 

Now that Rocco DiSpirito has been temporarily banished from Rocco's on 22nd Street and convicted felon/financier Jeffrey Chodorow has taken over (for now), potential customers know that they won't have the dining experience featured in NBC's The Restaurant. So how can Rocco's on 22nd Street draw a crowd until the lawsuits end?

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Hey, how about picking a fight with Rocco's 79-year old mother Nicolina, who still works there?

In the latest bizarre twist to this sad story, the New York Post's Page Six reports that Chodorow's newest scheme to revive the faltering eatery is to bring in three "guest chefs" ... and to pit their meatballs against Mama DiSpirito's widely-acclaimed ones in a so-called "Battle Of The Balls."

Apparently to ensure that his latest gimmick would get press coverage, Chodorow, the owner of China Grill Management, didn't tell Mama about his plan until after his first "guest chef," Miami's Mark Randazzo, whose cuisine drew rave reviews from Chodorow's posse of hangers-on in the finale of The Restaurant -- and who has publicly claimed that Chodorow has hired him to displace Rocco as the permanent chef at Rocco's on 22nd Street -- started making a batch of meatballs as soon as he showed up for his first day of work. Needless to say, as one source told The Post, Mama wasn't pleased and told Randazzo, "I make the meatballs and you make the lasagna!"

But the "meatbrawl" appears to be just what Chodorow wanted. He plans to feature both Rocco's menu, with Mama's meatballs but without Rocco, and his three guest chefs' menus, including their own meatballs, side-by-side at Rocco's on 22nd Street for at least the length of the reruns of The Restaurant on NBC cable stations (Bravo has aired it, and it is currently planned to re-air on CNBC beginning July 27). The "guest chefs" are Randazzo (July 13-31), Ralph Pallarino (August 1-14) and Massimiliano Bartoli (August 15-31).

For his part, Rocco said that it was "very unfortunate that [Chodorow and China Grill Management] have stooped to the level of trying to use my 79-year-old mother to try to resolve what should be a routine partnership dispute." Although in the interest of fairness, it should also be noted that Rocco himself also hasn't been above using his 79-year-old mother to gain sympathy ... or using her meatballs to gain status.

We also note that, according to the New York Daily News, Rocco and Chodorow were too busy (filming? posturing for the media?) to ever sign a formal partnership contract, which makes the situation at Rocco's on 22nd Street very different from a "routine partnership dispute" -- as even a chef should be aware.

With regard to Randazzo's claims of being the permanent replacement for Rocco, Chodorow coyly told the Post that "some of [the guest chefs] have expressed an interest in getting involved on a more permanent basis." Randazzo was more forthcoming, telling Newsday that he had already requested a name change for Rocco's on 22nd Street to "Randazzo's", but that Chodorow was leaning more toward "Arrivederci," as a slam directed toward Rocco.

"Battle of the Balls" indeed.

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