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Ex-'Restaurant' star Rocco DiSpirito returning in 'Rocco to the Rescue'

By Christopher Rocchio, 03/10/2008 

Former The Restaurant star Rocco DiSpirito is gearing up for a return to the kitchen via Rocco to the Rescue, a new A&E reality series scheduled for a June debut.

"We've been trying to expand the breadth of a cooking show to include human interest and real-life stories," DiSpirito told the New York Daily News in a Wednesday report.

"Striking that perfect balance has been hard to pinpoint.  It was also important for me to pick something that felt really good to me, that was about what I do, but was a little more interesting than just a cooking show.  It wasn't my goal to do the classic dump and stir cooking show."

While DiSpirito declined to comment on any Rocco to the Rescue specifics, he told the Daily News the Piligian Films-produced project is a few years in the making and the first episode of the series will have someone cooking a special meal as a way of saying "thank you."

"We're going to help people get through milestone events in their lives," DiSpirito explained to the Daily News. "We're going to try to empower them, to convince them they can do things like cooking."

Rocco to the Rescue represents the first reality series DiSpirito will front since The Restaurant, a Mark Burnett and Reveille-produced reality series that premiered in July 2003 on NBC.  The Restaurant followed DiSpirito as he prepared to open Manhattan's Rocco's 22nd Street restaurant with business partner Jeffrey Chodorow's China Grill Management LLC.

Despite first-season success, The Restaurant's Spring 2004 second season was short-lived due to poor ratings and infighting between Chodorow and DiSpirito.  Chodorow closed Rocco's 22nd Street that September after a New York state court ruled that -- despite DiSpirito's ownership interest -- China Grill Management could shut down the eatery due to its financial problems.

"It was an enormous experience for me," DiSpirito told the Daily News.  "There was lots of take-away for me. It was very exciting running three restaurants at once and writing a book. It was a good lesson in learning what your limits are, for sure.  I think the result of that was a refocus of my energy."

That refocus led DiSpirito out of the spotlight for a few years until a recent return to television, including appearances on The Biggest Loser: Couples and Top Chef and a new Bertolli Foods commercial.

"Well, it certainly seems like I'm on TV a little more," DiSpirito told the Daily News. "There's been a few things happening."

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