With appearances on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ‘The Biggest Loser,’ and even two of his own shows, the short-lived reality series ‘The Restaurant,’ and ‘Rocco Gets Real,’ Chef Rocco DiSpirito is a familiar face on television. Now he can add another show to his resume, ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’
The New York chef teams up with fellow culinary masterminds Sandra Lee and Art Smith to help a family in need. He talked with us on Thursday about the important role charity plays in his life, the work he did in repairing the 100 year-old home, and coyly answers if he cried during the big reveal.
You’ve been doing television shows for a while where you give back in some way. Whether it’s offering your health food tips to the contestants on ‘The Biggest Loser’ or your work on ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’ What motivates you to give up your time and help out?
I don’t know that there’s any motivation required other than being human. If there’s an opportunity to do something as easy as appearing on a show that will provide tremendous value to a community or an individual, it’s a no brainier. Charity has always been a part of my life. My mom instilled the value of charity in us from when we were very young. She was always volunteering at school, she always worked in the community, helping at the homeless in shelters in Jamaica, Queens where I’m from. So I watched my mom do this a lot and you know at the time I didn’t realize it was anything different. I thought everyone did that and as I grew up and became a chef, I got called a lot to do charity work. It turns out chefs are often in a position to raise funds or provide real services because we feed people for a living and we’re asked a lot to kick in when it comes to charity. So it’s kind of always just been a part of my life.
The ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ example is truly amazing. The Montgomery family is an exceptional group of people. They’ve really put their own personal needs aside to minister to their own people in their community who have serious needs. I’m glad they were picked. Their life was in shambles while at the same, they were helping other people get their lives together. So what’s nice about that is that now they can do more. Now that their life has been put back together financially, in terms of their home and residence and they’re actually able to work from a bigger place of strength in their community.
So, what kind of work did they make you do once you were at the house?
We helped move things around, bring furniture in, moved flowers. They had 5,000 volunteers and they kind of just threw us in there. We did everything everyone else did. We cooked a lot of food. We did a day where all the Chefs, Sandra [Lee], I, and Art [Smith] fed at least 1,000 people. So we cooked, we fed people, we moved, we cleaned things. I helped build some interesting crafts for the boys’ bedrooms so that was fun. We just do what everyone else does, you know? Chip in where it was needed.
What would you say is your favorite memory that you took away from this experience?
I think it’s the big moment on every episode of this show where they family comes home and it’s pretty breath taking. The place that they lived in was truly in shambles and obviously they don’t know what going on, they’re sort of secluded while it’s all going on. We were there for four days and we watched what happened and it’s absolutely astonishing. To watch their reaction when they get out of the limousine. They’re told their mortgage was all paid, they raised enough money for the Salt and Light Foundation to be run for – I think it was nine months – and just watching their reaction was pretty amazing. Everybody cries of course.
Did you cry?
Oh don’t make me admit it please! [Laughs] Let’s just say everybody cries. It was a pretty emotional moment.