Rocco DiSpirito wanted to open a new restaurant. He had three things going for him from the very start: He had a good reputation as a chef, he was ambitious, and he had a killer-meatball makin’ Mama who would work for free.
Hello again, my name is CaliGirl and I will be your server, I mean recapper for this evening. Join me on our quest for fun and food fights as we look at the Menu. The starters are: Chef Rocco himself and his formidable Mama, whose words of wisdom include: “Fifty years together is tough, It’s a long time. You gotta say, ‘Yes, dear’ all the time. Otherwise you say, ‘No, dear’ and kill each other.” I don’t think she’s referring to Rocco who is 38 years old, but is perhaps drawing from some past experiences, such as marriage or a long prison sentence.
Recapturing Grandma’s Basement Parties
Rocco is a guy with a dream. He has pride in his Italian heritage but has never been able to cook Italian food. He has two other restaurants in New York City, and now it’s time to open the third one right in front of our very eyes. He is determined to find a location that will be just like his Grandma’s house was when she first arrived in America. When he was a mere kid, Rocco remembers staring into the windows and watching all the parties that would go on in there. It is never explained why Rocco was on the outside looking in. Maybe Grandma was a bootlegger.
In any case, opening a restaurant is a huge risk and at this point, there is no location, no staff, but Rocco is not unduly concerned – yet. He says that his reputation is his future and asks us, “Do you call that insane? You’re right. Here’s my story.” And off we go.
Rocco’s financial backer and consultant is Jeffrey Chodorow, a guy with a 5 day growth of beard and a mission. He needs to find the perfect spot for the restaurant, has to find FOUR MILLION DOLLARS to fund said restaurant, and needs to keep the volatile Rocco from flipping his cork every 15 minutes. Jeff has opened restaurants all over the world including London, Vegas and New York City so this should be a piece of cake, please pardon the cheap joke.
Rocco finds the perfect basement and nothing can deter him from his heart’s desire except for a subpoena served to Jeff in the street that is more unwelcome than a slice of cold pizza. Jeffrey has to leave immediately to deal with his own legal problems. This throws our Mastermind Chef into a tailspin. He is inconsolable. In an ensuing cell phone call, he tells his publicist Matt that he has lost the very space that would have recaptured the magic of his childhood “Basement vision.” Therefore, he cannot make the scheduled radio appearance on Z100. Matt says that these appearances are set in concrete and cancellation is not an option.
Rocco’s Friendly Morning Radio Show Appearance
Rocco is greeted by your garden variety morning jokester DJs who start asking him about his background. He tells them that he always wanted to be a chef. From the time he was 11 years old and was selling Italian ices to his years of catering and working in restaurants in France, Israel and New York which we all can assume is the toughest place of all. Everybody sing along with me, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere, it's up to you, New York, New York.”
Sooooo they finally get to the point and Rocco discusses putting out a staffing call to one and all who want to be part of this great adventure should show up at a certain location on Tuesday and Wednesday between 10 AM and 5 PM.
The next thing that happens is so peculiar that I am trying to take it all in while making sure that I have not ingested any hallucinogenic. Rocco goes downstairs to the vending machine in the station’s basement and proceeds to get M&Ms, Trail Mix, Skittles and Ring Dings. He also gets some coffee which he throws in a blender (where the hell did that come from?) with a Ring Ding and pours the resulting oozing slime on a paper plate which is laden with the aforementioned goodies. The DJs apparently have not eaten at the trough for at least an hour so they are salivating at this gruesome offering. One of them takes a mouthful and shows delicate restraint by saying it’s “interesting.” The other one take a big gobble and can’t get over at how good it is. I would not want to see their blood sugar count at this point.
Rocco is extremely relieved to have escaped the radio station zoo and tells his publicist that he did not enjoy it. Matt tells Rocco that they loved him at Z100. This was small comfort, but at least the call went out for the staffing interviews or auditions the way I see it. Rocco is nervous, agitated, tense, crazed, overwrought, anxious and that’s an understatement. He does not even know where the damn restaurant is going to be and now he has to interview people. He keeps bemoaning the fact that he had the perfect space and now it’s lost and he has to start all over.
He and Jeffrey are out once again scouting locations and they find a place that Jeff deems “cool.” There is a main kitchen, a second kitchen, but as Rocco correctly points out there is no one around and the place has low energy. Rocco wants a place like his Grandma’s and not this dungeon waaaaaaaaah! Panic settles in as he realized that it’s only six weeks until the opening but it’ll be fine as long as they find a place by the very next day.
On top of every thing else, Matt the hyper publicist calls with great news. He got Rocco a spot on the “Today Show!” “Do you hear me Rocco, I said the ‘Today Show,’ man. That’s like major!” This is what he would have liked to say to Rocco but he senses that he is dealing with a depressed man. The better the news, the more depressed Rocco gets according to Matt. Rocco is displaying all the right symptoms too when he says that he feels “Disabling pressure” and that “None of the signs” are there while the clock is ticking and no delays are permitted. Everything needs to move forward.
Finally, the gods smile down on our hero and he finds the perfect location. He is a bit late in arriving at the “Today Show” but that’s okay because Matt Lauer shakes his hand and Katie Couric refers to him as being “The cutest thing.” Rocco’s appearance consists of being out in the street with a very slimmed down Al Roker (when was the last time you watched the “Today Show?”) who helps Rocco make his plea for Waiters, Cooks and Managers and gives time and place. That’s the extent of the “Major” appearance.
The place where the new restaurant will be located is the former “Commune.” It is not clear what type f business took place here previously, but it is a total mess. The whole place has to be gutted.
Casting Call for Staff – It’s Like A Broadway Show
Twenty six hours before the 10 AM starting time for interviews, there is already a guy waiting. Apparently, there was no lame “Star Wars” prequel opening so this dude had loads of time on his hands. Rocco, in a sudden burst of generosity decides to send this guy a steak dinner complete with red wine. What does this grateful guy come out with? Only the biggest cliché ever used, “Only in New York…” What a crock!
Before we know it, hundreds of people are lining the street while Rocco is sitting with his co-interviewer Carla (we’re not quite sure what their relationship is at this point, she is suddenly thrust upon us) and what they are looking for is “Passion and enthusiasm” in their applicants. I agree, I would hate to see apathetic lethargic people working for me.
Gideon, who was the first guy in line, (you remember him from two paragraphs ago, the cliché guy), now points out Rocco’s car and tells all those around him why it’s a chick magnet and everything else he knows or guesses about Rocco. Gideon has attained the dubious status of a dork that gets to an interview 26 hours early.
People are selected from the line and if they pass the first cut, they are sent to Line 2 where the screeners weed out the less desirable ones and send the rest inside to be grilled by Rocco and Carla. Gideon is hired. Topher is hired on the strength of his statement about being a person with a “Smile in his heart.” Carrie is hired because she describes herself as “Consistently positive” and that’s good enough for Rocco.
It boggles my mind to hear what some of these people think qualifies them for a position on the staff. They say idiotic stuff like, “I love to eat,” “I love to cook,” but the prize goes to the woman who said that she eats a lot, in fact she eats like a cow. Rocco, Carla and I cannot believe this and before she’s dismissed, Rocco advises her not to make this kind of statement at future interviews. Some of them didn’t know their rhubarb from arugula or a torte from a tart but they came in droves to get on the staff.
John is hired as Kitchen Manager. He says he is a former “Badass” and Rocco is sorry to hear about the “former” part because he thinks John still looks like a badass. Then Alex and Caroline are hired for the “Wait Staff.” Caroline charms the pants off Rocco when she does a wicked booty shake out the door, and we surmise that there will be a segment in a future episode about her. In fact, later at lunch with her friend she talks about how hot she finds Rocco.
Dozens of interviewees referred to themselves as “People persons,” but Rocco fixated on one guy who claimed to hate people. Rocco loved that and hired him on the spot.
Teardown, Construction and Training Day
It is not long before panic sets in for real while Jeff and Rocco argue about the opening. Rocco wants to move it from June 2nd to June 9th, while Jeff tells him that too much money would be lost and there are already over 1,000 reservations for the first week. “Failure is not an option” are Jeff’s final words and that’s that.
The newly hired staff is gathered at the Gramercy Park Hotel for their training. Rocco introduces everyone to Laura the General Manager and Mama DiSpirito who is the “Guardian and spirit” of the restaurant. Mama now makes a wonderful if phony little speech telling them that she loves them all and to be nice to one another.
It’s Rocco’s turn to give the induction speech. He tells them that they have each taken an unwritten oath to keep the customers happy. If somebody wants a daiquiri and none is available, you go out and get a blender (the one from the radio station perhaps) or you buy a frozen daiquiri somewhere and bring it to the customer. I fail to see the logistics in this, but I am not about to open my third restaurant, so what the hell do I know?
In a sudden magnanimous mood, Rocco wants to test this theory about making people happy and asks Roland what he would like to have. Roland responds with alacrity, “A beer.” I could have thought of at least 25 other things I would have preferred but then I realized that product placement is a key element in this show and Coors is one of the sponsors. Soon every one has little beer-filled plastic cups and they are toasting each other silly.
Right on the heels of that party, in comes Fred the Wine Director shaking a bottle of wine violently while warning the crew to never shake wine. They are all seated around a table and learn how to swish wine around in a glass and how to spit or swallow. No comment here.
We learn that there is a bet going as to drinking the “Spit” bucket and our resident tool, Gideon, steps up to the plate and consumes a beer pitcher full of spit out wine. I cannot believe my eyes, but he collects everybody’s money before the alcohol knocks him on his ass, so he must have completed this admirable task.
Now it’s one big party as the “Back of the house” kitchen staff is discussing all the losers that would be better off getting jobs at Tower Records or pumping gas somewhere.
Two Weeks Until Opening Day
To the Pink Panther theme we get to meet the Building Manager, Edwin who seems like a real badass, not a former one. He looks around with disgust as the camera pans a dead rat and the mess that it supposed to become a dining establishment in a very short time.
Jeff takes issue with Rocco’s constant delays because he has to think about things a lot. Jeff says in no uncertain terms that there will be no more changes. Rocco now goes to inspect the progress that has taken place, and no one is even on the job. He goes nutso and says the workers are on a three-shift schedule and where is everyone? At lunch!
Five Days to Go
Trucks arrive with all sorts of items to be unloaded and delivered. John, our trusty Kitchen Manager wants to make sure that everything is unpacked, then cleaned and only then will the food be dealt with. Good plan.
Food preparations begin in earnest and I can’t tell if these are practice sessions, but I am assuming this because we still have a few days to go and I doubt that they will freeze all this stuff and serve it on opening night, or will they? Hmmm. Mama is the major overseer and seems to be a kind hearted encouraging lady. Rocco meanwhile is complaining about the garlic Olive oil not being prepared correctly.
We see quick time lapse photography of the bustling New York streets after each break and at this particular time we are treated to a view of the Flatiron Building which is in the vicinity of the restaurant.
Meanwhile, uniforms are being handed out. They are basically jeans with huge brass belt buckles bearing strange names like “Mama” and “Queen.” This is never quite explained, and I don’t know what to make of it. Guys are arguing about what size they are while the girls are stripping shamelessly while trying on their “uniforms.” Let me put it another way, the camera people are the shameless ones.
Major crisis again because everything is all jammed together and nobody can navigate through the mess, so an SOS is put through to Fred who says it’s all been taken care of and he’ll be down there in half an hour. Yeah, yeah.
Rocco and Mama have a heart-to-heart where he says that there is so much left to do and like any good mother she assures him that she’s here to help him. If that’s the case, says the cheeky Rocco, “Can you get them to finish upstairs?”
36 Hours to Opening
Everybody’s looking for the Bar Manager because huge Coors trucks have rolled up and they need to know where to put the cases of beer. Finally, John is found under the sink cleaning out a pipe full of rats. Perfect! He comes toward Rocco with the following gem, “You don’t want to touch my hand.” I believe that this was the furthest thing from Rocco’s mind. He would have rather slapped John’s face for going AWOL at such a critical time.
The now familiar strains of the Pink Panther theme are heard as the Building Manager is saying in ominous tones that he does not want his tenants to get any bad smells from the restaurant. He is shaping up to be the villain in this series, if I’m not mistaken. They already have assigned him a theme song, unlike anyone else.
Finally, the awning goes up and it’s a proud moment for Rocco who has been waiting for this. With the first customers due in 4 ½ hours he finds out that they have been shorted on arugula. Dammit, what next?
Last minute instructions to the staff include the admonition to walk carefully because the floors were grouted only an hour before. The furniture arrives and is set up, while the kitchen is bustling with activity. In our last memorable scene Rocco is told that his first 2 guests have arrived. His face is frozen in shock and disbelief as he is thinking, “Oy vey, already?”
The stars arrive at the restaurant and we get a quick glimpse of Fran Drescher who squawks that she’s hungry. Rocco’s yelling about the clams and we discover that there is a shortage of red wine, some disgruntled customers and even a fire. Yipee!
Still hungry? Write to email@example.com and I’ll bring out the dessert menu.