Rocco DiSpirito Wants You to Eat Keto and Plant-Based to Feel Better

|Updated Jul 6, 2020

Rocco DiSpirito is a very public persona and well-known chef, originally through his work at Union Pacific Restaurant in New York City, then his role in front of the camera on NBC’s reality show The Restaurant, as well as appearances on food-related programs, such as Top Chef, The Biggest Loser, and more. He's had a Bravo Show about throwing a dinner party and another on the Food Network called Restaurant Divided. He was named the “Sexiest Chef Alive” by People magazine.

All this time, Rocco has been at the forefront of food culture in America as a prolific author of cookbooks, the latest of which is Rocco’s Keto Comfort Food Diet, (as a lover of Italian food, he made over his favorite dishes as keto-friendly recipes.) but his focus now is on eating for health and specifically eating mostly plant-based. Here, in a conversation with novelist and food writer Andrew Cotto, he tries to convince him to do it too.

AC: I have to admit, when you suggested, for our first meeting, that we go to a plant-based restaurant, I was kinda like, “Ah, OK…The food’s gonna suck, but at least I’ll get to meet Rocco DiSpirito…”

RD: You didn’t seem too disappointed.

AC: In meeting you or with the food?

RD: With the food.

AC: For the record, both were a pleasure, but the food really was a huge surprise, and it changed the way I’ve eaten ever since.

RD: I’ve noticed.

AC: So you saw my ‘plant-based week’ article here in The Beet?

RD: Yeah, the one where you didn’t mention me by name?

AC: I didn’t want to distract…

RD: Ha. Funny.

AC: Speaking of funny: What’s up with impossible or beyondable, or whatever meat/not-meat? It kind of strikes me as ‘funny’ but not in a ha-ha way. Actually, it seems like science fiction, where this thing is concocted in a lab…

RD: Are you afraid of science?

AC: Well, not all science, but maybe science that creates a food that resembles one kind of food but is actually a totally different kind of food. It doesn’t feel very, well, natural, and isn’t ‘natural’ a good thing when it comes to food?

RD: What’s more natural than eating plants?

AC: Touché and fine, you win. But are these plant burgers any good?

RD: I think so, but you’ll have to see for yourself.

AC: I’ll try it, but you have to come with me.

RD: Sure.

AC: So, if you’re my plant-based ambassador, who turned you on to plant-based eating?

RD: There were many people who helped me fine-tune my eating habits. Some were people in the world of fitness, some were plant-based advocates and authors. Many were in the medical world like Dr. Oz, and his wife Lisa Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman. Some were my own clients, who requested more and more plant-based foods on their plans. About 5 years into my transformation from an unconscious eater to a conscious decision-making eater, I realized a plant-based diet was inevitable

AC: What are some of your favorite plant-based meals to cook at home?

RD: I cook almost every day and eat very simply at home. My go-to meals are soups made from canned beans, simply boiled vegetables, and grilled fish.

AC: How about restaurants here in New York and, perhaps, elsewhere?

RD: In the pre-COVID world we were getting to a very good place with a nice selection of plant-based restaurants. Hopefully, they will all return. Matthew Kenney is a well-known leader in the space with Double Zero, Plant Lab, and the place I took you, Bar Verde.

AC: Do you see a connection between what we eat and how we feel not just physically but emotionally and spiritually?

RD: Do you?

AC: Yes, but I’m on the questions here; you’re doing the answers…

RD: My bad. Here’s my answer: I am convinced there is a direct connection between what we eat and how we feel. Does that work?

AC: Yeah. Let’s pivot. Your latest book is dedicated to a Keto diet, which I think of as pouring butter on top of bacon-topped hamburgers with lobster tails for buns, though I understand you have a plant-based Keto cookbook in the works. How does this work?

RD: The Keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb regimen that fools the body into burning excess stored fat. The fat source can come from any food source, including plants.

AC: And when does the plant-based Keto cookbook come out?

RD: It’s in the early stages now, though we’re hoping for early 2022.

AC: Well, there’s something to look forward to. Back in the here and now, has your relationship to food changed at all during the epidemic?

RD: I have come to appreciate the ability to simply acquire enough food to feed myself. I hope I never take it for granted again.

AC: Me neither! Considering the environmental implications of the corona-virus, not to mention the complications with the supply chain and food processing of meat in particular, do you see positive changes in the way Americans eat as a result of this situation?

RD: I’ve seen some promising changes in food habits in friends and family and with the general public at large. That said, I do think a lot of people have reverted to eating “comfort foods” that contain lots of junk carbs, though that’s probably a result of the stress. Ultimately, I believe health will become more of a priority overall, which does mean eating in ways that are better for us and the environment.

AC: How do you imagine the American restaurant scene looking once this is passed?

RD: Other than the obvious increase in hygiene and use of PPE in restaurants, I don't think anyone knows what form restaurants will take yet.

AC: What do you see as your role in the post-corona food scene? Maybe plant-ambassador or something?

RD: Ha! Probably not that, but hopefully I’ll be a part of the food scene. This is not a time to take anything for granted as no one knows what will happen next, certainly not me.

AC: Is a plant-based restaurant a possibility down the road for you?

RD: I’ve been brainstorming a plant-based restaurant for a few years now. I’m looking forward to making it a reality soon.AC: OK, not to diminish the value of our witty conversation, let's give the people something they can actually use.

How about a plant-based recipe accessible to home cooks?

RD: Sure! How about this veggie chili recipe that I love. Ten minutes to prep; 30 to cook.

Rocco's Veggie Chilli


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced onions½cup diced red bell pepper2cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 4 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and bell pepper and sweat until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until soft, another 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add the chili powder and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and kidney beans and cook until thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Tip: The chili gets better if you let it rest in the refrigerator overnight, so cook it a day ahead if you have the time.


145 calories / 4g fat / 5g protein

23g carbohydrates / 6g fiber”

Excerpt From
Rocco's Healthy Delicious
BY Rocco DiSpirito

AC: Or me. Last question: Which Matthew Kenney restaurant are we going to first once this passes?

RD: I’m looking forward to trying Hungry Angelina.

AC: Done.