Rocco DiSpirito (or as I like to call him, adult Nick Jonas) is back on TV! And it's not a moment too soon -- after countless cooking competition shows, a different format and a genuinely charismatic host seems to be just what the tired genre needed to bring it back to life.
The premise of Rocco's Dinner Party is as follows: Rocco hires three chefs and has them cook their signature dish for him. The two most impressive chefs move forward, and get to cook and serve food for a dinner party Rocco will host. We watch the chefs plan full menus and grocery shop, choose the room and décor they want with a party planner, and then, of course, we watch them both prepare and serve the meals. The best dinner party wins, meaning the chef receives $20,000.
What gives the show that extra punch -- what really makes it work -- is that it's not just a cooking competition show. It's about what one of Rocco's guests calls the "lost art of the dinner party." There are so many components that make up a successful dinner party, and this show reflects that. We get to see behind the scenes -- the creating of food and planning of dining room design -- but we also get to see inside the dining room, the experience of the host and guests when the planning is over.
Let's begin behind the scenes: The chefs first find out the theme of the weekly dinner party -- in this episode, it was that of a speakeasy. We get to see how the chefs collaborate with others as they talk to a party planner about their vision for the dining room. One contestant decorated his like an underground lounge for VIPs, with an emphasis on dark, rich colors. The other held his outdoors, with rustic decorations meant to mirror the minimalist feel of the prohibition era (complete with wooden liquor boxes and tiny model cars on the table). The chefs then plan their menu according to the theme, and they see this part in particular -- the construction of a whole menu -- as an art.
And then there's the actual cooking. Of course, it's as fun as any cooking show to see the chefs work under time constraints. But since one dinner party is after the other, one chef watches as the other cooks, which adds even more pressure. There was a lot of chemistry between the two contestants in the pilot, and a lot of insults thrown -- one chef takes jabs at the other (or compliments him, in some cases) as the other one cooks. If you're not sold yet, new contestants every week should keep the behind-the-scenes aspects of the show fresh.
Then we go inside the dining room, beginning with the host. A good dinner party host in any case has to be collected in front of his guests, but tough on his chef behind the kitchen doors. Rocco is exactly that -- he's far more in his element than he was on Dancing with the Stars -- and the show wouldn't be half as strong without him. While the chefs are cooking their signature meals, he struts around the kitchen, a playful mentor questioning their dishes, like Tim Gunn on Project Runway but less trusting. And the chefs respect him; when he's harsh, it's actually more exciting than seeing Gordon Ramsey swearing at contestants, because Rocco isn't just performing, he's instructing. During dinner, he keeps the energy up and conversation going. He's got one foot in the kitchen and one foot in the dining room. There's a great moment in the pilot when one guest asks why they're eating oxtail. Rocco's response? "It's the same reason we make every other choice -- it's delicious." He can explain to his guests the thoughts of the chef because he sees himself as one of them; he understands the chef's choices but also cares about his guests being impressed and having a good time.
And speaking of guests, they're also in the dining room, and they are the final factor adding to the show's strength. For the pilot, Rocco invited a terrific group. I mean, Bryan Batt was there. That would be Sal from Mad Men. (My fangirl reaction: YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I MISSED YOU!) But all of the guests were interesting and funny and had great chemistry with one another.
A huge part of food in general that's been lost from other cooking shows is the eating of it; seeing people enjoy a full meal. Most hosts take one bite and then judge because of time constraints, or because of the format of the show. This is a dinner party -- we get to see the guests socialize, hear their thoughts on the food, but also see how the dishes do or don't mesh with the conversation, the feel of the dinner.
Of course, we're invited to see all of the above, and that's why I personally watch cooking shows in the first place -- to get a glimpse of an industry that I don't know very well but have a lot of curiosity about. Thankfully, Rocco's Dinner Party covers all the bases.
See which new summer shows TWoP's editors think are worth watching in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop cable news channel:
View more videos at: http://www.nbcnewyork.com.
What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!
MOST RECENT POSTS