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Chef gets the boot again

Rocco DiSpirito will no longer be chef at Union Pacific.
Rocco DiSpirito will no longer be chef at Union Pacific.
Associated Press/Louis Lanzano

NEW YORK — Rocco DiSpirito famously opened his namesake restaurant in a reality show last summer and was famously thrown out by his partners in July. Now he has been removed from a second restaurant, Union Pacific, once the jewel in his crown, which will close at the end of the year.

DiSpirito will no longer be the executive chef at Union Pacific, where he first made his mark when the restaurant opened in 1997. Main Street Restaurant Partners, his partners in Union Pacific, said last week that it would close on Christmas Eve, and until then Laurent Tourondel, the chef at BLT Steak, would act as a consultant. That leaves DiSpirito without a kitchen to cook in.

Rocco's on 22nd closed two weeks ago. In July, Jeffrey Chodorow and China Grill Management, its owner, were granted a court order barring DiSpirito from the kitchen, even though his mother, Nicolina, remained and made meatballs.

Steven Scher said he and his partners and DiSpirito "decided together it was time to close Union Pacific." He added: "Its run had ended. That was its life span. We had a long successful run together. Rocco will be moving on to pursue his other ventures, and we will be moving on to other ventures with Laurent Tourendel." Asked if Union Pacific still made money, he said: "Obviously, if it were extraordinarily profitable." He then paused and said, "I don't want to say anymore."

Scher said DiSpirito would be nominally involved with Union Pacific because he is a partner. DiSpirito could not be reached for comment but did release a statement by e-mail: "I found my culinary soul at Union Pacific, and my collaboration with Main Street Restaurant Partners has been a great experience for me. I have made a decision to take a break from the day-to-day operations of a restaurant to focus on other opportunities outside the restaurant world. Chef Laurent Tourondel is an excellent chef, and I wish him much success."

As for Rocco's on 22nd, Chodorow is bringing in Claude Troisgros, who has a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro and is the consulting chef at the Blue Door at the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach.

Chodorow said that Troisgois will be serving Brazilian food with French fare. "The decor will have a Carmen Miranda spirit," said Chodorow, whose feud with DiSpirito became a plot line of "The Restaurant."

DiSpirito, who is 37, attended the Culinary Institute of America when he was 16, apprenticed in France and worked at New York restaurants including Lespinasse and Dava before opening Union Pacific in August 1997. On Nov. 26 of that year, the restaurant received two stars from Ruth Reichl of The New York Times, who raised it to three stars on Aug. 5, 1998. This year, despite having undergone a refurbishing, Union Pacific lost one of the three stars when Marian Burros reviewed it on Feb. 11.

In addition to his restaurants, DiSpirito wrote books and has been making frequent appearances on television, including selling sausages on the QVC shopping network.