If you were in midtown Manhattan earlier this month, you may have spotted Rocco DiSpirito in the streets handing out free food. The celebrity chef was on hand in Times Square to help unveil Brown Rice Triscuit at a tasting event.
"We set up a tent and I had some of the recipes I created for Triscuits -- the nacho melt, the crumbled snack mix and the sweet potato and bacon topper," he said.
The New York-based chef, who rose to fame in 2003 with his NBC TV series "The Restaurant," took some time out afterwards to share some of his favorite cooking tips and kitchen insights with CBSNews.com. Read on to see what he had to say.
On healthy comfort food: "Health and delicious are not mutually exclusive...When you try to get someone to eat something new -- as in going from unhealthy to unhealthy -- you don't want to have another obstacle of having them have to buy into original recipes. So I picked dishes everyone knows and loves -- mac and cheese, BBQ, fried chicken, brownies, cupcakes, pastas -- and took them apart, put them back together, kept all the flavor and sometimes even found new sources of flavor and get rid of the fat and calories. That was a long process of trial and error. And I'm getting better at it...Making comfort food healthy most likely will get people to like healthy food."
On his favorite indulgences: "Pizza, burger, wine -- just like everyone else. Chocolate."
On his perfect pantry items: "Fat-free, sodium free chicken stock, parmesan oregano, fat-free greek yogurt, skim milk, brown rice, canned beans, sweet potatoes, kale. Tabasco -- any hot sauce -- makes food feel richer, thicker, fuller and more flavorful. Horse radish, wasabi, Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar. A little bit makes a big impact in flavor."
On his favorite low-calorie snacks: "Popcorn... It tastes just as good fat-free as with all that fake butter out there...I like to mix it with kale chips. One of the recipes I created for Triscuit is a super popcorn made with kale chips and new brown rice crackers crumbled and mixed in. So you take something that's normally in the 300-400-calorie range and now it's 70 calories for a cup, which is an amazing snack. You can buy all the parts. You don't have to make it...and just crumble it all together. Soup is another snack that I love. The more brothy they are, usually the healthier they are. Any time there's a puree or a creamy situation, there could be hidden calories. Any lean protein is always a good snack -- grilled chicken and grilled fish."
The biggest mistakes people make in the kitchen: "They don't taste their food...The most important cooking tool is your palette. We all come stocked with one. It's honed and refined over the course of our lives. It knows exactly what it likes and doesn't like. When you cook, if it pleases your palette then it's good enough."
On his show, "Now Eat This!": "I try to coach and help them overcome the obstacles they face when putting meals together for their children. When people have children, I think the first thing they do is stop cursing. The second thing they do is start thinking about eating healthy...I try to prove to them that it's cheaper to cook at home. It's cheaper to cook healthy. It's a myth I'm trying to bust -- that healthy is expensive -- because it's actually less expensive. I visit them in their home. I found out what their favorite foods are. And even if it's pizza, chicken fingers and ice cream, I still figure out a way to make it healthy and a way for them to make it themselves."
On the food truck craze: "It's not a passing phase. I think the market has as many as it can bear. The obstacles of entry now because it's so popular are pretty big. Finding a truck to permit, parking spaces -- it's pretty tricky. I think the ones that are out there [in New York] are going to stay there. I think the rest of the United States has more and more food trucks in their cities, and smaller towns and cities, you're going to see food trucks."
On celebrity chefs and cooking shows: "I think we're in post-craze. I think living the good life is part of the fabric of American life. Everyone has 'become the foodie' on their to-do list -- and are learning about fine wine, good food, exotic ingredients thanks to all the coverage on television. So, I think what's happened is the chef craze made the food culture in American richer and fuller. And that's a change that's here to stay."