Skip to main content

The Good Life is something I talk about a lot. In my books, and on radio and TV, I actually tell people to "grab the good life." My hope is to empower the everyday guy, who is likely more afraid of entertaining than of death itself, to grab his fair share of the good life.

The good life is not a specific food, wine or place. It's not only Daniel Boulud's "

Scallops In Black Tie." For some, it's boxed brownie mix. The good life happens in the space between people, and it requires an attitude and a belief system that anything is possible when sharing a pure moment with friends, family or loved ones.

For almost two years now, I have been entertaining at home on my own. No armies of kitchen soldiers and no muscular stoves. I experience what the everyday person does when entertaining at home. It's a scary place. I can now add the kitchen and the dining room to the list of rooms where I feel performance anxiety. I mistakenly thought that because I knew how to cook and entertain professionally, I would know how to do it at home. Boy, was I wrong. But it doesn't have to be scary; it doesn't have to cause anxiety if you treat it casually.

I was recently asked what my style of entertaining was: formal or casual? And my response was: casual, casual, casual. But what does casual mean? The answer is that it means something different to each of us, but the endgame is the same. Enjoy the company and energy of other people without creating more stress than pleasure.

That's what I believe casual living is about. Enjoy moments, small and large, intense and subtle -- a smile, a breeze, a great espresso. In order for me to practice what I preach, I had to make important decisions. Am I doing it to make others happy? Or to provide myself with a showcase for my skills, home, style and things?

If in your heart you entertain to spoil others because it makes you happy to make others happy, you will feel the comfort of a casual lifestyle. If making others happy is more important than making yourself happy, then all of a sudden you are free. You are unencumbered; no obsessive compulsions, no stressing about rock-candy coffee stirrers. Decisions are easy; it's all clear. Everything you do is informed by whether or not it makes your guests happy first and foremost.

How do you prepare for casual? Sounds strange, right. Well, once you get the mental stuff out of the way, it's easy. In my house, as a kid and to this day, there is always something around to drink: red wine, white wine, a bottle of vodka in the freezer, sparkling water,

Prosecco. We always had something to eat that could hang around for a while, such as a frittata, a sopressata, a piece of provolone cheese aging in the pantry closet.

In our home we had all the devices of the good life that I spoke about before -- handy, ready to be used, not hidden away in cabinets, wrapped in felt pouches and newspapers. Glasses on a bar next the wine opener, next to the wine and the fancy Italian aperitivos, were ready for use. The dinner table ready to go, napkins, knives, forks already on the table. And there was always a sitting area where guests could face each other, and often that's the dinner table.

I made a very casual dinner for my friends a few nights ago. More like concocted. I was taking a nap when I heard my phone ring. A familiar voice on the other end said "hello," then proceeded to remind me that he and his wife were coming over for dinner at 7:30. I jumped up, looked at the time. It was 4:30. I went back to sleep relieved and didn't wake up till they knocked on my door.

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends


I said hello, as if nothing were peculiar about my having just woken up, and got them a drink. I went to the kitchen and flung the refrigerator door open. I had a fridge full of food, but nothing prepared. With the time ticking, I threw together a bunch of stuff from the fridge and got to work. I worked with what I had available to me. I didn't sweat it, and the results were amazing.

For my first course, I served grilled shrimp with cherry tomatoes. This is a refreshing, room-temperature dish, perfect for hot nights. I started by scoring the cherry tomatoes and tossing them in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. For the shrimp, I smashed garlic and thyme together and put the mixture on the bottom of a hot grill pan; I then put the shrimp on top of the herb-garlic mixture and cooked them until they were browned. I tossed the cooked shrimp with the tomatoes, and that's it! It was that simple!

For the main course, I served steak. You can never go wrong with steak, which you can find at

Uptown Prime. I coated the steaks with a mixture of dried spices: ginger, garlic, cumin and Chinese five-spice. I then grilled them right on top of the same garlic and thyme from the shrimp. While they were cooking, I made a turnip and onion relish. I grated turnips and onions into a pan with salt, pepper, soy sauce and water and cooked the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes until it was tender and slightly sticky.

For dessert I made a quick tiramisu. I had ginger snaps, but almost any cookie would have done. I made a few cups of espresso with my FrancisFrancis! espresso machine from

Illy Cafe. I soaked the cookies with the coffee and whipped some cream with sugar. I placed the soaked cookies in a cup, covered them with cream and dusted cocoa powder on top.

My guests enjoyed their meal, and I never let on that this dinner was devised and put together while they were at the table. They never caught on. I relied on my love for casual entertaining. I was ready to entertain at a moment's notice. I made sure my guests were comfortable when they arrived. They enjoyed watching me cook. I remained calm, cool and collected. And of course, I cracked open a bottle of Martini & Rossi Prosecco. You can never go wrong with that.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Rocco DiSpirito was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. His culinary experience and love of "the good life" through cooking and dining began at age 11 in his mother Nicolina's kitchen. By the age of 16, DiSpirito entered the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1986. DiSpirito's career highlights include opening Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park as chef and owner in 1997, being awarded three stars from the New York Times in a 1998 review, and three more in 2002 from the New York Observer. DiSpirito was also named Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 1999, and "America's Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet magazine in 2000; his show "The Restaurant" first aired on NBC in 2003.