ROCCO’S DINNER PARTY
10 p.m. Wednesday, BRAVO
Chef Ninamarie Bojekian, 27, is not easily ruffled. A competitor on Bravo’s "Rocco’s Dinner Party," on this week’s episode, titled "Mangia! Mangia," the Franklin Lakes native was pitted against not just one Italian-born chef, but two — identical twin brothers Fabrizio and Nicola Carro from the Piedmont region.
"I always knew I can handle a lot of pressure. I don’t get intimidated easily as a chef and businesswoman," said Bojekian, who trained at the French Culinary Institute and worked in the kitchen at Aquavit — both in Manhattan.
As executive chef and owner of New Jersey-based OohLaLa catering, whose food leans more Mediterranean and French, Bojekian did have one advantage over the brothers. She’s had extensive experience creating custom-tailored dinner parties for her clients.
Which is exactly the point of the show: Hoping to revive the "lost art of the dinner party," celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito invites six of his famous friends for a meal in his Manhattan loft. Contestants have to execute the entire event, from planning the meal and cooking to decorating the space and conjuring that intimate magic of entertaining at home.
The guests/judges for the "Mangia! Mangia" episode include a list of well-known Italian-Americans: the Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Caroline Manzo; Joey Fatone, former member of boy band ‘N Sync; and New York restaurateur Silvano Marchetto. "The weird part was I was the only non-Italian person. It could have been intimidating, but I made sure to be respectful of their culture," said Bojekian, who is Armenian-Greek.
Bojekian fell back on what she knew. Growing up, she remembers food outings to Little Italy or sharing platters of pasta family-style at Carmine’s. "I wanted to create a fantasy fun version of Little Italy in the room," she said.
With just a few hours to shop for ingredients and prepare the four-course, family-style meal and a specialty cocktail, Bojekian went for a down-to-earth menu, playing off the flavors of fresh fruits and vegetables. The first course included zucchini bread, fire-roasted red peppers and grilled asparagus with pancetta and figs. The third course was a veal Milanese with arugula, cherry tomatoes and peaches.
While rushing in the kitchen, Bojekian didn’t flinch when DiSpirito — who has earned the tagline "handsome but ornery"— criticized her choice of canned artichokes for her chopped chicken scaparelli spaghetti. "I said ‘trust me. It’s going to be great.’ "
A wrench was thrown into her preparations when guest Sara Gore announced she was avoiding carbohydrates and fatty foods. Bojekian had to scramble at the last minute to create a suitable alternative for her celebrity guest, a scenario the chef said doesn’t happen in her catering business because the menu and contract are determined ahead of time.
Hoping to one day launch her own cooking show, Bojekian is excited about some of the compliments from DiSpirito that will be aired on the episode. "He had nice things to say about my food," she said. But the competition wasn’t only about cooking. "Rocco was at both dinner parties, seeing who was enjoying the party more and the feel you got at each one."