NEW YORK – A judge gave television chef Rocco DiSpirito (search) permission Tuesday to enter the restaurant that bears his name so he could take photographs of himself for a cookbook to be published this summer.
DiSpirito had to get a court order because China Grill Management (search), a group of financial backers who say they own Rocco's 22nd Street restaurant, sued him over management of the eatery and barred him from entering.
The chef, who claims he is part owner of the restaurant, tried to enter Rocco's on Tuesday morning for the photo shoot but was stopped. A China Grill lawyer immediately sought a court order to get DiSpirito barred permanently.
The lawyer, Laurence Kaiser, argued that in recent months the chef had stolen the restaurant's property and assaulted its manager.
Court papers filed by China Grill allege that on March 16 DiSpirito grabbed Rocco's chef, Ed Rosenthal (search), and threatened him, saying, "I'm going to ... kill you. You are a dead man."
DiSpirito's lawyer, Stephen Hayes, denied the allegations.
State Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman, saying he was sure no one would be assaulted, signed an order that let DiSpirito enter Rocco's on Tuesday afternoon and use it as a setting for photos for the book, "Rocco's Italian American Cooking." He ordered DiSpirito to put $500 in escrow to cover any damage he might cause in the restaurant.
Gammerman's order bars DiSpirito from entering Rocco's at any other time without court permission until the legal fight with his financial backers over ownership and control of the restaurant is resolved.
DiSpirito's financial backers sued the chef in February, saying he mismanaged Rocco's and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They say they put up $3 million for the Italian eatery, the site and subject of NBC's reality series "The Restaurant."
Instead of the restaurant being the critical and financial success they expected, the investors say, "The quality of the food and service has been widely criticized" and Rocco's has lost "in excess of $600,000."
Meanwhile, China Grill filed a lawsuit Tuesday against QVC, the home shopping television show. The group alleged in court papers that DiSpirito had "diverted and stolen" nearly $12,000 worth of food and beverages in March for a QVC luncheon.
China Grill's court papers accused QVC of colluding with DiSpirito, who sells products on the show. Court papers say QVC did not pay Rocco's and has not accounted for the cost of the luncheon.
"QVC has aided and abetted the diversion, theft and conversion," court papers say.
That lawsuit, separate from one already filed by China Grill against DiSpirito, does not name the chef as a defendant. It seeks $25,000 in damages for breach of contract and $11,948 for goods and services provided at the luncheon.
A telephone operator at QVC's corporate headquarters in West Chester, Pa., said no one was available to comment on the lawsuit.