Reality TV’s intern from hell

Drew, the fired intern from "The Restaurant," wants to make one thing clear: "I might seem a little cocky at times, but under no circumstances am I a monster."

Topics: Television,

When Drew Abruzzese first arrived on NBC’s reality show “The Restaurant,” he looked liked a potential replacement for “Apprentice” schemer Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth.

The 20-year-old intern turned up at Rocco’s 22nd Street this season as part of a team brought in by financier Jeffrey Chodorow to help rescue the money-losing restaurant run by Rocco DiSpirito. We quickly learned — as the camera cut frequently to Abruzzese’s smirking face whenever Chodorow bemoaned the restaurant’s financial screw-ups — that there would be mischief to come. And as soon as Abruzzese, who looks as though he may have just had his first shave, bragged that he had 15 years of experience in the business and that his specialty was solving problems, a reality-show star was born.

Cut to Monday night’s episode of “The Restaurant”: Abruzzese was caught arguing with Chef Tony, giving away free margaritas while working (underage, illegally) behind the bar, and generally annoying everyone around him. Even Rocco’s good-natured mama cautioned Abruzzese to stay out of her son’s way. Finally, after Rocco overheard Abruzzese refer to him as “Captain Douchebag” on the phone, Drew the Intern was sent packing.

Salon caught up with the University of Delaware junior on his cellphone this weekend as he drove through his hometown of New Hope, Pa. He had just returned from doing a little shopping in preparation for an appearance on “Access Hollywood” later this week.

How exactly do you know Jeffrey Chodorow?

Jeffrey is a neighbor of ours. His main house in Pennsylvania is about a mile away from my parents. Jeffrey is a regular at my dad’s restaurant, the Pineville Tavern [in Pineville, Pa.]. They became friends, although not incredibly close.

How did you manage to turn that into such a high-profile internship?

NBC needed another person to be on the show who didn’t mind the cameras. All the people who work for Jeffrey are corporate chefs, corporate consultants; they were there to do a job and were not concerned with entertainment. Jeffrey came into the restaurant for dinner one night with his family. He said, if I can ever do anything for you, if you want to get involved with the TV show, just let me know, because producers are breathing down my neck to bring someone in who doesn’t mind the camera situation. He asked me right then and there [to be on the show]. I dismissed it initially: I’m in school. I’m busy. But when I went home and told my dad, he said, “You call Jeffrey right away and say, ‘Absolutely!’” Once my father gave me the OK to pursue it, I was pretty proactive. My school felt comfortable calling it an internship because it was very connected to my major, hotel-restaurant institutional management.

You’re only 20 years old. Can you explain what you meant when you said, “I’ve worked in the business for 15 years”?

A lot of people take that out of context. Does that mean that in those 15 years I’ve gained as much experience as someone like Georges Perrier [of Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia]? No. When I say I’ve been in the business for 15 years, I don’t mean I’ve been sweating over a hot stove, but I really have spent the last 15 years of my life trying to get as much restaurant experience as I can. I’ve worked at my parents’ restaurants [the Pineville Tavern and the Moonlight Restaurant in New Hope, Pa.], doing whatever I could to help out, since I was 5 years old, as well as at a lot of charity events and catering.

What made you decide to be so aggressive?

I was there to sit around and learn, and to give feedback at the same time. If I saw somebody doing something wrong, I wondered, should I say something? Should I do something? I was very unclear on what I was supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, I tried to get more involved than everyone wanted me to be.

Did you have any idea of how you would be portrayed on the show?

From what I understand, they make me look really, really bad. Whatever. I’m really not that bad. I might seem a little cocky at times, but under no circumstances am I a monster.

Were you ever told how to behave?

There was no coaching involved, no scripting. I’m not an actor. I was doing this because it was a chance for me to get my name out there and to hang with the top people in the business. You can’t regret an experience, positive or negative, when you’ve learned something from it.

And what did you learn from this experience?

Don’t insult the boss. Don’t call the boss names. I shouldn’t have ever said what I said. I would apologize to Rocco if I could.

Yeah, what were you thinking when you called Rocco “Captain Douchebag”?

What was I thinking? I was thinking he was a douchebag!

I had a lot of problems with Rocco. I could tell when I first shook his hand that he didn’t like me. He insulted me and called me names over the phone, so instead of making a scene in the restaurant, I just simply called him a name. Maybe it wasn’t the right time, the right place, the right person or the right name, but it turned the entire show around.

Is it a little weird to become a TV reality show character, to go from being Drew Abruzzese to being “Drew, the intern from hell”?

Oh god. The first day I was reading all that stuff, I was freaking out. I was like, what are they doing? They’re making me out to be a jerk-off! But now my name is in every major newspaper in the U.S. I’m like, I’ll be as bad as you want me to be. If I knew all I had to do was be a dick, I would’ve done that five years ago, because now I’m getting all this publicity.

Jeffrey called me yesterday and was a little upset. He feels bad about how they were making me look. I was like, who cares? Let’s just have fun. A year from now, who’s really going to remember this anyway?

Corrie Pikul writes about women's issues and pop culture. She lives in Brooklyn.

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