When he was growing up in Toronto, Canada, David Rocco was enamoured with life on both sides of the camera. “I wanted to be an actor and a filmmaker. My wife and I were both taking acting classes and we figured a cooking show might be a good platform from which to start a career in show business. It was meant to be the first step, but 15 years later and I’m still here and I don’t ever want to leave,” says Rocco, chuckling. Indeed, this contentment comes as no surprise as today, Rocco is a household name in his own continent with a kitty that includes several shows which are telecast in over 150 countries, three best-selling cookbooks and numerous appearances as a guest judge on various food shows. Appropriately, his most celebrated show is called David Rocco’s Dolce Vita (“the sweet life”).
His latest project is Dolce India, which recently started airing its first season on Fox Traveller. The show sees Rocco travelling to different parts of the country, exploring cuisines and cultures and at times, combining Indian ingredients and techniques with his own preferred style of rustic Italian cooking. “When I came here for the first time last year, people were so warm, with both chefs and families opening their kitchens and homes to me. It was like being in Italy. Even the chaos seemed familiar,” he says.
He travelled around for eight weeks shooting for the first season of the show, and he has now returned to do a recce for season two. “Season one was a primer on Indian food so we restricted ourselves to four cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and Chennai. In Season two, I want to go more in-depth, we’re hoping to do Kashmir, Kolkata as well as the coastal belt,” he says.
Rocco, 43, started his career with Aventuri, a hybrid food and travel show. His passion for food, especially Italian, combined with an infectious grin, catapulted him into stardom and helped pave the way for Dolce Vita, his most successful show to date. His extreme popularity with his female audience notwithstanding, Rocco is happily married to his childhood sweetheart with three kids. Without any kind of formal training in cooking, Rocco cheerfully credits his love for food and skills in the kitchen to his genealogy. As he is fond of repeating, “I’m not a chef, I’m Italian.”
Be it braving Delhi Belly or learning how to cook laal maas in the Thar Desert, Rocco’s Indian sojourn was an eye-opener. “I was fortunate enough to cook with chef Manjit Gill (Corporate Executive Chef, ITC Hotels), who introduced me to mustard oil, which is such a fantastic cooking medium. I visited the spice market of Old Delhi and was just astounded by the variety of spices,” he says. This learning resulted in Rocco coming up with dishes such as a chickpea pasta flavoured with mustard seeds and a “gobhi stew” with cumin.
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When asked for his opinion on food in Delhi and Mumbai, Rocco says, “The street food in Mumbai is amazing: I love my vada pav, which reminds me so much of Italian potato croquettes. But then Delhi has this incredible variety of restaurants, especially New Delhi, which is like Toronto. In that, it’s this melting pot of so many cuisines and cultures.”