Celebrity chef David Rocco chats about mustard oil, chutneys and his love for vada pav.
He certainly seems to have it all: David Rocco is a celeb chef, an author, a good-looker and travels around the world for his work. His first television appearance was as a host for ‘Don’t Forget Your Passport’. Rocco’s website is plastered with photos from his recent 16-week trip to India for his food-travel show ‘Dolce Vita’, to be aired on FOX Traveller. Excerpts from an interview.
How is a chef’s experience different from that of a regular tourist?
There’s more risk involved, but you have to be more open to trying things. There’s the danger of Delhi belly. It’s a risk you have to take, though! Also food comes first and sets the tone of the journey. Most tourists would sightsee and then hit the nearest restaurant. For chefs, food has to be the primary objective.
Did you arrive with any stereotypes? What changed and what has remained?
There are a lot of clichés about India, the whole Slumdog Millionaire-version of things. What struck me was how modern, hip and progressive India can be. There are parts of Mumbai that could be New York. The noise pollution was true to form, may be even more so. All the honking was unbelievable! I also didn’t realise how much Indians drink! I couldn’t believe it. And they drink so much before dinner. It’s like the complete opposite of everywhere else.
You have met a variety of people… chefs, stars, grandmothers. How different was each one’s perspective of food?
All Indians are so passionate about food across the board, so I didn’t think the perspective was that different; from the greatest chefs to small-town cooks. Both in India and in Italy, the grandmothers get such happiness from cooking for and feeding their families. The cooking — also like in Italy — is very regional. One dish will be made a way in one place and then completely differently 100 miles away. One thing’s for sure, everyone thinks theirs is the best!
What’s your take on the quality and diversity of ingredients available in India?
There were times when I missed my fresh salads, but the range of available spices is unbelievable. I was also shocked by how many Italian brands are in India, including olive oil, coffee, pasta... even quality wines are available.
Any interesting ingredients you discovered?
I’ve fallen in love with mustard oil. It’s now my second favourite oil! I was shocked by the amount of ghee used in Indian cooking! Mind-blowing amounts!
Any personal dos and don’ts while travelling?
Dos: Go where locals go. Ask restaurants for suggestions when ordering. Take public transport to really understand how a city works. Go to food markets — that’s the pulse of a city.
Don’ts: Don’t forget your passport. Don’t be afraid to go where the locals go. Don’t be afraid to go to the homes of locals if they invite you for a meal — it might not be the safest, but I’ve done it countless times, and it’s served me well.
A favourite experience.
Probably, the Gurdwara — experiencing the power of a community coming together to cook and share a meal, no matter their religion or background. Playing holi was also an amazing experience, a beautiful celebration.
Which is your favourite cuisine in India?
In Mumbai, vada pav. I was in carb heaven. I tried to have one every day. In Jaipur, it was the laal maas, so spicy and colourful. In Chennai, the chutneys were so amazing and paired perfectly with the dosas.
One dish that people outside India MUST taste?
The dal at Bukhara in Delhi. It’s creamy, amazing, perfectly spiced and so representative of India. They do it perfectly there.
David Rocco’s Dolce India on FOX Traveller, Thursday-Friday, at 9.30 p.m.