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Trusting the skinny chef

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA
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television David Rocco reveals how he learned to stop worrying and love food

Slice of lifeDavid Rocco (right) in Amalfi
Slice of lifeDavid Rocco (right) in Amalfi

“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian,” jokes David Rocco, the chef famous for his show David Rocco’s Dolce Vita . But there is something off with that joke, for Rocco delivers it without the customary lilt of the Italian accent.

His accent is straight out of Toronto, Canada, where a significant part of his childhood was spent. Back then, it was difficult to have the habitual Italian swagger or the pride in his roots that he now expresses. “I think as the son of an immigrant you always want to fit in. Growing up, I actually felt like the son of the poor immigrant, and so I was embarrassed of my Italian roots,” he says.

And nothing embarrassed David more than his lunch box. “I’d go to school and my mom would make rabbit and put it in my sandwiches. My friends had pet dogs, cats and pet rabbits. I had rabbits but they weren’t pets. They’d be on our table two weeks later. To me it was like 'I better keep this on the low because I am going to get my head kicked in,'” he remembers.

But as he grew older, he realised that his love for rabbits was perfectly normal (“It’s good s*it).” Eventually, he also realised that “the fact that I wasn’t living in Italy strengthened my Italian roots. So when I went back to Italy, I was more Italian than the Italians. At home in Canada I’d do a tomato sauce, and Italians don’t do it anymore, it’s too much work.”

Cooking is one thing and doing a television series another. The decisive push came when David was modelling. “I wanted to do a film and my wife said ‘most chefs don’t look like you, they are a bit big, why don’t you do a cooking show, because it sounds easier than doing a film.’ So we shot this thing ( David Rocco’s Dolce Vita ), thinking it would be good practice for a film and little did we know that eight years later we’d still be doing cooking shows,” he says.

His latest is David Rocco’s Amalfi Getaway . Situated in central Italy, Amalfi is a coastal town which “encapsulates Italian values of close families, luxury, beauty but simplicity.” In the show, he highlights the different delicacies of the region, such as the mozzarella di bufala – mozzarella made with buffalo milk and the limoncello – Amalfi’s signature liqueur. “It’s me travelling around, meeting friends, talking to chefs, forging connections over food,” he says about the format of the series.

The power of food, David says, is its ability to bring strangers to a table and turn them into friends. For his new show, a 13-episode series, David will focus on India. On a scouting trip for the same, he has visited Chennai, Mumbai, Jaipur and Delhi, and found the same diversity in food that characterises Italy. “In a 20 km radius, the same dish will be made in 25 different ways by 25 different families and 25 different people saying that’s the right way,” he says.

(David Rocco's Amalfi Getaway airs on Fox Traveller every Friday at 9.30 p.m.)

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA

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