We’ve all virtually travelled the length and breadth of Italy with this passionate foodie. So, naturally, when David Rocco decided to do a 13-part series here, all we could say was welcome to Incredible India

It’s sure been a dolce vita for David Rocco who’s traversed the route from model to actor to producer, with that food lover’s gene coursing through his veins. It was part of the Italian’s upbringing wherein being part of his family was chef’s school at its best. Hence, the vehement declaration, “I’m not a chef, I’m Italian!” Then where would a cooking show fit into the future framework for an Economics graduate from York University, Toronto (batch of ‘92). Yes, the Canadian-born, with a naughty smile, didn’t expect to one day be host and producer of his very own TV shows, Avventura in 2001 and David Rocco’s Dolce Vita (DRDV) in 2003, as well as cookbook author – two that served as adaptations of the shows, and Made in Italy in 2011. 

Posing and freely befriending the camera for exposed the model within; as David went on to narrate his beginnings walking the ramp, followed by the small screen and then the shared desire with his beautiful Italian wife, Nina, to be a filmmaker. However, a film seemed daunting for the entrepreneurs with zero experience in the field, who decided a primary video shot in Italy would be the right start. Right they were, as it sold and led to Avventura and subsequently, the couple’s very own production company, Rockhead Entertainment. Thus was transformed desire to fruition, for the food lover to successfully indulge in his destined love. “The first professional step behind the stove was in working at my father-in-law’s Italian restaurant, La Maddonina in Toronto, from 1992-94; which then eventually led to television and Italy,” says David as he pours over his favourite place in the world, the country that can take you captive in its greatness, culinary and beyond. Something as simple and pleasurable as his aunt’s Spaghetti alle Vongole, would you believe, got the six-year-old to fall in love with Italy – the mussels at that meal succeeded in bringing him back every year, only to later settle down in Florence and live a happy Italian life with the wife, pretty twin girls, Emma and Georgia and baby boy, Dante.

Yes, the same picture-perfect family you see on TV enjoying David’s signature rustic fare, such as  gnocchi in sage butter, from organic produce on a secluded farm somewhere along the Amalfi coast, perhaps. Ah, Amalfi, an integral part of the show for it takes precedence as the intrepid traveller’s beloved city; with its lemons, Buffalo Mozzarella and the beautiful people, which make the experience what it is. “Friends, family and good food are what made DRDV such a memorable chapter… which began in Firenze (Florence) and ended in the beautiful town of Ischia (Amalfi), with Roma, Capri, Napoli, Amalfi coast and Sicily in between,” recounts David as he goes on to excitedly reveal his music-loving self, evident in the subsequent soundtrack for DRDV. So add music to the food and the people, throw in aspects of art, history and traditions, and you get a show that’s an instant hit. No surprise then that our bountiful land of culture and spice would absorb David right in – from his first visit in 2012 – and give birth to the 13-part series, David Rocco’s Dolce India, to go on air soon.  

As he crossed Indian terrain, from Madras to Bombay, then to Jaipur and finally, Delhi – the four cities that make up DRDI – the invigorated David shares how he stood amazed at the coffee being poured and made from a tremendous height with infallible artistry in the South, among the myriad of sights and sounds he encountered. With the aim of portraying an India that’s modern – with the flourishing potential of welcoming ‘Italian classics with an Indian twist’ – the candid cook had a memorable experience interacting with families, gourmands, visiting vineyards, getting a “taste” of the streets of India and meeting the local cooks. No different from his Italian expedition, where farmers, artisans, home cooks and more formed the essence of his journey. 

Italy and India are so much alike – as David experienced – in the significance of a familial repast, importance to each ingredient, reverence to traditions and culture… food does bind people. But yes, herein lies the difference: Indian cooking is rocket science, Italian isn’t. “The number of ingredients used to make a dish like galouti kebabs baffled me, where I could make something similar like Italian meatballs in three or four,” David teases. “But I simply loved the Bombay Duck here and the Southern chutneys (akin to Italian pestos), and the vada pav and dals were interesting. Though the Indian chai is as good as having dessert!” Yet the trim-n-tall food lover didn’t pile on the pounds, as reports would claim. David keeps himself active, not to mention his travelling schedule, for long periods, that keep him away from the loving brood. As well as from the stove a casa, where cooking a Carbonara Pasta for Nina or a risotto for Emma and Georgia is what the hassle-free cook holds dear. While 17-month-old Dante is a mini David, “He’ll eat anything you place in front of him,” laughs the proud father.

Understandably then, the return home brought joy tenfold. And from words on his website that he posted, relating his two-month-long stay here – hosted comfortably by the ITC Hotels – he expressed, “Whether it was falling off an elephant playing polo or dealing with the local authorities… It was the trip of a lifetime and the sun rose every morning with the promise of a new adventure… “

Grazie Mille, he signs off. And to you too, David.

RECIPES

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

•    500 g spaghetti 
•    4 eggs
•    2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
•    1 cup milk
•    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
•    1/2 cup Pecorino cheese, freshly grated
•    100 g pancetta, cubed 
•    salt and pepper, QB (quanto basta – as much as needed), freshly ground

Start cooking the spaghetti. Timing is important here. You want to have everything ready to go when the pasta is finished.
Heat up olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and pancetta and fry until the pancetta is golden and crisp. When it’s done, take the pan off the heat and set aside. Now get out 2 bowls and break the eggs, separating yolks from whites. To the whites, add the milk, Pecorino, salt and pepper, and whisk it all together. 
When the spaghetti is ready, drain it well and put it back in the pot but not back on the heat. Throw in your pancetta and flavoured oil from the frying pan along with the egg white mixture. Work very fast and stir it all very well for a minute or so to make sure everything is coated. The egg whites will cook in the heat of the pasta and thicken up.
Now plonk the separated uncooked egg yolk upon a serve of pasta and let your guests mix it in. The heat of the pasta mixture will cook the yolks and make it a lot of fun to eat. If you’re squeamish about raw eggs, skip the egg separating bit.

Sautéed Spinach

•    3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
•    2 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
•    2 chilli peppers, dried, cut or 
   1/2 tsp crushed chilli
•    1 bunch spinach 
•    salt to taste

Wash a bunch of spinach. You don’t have time to wash spinach, or it’s the dead of winter? Fine, use frozen. Now, heat up a good amount of extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Brown some sliced or minced garlic. Add some chilli flakes and then throw in your fresh or defrosted spinach. 
Sauté everything and add some salt. Within minutes you’ll be wondering why spinach doesn’t have a better reputation.

Broccoli & Mozzarella Stuffed Pizza

•    1 bunch broccoli
•    3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
•    2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
•    chilli flakes, QB
•    56 g Mozzarella cheese, sliced
•    salt to taste
•    1 pizza dough 
•    olive oil for brushing
•    kosher salt, QB

Sauté your broccoli in a pan with a little bit of olive oil, some garlic and chilli flakes. Add a little bit of salt. Let cool. Spread out your dough as you would a normal pizza. Spread your toppings on one half of the dough leaving about an inch around the edges to seal it. Fold the plain side over. Then, with your thumb and index fingers pinch the edges, closing the two sides together. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a touch of kosher salt.

Bake for 3-5 minutes in a wood-burning oven, or about ten minutes in a
regular oven. When it comes out, I like to brush the top again with a little bit of olive oil. Then, if you have the patience, let it sit for a few minutes. These folded pizzas taste better warm or at room temperature.

This cover story was published in the Jul-Sep 2015 issue of UpperCrust
magazine. Photos courtesy UpperCrust.