The Pen Chants

Features by Lyle Michael

The Italian on the Move: David Rocco

We’ve all virtually travelled the length and breadth of Italy with this passionate foodie. So, naturally, when he 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.

This cover story was published in UpperCrust Magazine, Apr-Jun 2013; used here with permission from the publisher
Photo courtesy: UpperCrust Magazine 

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