Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In conversation with David Rocco- Dolce India style

David Rocco, the Italian who was born in Toronto, and has been the host of superlative shows such as Dolce Vita, and Amalfi Getaway, is in India for the shooting of the second season of his Dolce India. David, the man with the million dollar smile and unaffected demeanour is even more charming in person.

In a whirlwind turn of events I found myself in a freewheeling interview with David Rocco, if I was mesmerised before, I came back even more enchanted.

Here are a few excerpts from our chat. (I couldn’t bear to edit it, so here is the unabridged version)


We started with a few icebreaker questions
Word associations. ‘give me the first word which comes to your mind when I say these words.’I said.
David rocco: Ok , but I have just gotten up and a bit sleepy still, so don’t hold the answers against me.
 India –Crazy
Italy- Crazy too
Canada-Tame
Pasta – One and only
Olive oil- The best
Ghee- Fattening
Chillies- Love
Cheese- Always
Family- Love
Favourite pasta-Fusiili

David Rocco had come down to Goa to shoot the second season of Dolce India, and I asked him his thoughts on Goa. He said that it’s like no other place he had been to, and he couldn’t compare it to any other place in India. The mind set, the energy and the food here is distinctly different from the rest of India. The flavours here are more European and yet uniquely Indian as well.

The previous day he had experienced the Goan favourite drink made from cashewnuts- Feni. Now I know that Feni at best is an acquired taste, it is a strong local alcohol, and David had had not 1 but 3 shots of feni. ‘ Just straight up, not with any of the wimpy stuff like softdrinks.’, he said. (I am impressed)

I asked him what his favourite sea food was, and he said clams and mussels. That came to me as a surprise after all they have so little meat to work with, but David replied that less is more. And truly David Rocco is the less is more kind of guy, his food is always about simple, clean flavours, and that is what has endeared him to so many people world-wide.

We went on to discuss his favourite Italian and Indian cities, Rome was a clear favourite, but when it came to an Indian city he hedged around not wanting to hurt sentiments, but conceded that he loved Delhi because he has a lot of friends there and to him connecting with people matters as much as the food that he eats and the places that he travels to, and of course Mumbai for its vibrancy. He spoke about the lack of restoration of historical places in India, and how beautiful parts of our history slowly decays in India. With Rome managing to maintain their heritage with monuments and scuptures almost 2000 years old, we truly have a lot to learn from the Italians. (as opposed to the Pantheon which was built somewhere in 27 BC, the Tajmahal was built in just 1632 AD)  

So having sampled some of Indias best cuisine, and back for more, what was his favourite Indian dish? You won’t believe it, but it’s the humble dal. Lentils. And he loved Sambar, the spicy, tangy dal made in south India, which he had sampled in Chennai. He infact loves Dal so much that he even attempted it back home, therefore when I asked him if he had ever used his nemesis from Last Dolce India show the all famous ‘ghee’ or clarified butter in any of his recipes, he said he had used a tiny amount to fry onions for his dal. He prefers his extra virgin olive oil, and feels a lot of Indian recipes can substitute Ghee with olive oil, a move which a lot of health conscious Indians are doing.

 Did he have any favourite Indian Ingredients, I asked, and he came up with Kasturi methi both fresh as well as dry, and mustard seeds and mustard oil. Mustard oil, he said, had a very strong flavour and if not used properly could overpower a dish, but when used sparingly to cook fish, it could be a winner. ( and the Bengali in me nodded away in agreement theek bolechho guru!

If you’ve ever seen David Rocco on television you are bound to wonder at his amazing level of fitness, considering he is surrounded by food all the time. David didn’t consider himself fit ‘Haah!!’ but did concede that the Indian hospitality and their way of showing their adoration through food was starting to take a toll on him. ‘a few days back I had 4 dinners in one night and at each of the places there was an array of delicious food, and I am aware that Indians get offended if you do not eat their food.’ 4 dinners is a tall order even for a man who enjoys dinner. When asked which was his favourite meal of the day breakfast , lunch or dinner, he had said dinner and that he hardly ever had breakfast. Even through our interview, he sat eating just a small bowl of mangoes. ‘But I run, I love marathons, I put on my headphones and just head out. Running is a stress buster, a release for me.’

What else makes David Rocco tick, apart from food and travel? He answered with interacting with people, but we all know that interacting with people can be quite tiring especially pesky interviews, so I wasn’t settling for any patronising answer. Turns out that he loves music.  He has picked the eclectic pieces of music for his show too. I always wondered about the rustic , folksy music that played in Dolce India season 1 and thought it was someone from post production who added the ‘Indian flavour’ , never knowing that there was an Italian chef who listened to Punjabi folk songs in his free time.

One of my earliest memories of David Rocco was his dinner time show ‘Dolce Vita’ in which he used weird and wonderful toppings on his pizzas. It was the first time that I had seen someone use apples, figs and walnuts on a pizza, and I’ve always wondered what his favourite Pizza topping was. Nutella, comes the reply, and I’m thinking this man really does have a sense of humour. After some thought though bufala and tomatoes is his answer. ‘I have used exotic items like truffles on pizza, but my all-time favourite is a classic- the timeless combination of buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.’

Having travelled extensively and tasted so many cuisines, did David like to mix and match cuisines? I asked him his choice, fusion food or a purist? Purist he said. He added that he liked to experiment and in fact had stepped out of his comfort zone during last season of Dolce India, while still maintaining the core essence of the dish. I do remember that during his last visit to India, even when a fellow food blogger had returned his dish of risotto saying that it was ‘raw and undercooked’ David had stuck to his conviction that authentic risotto should be served ‘Al dente’ and with a bit of bite.

The essence of David Rocco is difficult to put in printed words, simply because his gestures speak more than his words. The way he uses his hands to emphasise a point, the tilt of his head, and the lopsided grin when he decides to take a chance on something and says ‘sure why not’ , or the far off look he gets when he is recollecting fond memories. One look at the man and you know that he was made for television.

A man who is an inspiration to many, and has a fan following in almost every corner of the world, who inspires David Rocco? My kids, he answers. And you know it in the way his eyes light up, as he talks about them. ‘I am in awe, I am amazed at their strength , their courage, their ability to go up to anyone and talk to them, make friends, be open to new experiences.’ He is travelling with his two young daughters and his wife on this trip to India.

Coming to the end of our chat, I ask him about the picture of the cows on the beach in Goa that he had posted on Facebook. ‘Honestly, nothing shocks me, even the cows on the beach, it was more for the sake of my followers that I posted it, but I have eaten in langars (communal eating in gurudwaras which are places of worship), and travelled on camel carts, I have seen so much of India now that the culture shock doesn’t exist.’

So what was that one AHA moment? That one moment in India which would stay with him, and the answer quite frankly, will stay with me forever.

 He spoke about the butchering of a goat by a young boy that he witnessed in Rajasthan. The immense care, love and respect with which the boy did it, showed the respect which he felt as he sacrificed a living animal to feed himself and his family. “Many people who eat meat, get grossed out when they see animals being sacrificed, it’s hypocrisy, it’s like not acknowledging the animal and treating it like any other inanimate food item.” He spoke about young children watching the sacrifice, and how it heightens our respect for what we eat.  

I thanked David for the wonderful time, and he had one final question for me. “I have one last question for you, how did you manage to meet me?” And I answered, “Well David, you will just have to read my blog to know the answer to that.”

So here it is.

It was the night before the interview, a balmy full moon night. My husband and I decide to eat in the roof top restaurant of one of the city hotels to enjoy the moonlight. On our way I said “You know yesterday they showed a recipe on David Rocco’s show which was made only with green chillies and besan, maybe I should try it.”( I was just trying to get a rise out of my husband, who hates green chillies in his dish.)

Just then the elevator opened, and out walked a man who looked surprisingly like David Rocco!

‘I’ve been watching too much television’ I thought. ‘I am hallucinating about David Rocco.’

I wasn’t aware that he was in India, let alone in Goa. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the guy whom I watch every night on television would be standing in front of me.

Thus, I dismissed the man as a doppleganger. 

But over the course of dinner I couldn’t shake of the fact that he did infact have an uncanny similarity to David Rocco. I asked the hotel receptionist if a David Rocco was staying at the hotel, and CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, HE SAID YES!!!

What followed was a mild case of hysteria, and a frantic search for the man; I was just looking to have a small tete tete.(Being an avid foodie, food blogger, and a reporter for Food bloggers association of India FBAI, I couldn't pass up this opportunity)

My husband and I spoke about destiny. If we had not decided to come to this restaurant, if we had taken 5 more minutes to park the car, if we had gotten onto the other elevator, we would have completely missed David, without even the knowledge that he had been in town!  
 But the night wore on, and even as we finished dinner, I had not managed to meet David Rocco.  
The next morning I received a mail from Dawn, David Rocco’s manager that he would be pleased to meet me.

 And the rest is history.

Carpe diem This interview was not just about meeting David Rocco, but also seizing opportunities, and accepting that there are forces of destiny at work which are beyond our understanding . Life gives us surprise gifts every day and many of us are too scared or too preoccupied to open the gifts.
David Rocco was enndearingly honest and even though he must have given a thousand interviews before, he didn't seem jaded, in fact he was buoyant and engaging just like his television persona.I left the meeting thoroughly charmed.

Dolce Vita means the good life, and it doesn’t get better than this.


Even as David shoots for his second season of Dolce India, you can watch season 1 on Foxtraveller at 9 30 pm on thursdays and fridays. (If you havent been following it already)

A few more interesting Blog posts on Italy rome and my travels.

my top three places for pizza, pasta and gelato in rome

the splendid MSC cruises and Tunisia

The splendid MSC cruise and Barcelona

the splendid MSc cruise and Genoa

The fantastic collection of fridge magnets we have managed to hoard from our travels