He is a celebrity chef, best-selling author and executive producer. But David Rocco prefers to introduce himself simply as “an Italian”. And that’s because cooking, he says, runs in an Italian’s blood. After Dolce Vita, his signature syndicated TV show that airs Monday to Saturday on Fox Traveller at 2.30pm, Rocco continues his culinary romance with Amalfi Getaway (also on Fox Traveller, 11.30am, Monday). He stirs it up with t2…
What brought you to India?
I’m working on a 13-part show that will be shot in February-March. I came to scout for locations and absorb the culture and the food. We’ve been to Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur. In season two we promise to visit Calcutta where, I hear, the mustard fish is a must-have. I intend to become an adopted son of India over the next couple of years!
What discoveries have you made about Indian food?
In the West, the idea of Indian food is rice and curry. But I realise that’s just scratching the surface. It struck me how the gravies are different… having a readymade curry powder like we have in the West is a ridiculous notion here. The blend of spices is different and it has to be fresh. Having dosa in Chennai for breakfast with various chutneys was a pleasure. There was this fish — not a snapper — wrapped in banana leaf with tomato chutney. I could swear that I had it in my mom’s home. In Jaipur, the bhurji — egg with spices — was very nice. The ghevar and kachoris were neat. The biryani we had was so different from what we have outside India. Then we had dal at the Bukhara. It is amazing to take it all in!
You do most of the cooking in Dolce Vita but in Amalfi Getaway, you let others cook as well. What will be the format of the new show?
I love to learn from chefs and home cooks. I have found that cooking together is the easiest way to make friends. It will be a cultural exchange. I don’t want to stand in the kitchen as the lone talking head. The show will be about expanding my repertoire and challenging me as a chef. I will cook Italian and I know finding ingredients will be tough, so I will have to cook with substitutes.
What would you say about your show Amalfi Getaway, which is currently on air in India?
Amalfi (in Italy) is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I love the grandeur of its villas and the simplicity of its food. Because Amalfi is a port city, there is a lot of culinary history involved. There is one recipe I do with bagels. A century ago, fishermen who went out to sea used to hang bagels on their boat. When they were hungry they would rip off a bagel, dip it in seawater, chop onions and tomatoes and that would be their meal. Even today, whether you stay at a five-star hotel or at a $10 bed-and-breakfast, they make that dish everywhere. In the show, we go to grandmas, to the guy who has lemon orchards, to a guy who milks buffaloes and makes great mozzarella, and also to glamorous places like Positano or Ravella and make Limoncello.
You were also a guest judge on Iron Chef America...
Yes, in 10-odd episodes last year. As a judge, I had it easier than the participants! To cook five courses in 45 minutes takes special skill.
How is Gordon Ramsay to work with?
Fascinating. He is a friend and a gentleman and the hardest worker I know. We worked together to raise $1.2million for a hospital in Toronto.
Would you want to be in Hell’s Kitchen and be shouted at?
I know what he’s done on the show and we’ve talked about it. My take is any idiot that has his fridge or kitchen filthy or unprepared deserves to be yelled at and his restaurant shut down. If you are going to be so irresponsible as a chef or as restaurant-owner, especially when you know there will be an 18-member camera crew that will show how bad you are to the world, geez… at least clean up! In a hotel, I clean up my room before the maid comes (laughs).
Last meal: A nice juicy hamburger with double bacon and cheese and for dessert, lasagna.
On the field: I’m a big Napoli fan, especially Maradona.
Celebrities he wants to cook for: President Obama. Behind closed doors he’s probably a cool dude. And Sophia Loren. She was born in the same town as my dad. He claims that they had a thing but I don’t believe that (laughs).