Celebrity chef David Rocco brings his passion for food and life to millions of kitchens every day through his worldwide hit television programs and three best-selling cookbooks: David Rocco’s Dolce Famiglia, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita and Made In Italy. Featured regularly by newspapers and a frequent guest star on a number of popular television shows, the award-winning chef has become a common household name, not just in his hometown, Toronto, but around the world. We caught up with David to find out where the dolce vita has taken him lately.
What was it like growing up in an Italian-Canadian household? How did your Italian ancestry influence your passion for food?
I grew up in Scarborough in the 70’s. Back then Toronto wasn’t the progressive food town it is now. At times I felt embarrassed to eat at school with the rest of my classmates. When everyone else was opening up their lunchboxes and pulling out PB&J sandwiches, I was having eggplant parmigiana, sausage and rapini panini or leftover spaghetti. The other kids thought I was weird but fortunately for me, I won over some of my friends, getting them to try and even like the lunches my mom packed. From a young age I knew that being open to new experiences and flavours, and sharing food with others can be very powerful.
Everyone knows you from your show about your travels through Italy, but you’ve also filmed in India as well as Africa. What inspired you to branch out and showcase these countries?
As much as I love food, my biggest passion is meeting new people and exploring different cultures. About 5 years ago and after filming 5 seasons/65 episodes of Dolce Vita in Italy, I wanted to take more of a global approach with our series. I was lucky enough to begin to work with National Geographic globally, and here in Canada my Canadian broadcaster TLN was also taking that approach. We were happy to move into a more documentary-style format, which was a refreshing change from the cookie-cutter food competition shows that other networks keep pumping out. What’s important to me now is opening viewers’ eyes to a new place or a new type of food that they may have never considered trying before, and showing the world what a rich tapestry life has to offer.
What’s one thing you can always count on to guide you in the right direction when you begin to explore a new place?
Food (it’s always about the food!) is a reflection of a culture. I always start in the marketplaces, they’re the best place to get recommendations for places to eat and sights to see, and they give you a local’s point of view of the vibe of the place you’re visiting. There’s almost always great street food to be found, and because the vendors are often foodies themselves, they’ll be able to give you an insiders’ tip on what’s good.
This year you finished working on Dolce Africa, the latest production in the Dolce Series. This time around you travel with your family to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and South Africa. How was it, having your kids along with you on this trip?
Africa was a place I’ve always wanted to visit. For us to travel as a family and have my kids take part in this experience is pretty incredible. I always see the effects of travel on them, they come back with so much respect for different cultures and open to different experiences and food. Every so often, my kids will bring up or remember an experience from their India trip 5 years later. It’s really powerful.
A lot of parents can’t get their kids to eat anything but chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches, but having a chef as a dad your kids must have pretty sophisticated palates. When you’re travelling to exotic locales are your kids excited to try new and unusual dishes or do they sometimes need a little persuasion?
Children are more open to trying new things than we give them credit for. I find my children always step up their game and surprise me with what they know and what they are willing to try especially if they are involved in preparing the meal or are involved in the experience of dinner prep or planning in some way. When travelling though, we always let them know what we have planned for the day (what they can expect), and tell them they can pick something to do too. It gets them engaged in the day and they become stakeholders in the experience. Everyone’s happy, everyone wins!
To find out more about David, check him out on social media and visit his website davidrocco.com.