This is the headline promised to chef David Rocco in return for the chance to enjoy all the good food Italy has to offer at his expense. The Canadian chef, best known for his television show, La Dolce Vita, is in India to shoot a 13-episode special edition of the show. His journey so far has been a smorgasbord of cook-offs, street food tours, interviews and lessons in deciphering the Indian nod (“Is it a yes, is it a no?”). Joanna Lobo spoke to the chef at ITC Grand Central.
If not a chef, what would you have been?
Secretly, I wanted to become an astronaut. Go to the moon. But then you have to be really, really smart for that, so I let it be.
Which cooking show would you want to participate in?
I wouldn’t want to because I’d probably get my ass kicked. I don’t have the experience to pump out food that quickly. If it’s one dish, I can go up against any person but I can’t do five dishes in an hour.
What’s your favourite cooking tool?
The mezzaluna (half-moonish shaped knife used to dice food).
What brand of knives do you use?
Where have you eaten the best food?
The Amalfi coast. There’s a Hotel Villa Maria in Ravello that has a beautiful terrace with a gorgeous view of the coast. It serves simple, elegant and rustic food. In Sicily, there’s a place called Da Vittorio. The owner there has my dream job: he has a place with eight rooms, he and his wife live there, they rent out six rooms.
It’s like sleeping at your grandmother’s — there’s bad furniture, a big cross atop your bed and the restaurant has different kinds of chairs. But you’re right on the beach. The owner cooks in flip-flops, in shorts and he literally gets his fish at the door.
The weirdest food you’ve eaten?
I’ve eaten cow’s tongue, lamb’s eyeballs and lamb’s brains. The worst, of course, was the durian (a fruit). It was gross and tasted like death!
Who is your favourite chef?
Jonathan Waxman. His restaurant Barbuto, in New York, is one of my favourites.
Your favourite cheese?
I usually say buffalo mozzarella but I also love pecorino and parmigiana.
If we opened your fridge, what would we find?
Not much, actually. I go shopping almost daily and pick very little, just as much as I need for that day. There are leftovers, but that is only done intentionally so that I can use them the next day to make a frittata or something.
Lasagna. If it’s my last meal on earth I would want it to be lasagna and for dessert, a nice juicy burger. I like them both. If I don’t have it every day I feel sad.
Does the food on TV taste as good as it looks?
What happens is the food is generally very good because take after take you’re putting in extra cheese or olive oil or butter or seasoning. So when you get to the end, it’s more flavourful than it should be.
Extra-virgin olive oil. There’s nothing better than French fries served with extra virgin olive oil. I’m going to be the ambassador of olive oil here and introduce it to people in India who love overdosing on ghee. If you go to Italy, the olive oil is so good and healthy. I can’t live without it. It’s killing me being in India without olive oil.
What do you think of molecular gastronomy?
It’s a waste of time. It’s all fluff and no meat and potatoes. I’ve been to tastings that have lasted five hours, and been bored. I appreciate the artistry as a meal except its more about the show. I’m not excited by it.
What do you cook at home?
I usually cook Italian fare. But I eat lots of salsas, stir fry and a little bit of Thai.
What do you cook for your kids?
My kids actually love to cook. Most of the time we cook together — they know how to stir, what to put in, how much olive oil to use, they know the methods... all of it. My kids eat everything. My son Dante is 15 months old. If we don’t feed him fast, he goes grrr. He’ll eat your arm if he’s hungry.