The name David Rocco may not ring a bell at first mention but if you’re a fan of cooking shows, chances are you’ve come across him on television.
You’ll most likely recognise him in the battle against Nicholas Tse in a series of cooking competition in Celebrity Chef: East vs West or perhaps his hit show Dolce Vita. But take a look at David’s social media accounts and you’ll notice that this Canadian chef with an Italian background has won over a legion of followers from all around the world, thanks to his casual cooking style and cultural-themed series.
For those who are not familiar with David, he’s a man of many hats – celebrity chef, executive producer, author, television host, winemaker and a family man. With over 100 episodes for Dolce Vita, the show documents David, his wife Nina and his eclectic group of friends exploring various parts of Italy while showcasing the simplicity of Italian cuisine and culture. From there, he developed a spin-off show called Dolce India and subsequently produced Dolce Africa.
Now, the chef and his team are developing a new show, Dolce Southeast Asia, which will feature him experiencing the food and culture in five countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
During David’s three-week stay in Malaysia, I had the chance to meet the man in person at an event he hosted, ‘An Evening With David Rocco’, where I got to sample a menu specially curated by him and also speak with him about his food adventure in our country while filming the Malaysian episodes for Dolce Southeast Asia.
FEMALE: I heard that you’ve been working with Berjaya Times Square Hotel. How did this partnership come about?
David: When I came in January, I did a talk at the university with the culinary students. From there, I met the executive team of Berjaya and told them I was looking into doing a series here in South East Asia. With the economics of television, I also needed to find a hotel sponsor and they graciously stepped up to the plate. They’re taking good care of us and we’ve formed a great partnership. It’s that simple. It’s a great thing because we didn’t have to think about what we’re doing or where we’re sleeping, we just knew this was home for the next three weeks.
F: I understand you’re currently filming for Dolce Southeast Asia but noticed that Indonesia and Philippines are not in the list. Why?
D: There are so many places to film and Indonesia almost deserves an entire season on its own, so we’re going to come back for a second season. Right now, we want to tackle the current countries on the list first. Then in season 2, we’ll have the remaining countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Laos.
F: Is Malaysia your first stop?
D: Yes, Malaysia is the first stop and we’ll be heading to Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand next.
F: Before you came to Malaysia to start filming, did you have any expectations on the filming experience?
D: I had previously visited Malaysia when I did a show called Celebrity Chef. I went to KL and Ipoh so I was a little familiar with the cities, but I think there’s something really powerful about filming. The work is so intense. The conversations and stories you have with people are pretty amazing, so you can never fully expect who you’re going to meet or talk to. The way we shoot is like a documentary and Malaysia has so much great food, but behind the food are great stories.
F: I saw on your social media that you visited Penang this time. Apart from the local street food, did you get a taste of the traditional Peranakan food?
D: Yeah, I’ve had quite a bit of Peranakan food, one of it was onde onde. Some of the other dishes have really interesting flavours because you think you’re eating Chinese but they have gravies and other flavours as well and I think it takes the best of both worlds.
F: You’ve tasted quite a lot of local food from different states in Malaysia. Are there any differences between the food from all those states?
D: KL is a big city and with that, there’s a little bit of contamination of the different states. This is why the dishes you get in KL will have a slight difference from the ones you get from other states. That’s only natural and it’s no different than any villages in Italy versus the big cities. KL offers so much: The energy, the people, it’s so cosmopolitan and it’s a progressive city. While the food might be better in other states for certain dishes, the food is still good here in KL.
F: Many of our local food are pretty spicy. Do you enjoy spicy food?
D: Definitely. I can compete with any Malaysian when it comes to spiciness! The sambal I had yesterday with my nasi lemak was not hot enough and I needed to get a spicier one. My sambal has to be really, really hot.
F: You’ve tried many Indian cuisines while filming for Dolce India in Mumbai. In Malaysia, we’ve got our own local Indian cuisine as well. Have you noticed any differences between the two flavours?
D: Brickfields is a flavour of Little India and I would say they do rival the food of Mumbai for sure. I wouldn’t say that there are huge differences except here, it’s less spicy and a little tamed. But that’s what makes it fascinating. You have the Malay, Chinese and Indian influence and they lend flavours from each other and become a beautiful kind of curry!
F: I believe you must’ve tried a lot of local food by now. Have you been feasting on Malaysian food every day since you’ve been here?
D: Usually when you talk about the different types of food, there are the Chinese, Peranakan, Malay and India. But now, it’s almost like, “What is Malaysian food?”. I was invited by a group of refugees that I did a show on to an Arabic restaurant. I also went to a friend’s Italian restaurant and a Sri Lankan restaurant. There are so many great stories and food places here that you can never go hungry.