The Toronto-based David Rocco was in Kochi recently to shoot episodes for his hit cookery show, 'La Dolce Vita'
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo of David Rocco by Ratheesh Sundaram; Curried Pasta
As David Rocco stepped out of the Brunton Boatyard hotel at Fort Kochi, a bus screeched to a halt in front of him.
“Where do you want to go?” said the conductor.
“To the barber shop,” said David.
The conductor nodded. David got on. And it stopped in front of a barber shop.
“This can only happen in India,” says David. “A public transport bus makes an unscheduled stop, just for one person. And that is also the beauty of the country. It is so unpredictable.”
David is at the East Indies restaurant of the Eighth Bastion hotel, at Fort Kochi, as he recounts this. The Toronto-based chef, of Italian origin, had come to Kochi recently to shoot episodes for his popular cooking show called 'David Rocco's Dolce Vita' (The Sweet Life) which has been telecast in 150 countries. “The reason why it has become well-liked is because we take the viewer on a journey,” says David. “It is about travel, people, and locations.”
And experimentation, too. David shot a scene with fishermen standing next to the Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi. But he made them all eat spaghetti with their hands. “It was so much fun,” says David. “They showed me their system of fishing, while I showed them my method of eating spaghetti.”
Like most foreigners, David is enamoured of Indian cuisine. “Every region is like a different country,” he says. David was in a small village called Mundota in Rajasthan. “They did not speak English, and I did not know the local language,” says David. “But through sign language, I learnt how to make ghee.”
Then the men took David to a nearby hill. There, using a knife and a bottle of water, they sliced up a small goat. “It was done with the utmost cleanliness, respect and efficiency that I have ever seen,” says David. “Sometime later, we ate the meat along with chappatis and it was delicious.”
David also enjoyed the cuisine at Fort Kochi. “There are Portuguese, Anglo-Indian, Gujarati, Tamil and Malayali influences,” he says. “Thus, there is an opportunity for fusion to take place. Chef Shiju Thomas, at the East Indies restaurant, has invented the curried pasta, which consists of coconut, turmeric, zucchini, lemon grass, basil and curry powder.”
What David enjoyed the most was to see the creative energy of Shiju as well as chef Dominic Joseph. “They don't want to please their patrons by giving safe dishes,” says David. “They are willing to try new variations. For example, the herb-crusted pork chop, soaked in green sauce, has sauteed spinach and plantain chips, dusted with bacon and shrimps. Mostly, the dishes have lots of spices and flavours. It is usually rounded off with creamy coconut milk which gives the food a subtleness.”
As he talks, David slices up beef sliders. Apart from the meat, there are eggplant chips, chillie sauce, and tomato salsa. “This is what makes cooking so exciting,” says David. “There is no right or wrong. Everyone makes dishes based on their preferences and passions. As a result, the dishes are so different and unique.”
But there is a similarity between the cuisines of India and Italy. “In Italian cuisine, like in India, we use garlic, onions, legumes and chicken,” says David. “We are both family-oriented societies. And food has the ability to bring families together. However, in the USA, food is treated like a necessity. It is not a multi-course meal, like in India and Italy.”
When asked to give tips for aspiring chefs, David says, “Youngsters are getting into cooking, because they want to be stars on TV. I tell them that if that is their desire, they should take acting lessons instead. The most important thing is that you should love cooking. If you don't like it, you are in trouble. But if you do, you don't have to work for a single day in your life.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvanthapuram)