Living La Dolce Vita With David Rocco
By Karl Petschke, exclusive to Torontopath.com
Though there are days when we all feel fortunate to be no more than a few flights of stairs away from our favourite restaurants or food-courts, sometimes the convenience of the underground isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, it’s nice to be able to step out for lunch knowing that you’re only moments away from that comfort food you’ve been craving, or some exotic treat from a world away, but every now and then, don’t we find ourselves looking for something more? Sometimes it just isn’t a matter of how many ingredients you can pile onto a plate, or how many cultures’ cuisines you can pack into a stretch of concourse. Still, when it comes right down to it, many of us are all too willing to sacrifice quality for convenience, to forego what we know to be a good meal for whatever passing whim happens to pique our interest. However, one Toronto man wants to change all that, finding his inspiration not among the city’s extravagant, impersonal menus, but rather within the humble elegance of his own family’s kitchen.
Armed with a few simple ingredients and a microphone (one that could barely compete with the food court’s characteristic clamour) David Rocco, host of the popular cooking show David Rocco's Dolce Vita, recently made an appearance in Bay-Adelaide Centre in hopes of demonstrating that sometimes all it takes to live the good life is some good food. Having garnered him considerable notoriety in recent years, David’s series offers audiences a mouth-watering look into his kitchen, one that is guided by his unique, and refreshingly laid-back philosophy.
Rooted in the rich tradition of Italy, his approach to cooking is one that stands in stark contrast to the strict attitudes of many chefs – a certain foul-mouthed Scot comes to mind – that have come to influence the way many of us view the culinary world. This is perhaps why, surrounded by a host of eager fans, David reinstates what has become something of a catchphrase, his admission alight with the same warm smile and cheerful laugh that has invited so many along with him into the Italian countryside. “I’m not a chef,” he says, “I’m Italian”.
It reflects not only to the authentic, accessible way he expresses himself through his cooking, but also his love and respect for Italian culture. It’s a far cry from the culture that surrounds us as we wander the corridors beneath Toronto, the city David himself grew up in, where our day’s work invariably seems to translate into fashionable new outfits, or touch-screen phones, or extravagant dinners. Choosing to distance himself from this lifestyle, from existence in this “demand society”, he has instead opted to embrace the honest, effortless approach that makes Italian cooking what it is, explaining that above all else, what characterizes his cooking is simplicity. It harkens back to the Tuscan tradition of Cucina Povera, or “peasant cuisine”, one built not on a foundation of indulgence and excess, but rather on the moderation of families who found themselves forced to adopt prudence as a way of life.
The result is a style of cooking that is candid and welcoming, and when David describes it as an approach that upholds the integrity of its ingredients, that encourages freedom and self-expression, it begins to become apparent why it has brought him such inspiration. “It empowers you to take control, and say ‘I want to make it my way,’” he explains, before adding, with an easy-going charm that has become his trademark, “‘not how that David Rocco guy tells me’”. As if to prove his claims, David answered questions and recalled stories even as he was busy putting together some simple, but enticing dishes, offering up Couscous alla Panzanella, a bright summertime salad, as well as a unique dessert, which combined strawberries, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar, and had audiences eagerly jumping at their chance to get a taste.
David returns to Italy next month to begin filming for the next season of his series, and his trip promises to offer audiences yet another look into the rich, colourful world of Italian cuisine. Although he commends Canada as a nation of talented chefs, not to mention enthusiastic eaters, he feels his time in Italy allows him to remain connected with the people and the culture that inspire him. He describes an Italy that is more closely tied to the experience of cooking and eating, where family kitchens still await the spring for its artichokes, and the fall for its chestnuts, where cooking is alive with passion, and authenticity, and genuine, heartfelt connections. And although he may be right, and Canada may never be tied to the simple, honest joys of cooking in the same way Italy is, that doesn't mean there aren't those of us who still find ourselves wishing we could move beyond the unfamiliar, uninspired diets we've laid out for ourselves here in the city. Who knows, maybe it will simply be another passing thought, one of the many we mill through as we hurry on our way toward whatever fast-food chain happens to cross our mind today. Or maybe we're finally ready to understand that there's a lot more to good food than convenience. Maybe we're finally ready for our own taste of la dolce vita.