David Rocco did not set out to be a food and travel show host.
He had always wanted to be filmmaker, and thought a cooking show was a great way to learn the ropes of movie making - something he had zero experience in.
“At that time, we thought a feature film was too much work but a cooking show seemed doable,” says Rocco, reminiscing a decision he and his wife Nina took almost twenty years ago that set them off a globetrotting adventure.
Dolce Vita has travelled the world to exotic places, aired in over 150 countries and found international success
“So, we just went ahead and got ourselves into something we had no experience in. It was about learning to get a project off the ground and to be entrepreneurial.”
The couple ended up producing a 13 mini series featuring Rocco preparing traditional classic Italian dishes around the beautiful cities and countrysides of Italy.
The show, Dolce Vita, has since travelled the world to exotic places, aired in over 150 countries and found international success through networks like National Geographic, Food Network and BBC Food.
“A hundred eighty episodes later, I have no interest in doing a film anymore,” says the father-of-three with a smile.
Connecting People Through Food
Rocco is a man of many hats - celebrity chef, executive producer, author, winemaker, all-round family man - and he does seem to be living up to the Dolce Vita, or the ‘sweet life’ - bringing his passion for travel and food to millions around the world.
Yet, the 49-year-old says his biggest achievement is neither fame nor money.
“It is a nice perk and is something I identify with my job,” the Canadian-Italian says modestly. “But my family is really what comes first. To have that balance, to be able to travel and to bring them into my work, has been the most important thing.”
My wife and I we are very entrepreneurial. We make huge investments when we may not have the broadcast support, we take big risks
Rocco, based in Toronto, spends almost 22 weeks on the road to film his series, and makes sure his three children - Emma, Georgia and Dante - gets to spend at least a couple of weeks with him on set at each shoot.
“They were with us in many places - in Delhi, in Zanzibar and even in Kenya with the Maasai people. It’s just so amazing because I see them becoming young adults with a lot of compassion.”
“Travel affects them in such a positive way. There’s so much openness and it’s nice to see that,” he adds. “They are my legacy.”
Rocco, who runs his own production team of about twenty, underscores the challenges and hard work that goes into making a travel-cooking show.
“You are on TV now but you might not be on the next season,” he says bluntly. “My wife and I we are very entrepreneurial. We make huge investments when we may not have the broadcast support, we take big risks.”
“One might say ‘Oh you are David Rocco, that’s very easy’, but you know, the bigger you are, the bigger the money you have to put out, the bigger the risk and a bigger potential of failure,” says Rocco.
Rocco, a firm believer that ‘success is a residue of hard work’, says he is often the first to arrive on set, and the last to leave - not only to set a good example to his production team, more importantly, to his children.
“My kids see me on the road, on production. I carry the equipments. I’m the first one one set, last one off set because I am the Executive Producer and I need to set that tone. For me, it is also very important for the kids to see that hard work comes first,” says Rocco.
I Do Not Measure Success By Money or Fame
“Fifty is the new forty,” Rocco exclaims with a laugh when asked if there’s many more years to his globetrotting food adventure. “The interesting thing is, I feel I could do so much more than I ever did without kids,” says the 49-year-old.
In fact, Rocco is already working on his new project, and Southeast Asia will be the focal point. (He has done Dolce Vita India and Dolce Vita Africa).
“There’s a really great fan base here and the food is so interesting. So, for us, it’s the next frontier that we needed to do.”
Rocco got acquainted with Southeast Asia from Fox Network’s Celebrity Chef: East vs West, that featured Rocco and Hong Kong singer and chef Nicholas Tse cooking local food in competition with each other, taking them to the Macau, Fushan, Manila, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.
I always ask myself - does this expand the business, or expand what I want to do? Or is it just to fulfil the ego
“The flavour profile here is really strong and fresh.” Rocco is expected to be back in the region in the coming months to shoot his own new show. “We will be shooting in four to five countries and Malaysia will almost be the centrepiece of the new series.”
Raring to go, there’s seems to be no slowing down for the energetic Rocco, as he keeps an eye on growing the ‘David Rocco’ brand.
But one thing you won’t find him doing anytime soon is setting up his own restaurant.
“I always ask myself - does this expand the business, or expand what I want to do? Or is it just to fulfil the ego?”
“Every project you get into takes up more time and energy, and something else will suffer,” says Rocco.“For me, hanging out with my kids on the weekend, or traveling with them is far more enticing. In the end, it is what’s more important to me.”
Rocco, however, says he sees his career to include more more public speaking engagements when the traveling eventually takes a backseat. “People are curious about my journey and how it has evolved.”
We Are Not All That Different
“I look at myself as having the opportunity that brings culture together, to break myths and stereotypes, to be the guy that travels through and food and bring people closer.”
“Food is a universal truth,” says the introspective Rocco,“ Not to sound grandiose but there is a lot of imbalance in the world and it would be nice to be more harmonious.”
“And I really believe that food can do it. Nothing else! It gets people to sit down at a table and then we can see that we are not that different from each other.”