Italian-Canadian chef and TV personality David Rocco is back with a new series, David Rocco’s Dolce Southeast Asia, which premiered on National Geographic on Monday.
In the program, Rocco explores the beauty of the region, meets inspiring people and devours mouthwatering local cuisine in Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
“The entire region is very appealing to us and there are a lot of places to go, and certainly we couldn’t do it all in one season of 14 episodes,” Rocco told The Jakarta Post during a phone interview earlier this month.
“Vietnam and Cambodia were really fascinating to me. I kind of missed that, [a] backpacking [trip], when I finished university, because I was in Milan, working. I was modeling at the time, so all my buddies went and I kind of missed out,” the 50-year-old celebrity chef said, laughing.
Rocco said the dishes he ate for the program, from those served at fine dining restaurants to those prepared at hawker stalls, came with their own unique twists and rich cultural influences.
But what he found most fascinating was meeting people from all walks of life: artists, musicians, activists, hawkers and street food vendors. These meetings left him with a deeper understanding of the distinct flavors from each of the Southeast Asian countries he visited.
In Malaysia, he enjoyed the Peranakan cuisine, an array of dishes born from the tasty crossover between Chinese and Muslim Malay cooking. He also visited Syrian refugees in their safe house and tasted recipes they brought after fleeing the war-torn country.
He traveled back in time to the Saigon’s days of Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge days of Cambodia and witnessed how the two countries raised from the wars became the busiest tourist destinations in the region. Consequently, they burst out with unique flavors to offer.
Rocco said he was surprised to find that all people in the region he met during filming had been very open. Prior to filming, some concerned friends had warned him that people in the region would not be too friendly.
“In all the countries [I visited], the people were wonderful. Even when we heard stories like, ‘Oh Cambodia, be careful, because, you know, they don’t really open up’, obviously because of the history they are really closed. But we found people really opened up to us. In Vietnam, [it was] the same thing,” he said.
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“In Malaysia, people [were] talking about their experiences, from women’s rights [activism] […] to activism in so many different causes. People in the area were so resilient, and [they] opened up to us.”
Rocco said the film crew had been lucky to have a seamless production experience, as they wrapped up in the summer of 2019, just before the pandemic hit.
For the time being, he said, he enjoyed taking a pause from traveling and being at home, though perhaps not for long.
Rocco and his team will film a new program, called Dolce Homemade, from his house starting this week.
“It’s a good time, it’s a good time to be with family and friends and cook and just be at home. In most years, I traveled 22 weeks of the year, so the fact that I am able to stay this long at home is… I’m okay,” he said.
Rocco promised to go back to Southeast Asia and film a second season that will include Indonesia.
“They [Rocco’s friends in Jakarta] have enticed me with certain dishes and [told me] how they were really invented in Jakarta or Indonesia. So yeah, absolutely, I promise to be back,” he said.
David Rocco’s Dolce Southeast Asia is shown every Monday at 9 p.m. Western Indonesia Time on National Geographic.
The series is part of a spinoff of his breakthrough series David Rocco’s Dolce Vita, which aired in 2004 on the Food Network Canada, Telelatino, BBC Food, Discovery Travel and Nat Geo Adventure Channel. After four seasons of the successful Italian food show, the spinoff shows focused on eating and traveling in India and Africa. (wng)
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