Celebrity chef David Rocco has a full plate these days. The host of The Cooking Channel's travel-food show David Rocco's Dolce Vita has just wrapped shooting on his next series for that network, David Rocco's Amalfi Getaway, which will air in March. He'll be joining Bobby Flay and other culinary grandees at the Chef's Challenge charity event November 26-27 in Toronto to support women's cancer research. He's a passionate spokesman for Ruffino wines, and tours the country on their behalf. He and his wife had their third child in October (a baby boy named Dante). And simply to fill all the empty hours in his day, he's written his second cookbook, Made in Italy, just out from Clarkson Potter. I sat down with Rocco over lunch in Midtown Manhattan last week and asked him about his new book.
"Italian food is American food, not 'foreign' food," he said. "Think pizza, pasta. And the recipes in my book are very simple." The preparation of the recipes in his book, he explained, is largely based on the concept of quanta basta, which means, more or less, "as much as you need." Throughout the recipes, readers will find the shorthand reference QB next to one ingredient or another. "What I say is a pinch may be different from what you say. I may like more of a spice than you do. So sometimes I tell the reader, "Quanta basta."
If it sounds like an unorthodox way to prepare a cookbook, it's because Rocco is an unorthodox chef. He has had no formal training in the kitchen, spent no apprenticeship as a galley slave, earned no diploma in the culinary arts. And he makes no bones about it. "I'm not a chef, I'm Italian," said Rocco, who was born into an Italian family in Canada and now splits his time between Toronto and Italy. "Maybe that's why I think a cookbook shouldn't be a bible, but a guide. Cooking should be fun, an art, an expression of you."
Just as his recipes may be nonstandard, so is the layout of his new cookbook. Sharing the spotlight with the recipes are hundreds of full-color photographs of the food, places, and people of Italy, along with a healthy dose of images of the photogenic Rocco himself. "I don't separate food from wine from travel," he says. "It's all lifestyle, and I wanted the book to represent that."
As our lunch wound down, Rocco reached across the table for the bottle of 2005 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro that we'd been drinking. Though the meal was over, he poured the last of the Chianti Classico into our glasses. "Never leave wine in the bottle," he said with a smile. "That's also Italian."
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel+Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.