PETALING JAYA, March 23 — Italians take their coffee very seriously and celebrity chef David Rocco is no different.
On a recent visit to Ipoh, the Italian-Canadian television chef sampled the city’s famous Ipoh white coffee while filming Celebrity Chef: East vs West, a culinary competition that pits him against Hong Kong movie star turned chef, Nicholas Tse.
Rocco, who is known for his Dolce Vita series, did not sugarcoat his response when asked his thoughts on the beloved beverage.
“I did have the Ipoh white coffee — it was okay and certainly if I had a choice, I would go with Italian espresso.
“As an Italian boy, espresso is espresso and it’s hard to replicate,” he told Malay Mail in an exclusive phone interview.
But before you take offense, the 47-year-old is a lover of Malaysian food — just don’t serve him durian.
Since returning to Toronto, the best-selling cookbook author has been craving nasi lemak and roti jala, and is itching to whip up some Malaysian dishes in his kitchen back home.
“I just love the sambal in nasi lemak and I’m a heat freak. I love the texture of roti jala and I also tried a sweet version with bananas,” said Rocco, who was in the country in January to film the Fox Networks Group Asia’s original series.
Celebrity Chef sees the two culinary masters travel to five Asian cities — Macau, Shunde, Manila, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur — where they learn about each city’s food with the help of a local chef before a cook-off.
The winner gets to donate a generous sum to his charity of choice.
Rocco, representing the West, had not heard of his eastern opponent prior but was quickly introduced to his stardom when a hoard of fans chased Tse during filming in China.
He praised Tse’s knack for plating beautiful dishes.
“You’re already enjoying it before you even taste it which is the signature and approach of a lot of top-notch chefs.
“It was a pleasure working with him — he was a complete professional and a real friendship grew out of the entire series,” he said of his Hong Kong competitor.
On the funnier side of things, Rocco revealed that Tse was a skilled prankster.
“He has this boyish, innocent look, so I thought I could trust him,” he said.
For their first show in Macau, the pair were at a wet market and no one spoke English.
“Nic said ‘Don’t worry Rocco, I’ll help you and I won’t steer you wrong, you just basically have to ask for gou and of course, gou was dog,” laughed Rocco.
The two remain good friends today although Rocco has yet to watch any of Tse’s films such as Young and Dangerous, Gen-X Cops and New Police Story.
“I probably should have a Nicholas binge day where I curl up with a blanket and popcorn and just look at my boy crush,” he laughed.
“I’m going to send him a message after this call and tell him to send me some links.”
Having produced multiple cooking shows, Rocco said there may be a tonne of food shows available but said he loves the concept of taking audiences on a journey and enjoys a good challenge.
From Italy to India and Asia to Africa, the father of three — a boy and twin daughters — spends 19 weeks of the year travelling and working.
Predictably, playing the doting dad is his favourite role.
“When I’m home and basically having a little bit of free time, I love being with my family and just doing normal dad things like being my kids’ soccer coach,” he said.
It comes with a catch though — his children are his harshest food critics and love giving their dad a tough time.
“A couple of days before leaving, I had made a dish and they told me it was horrible just to mess with me.
“When I left for Celebrity Chef my daughter was like, ‘Okay dad, we want you to stay focused, don’t go there and have a good time, you need to step it up’,” he said.
Sounds like solid advice indeed for a fiery cook-off.
Celebrity Chef: East vs West premieres Sunday on FOX Life, Astro Channel 711 and 722 (HD) at 9pm.