David Rocco, a Toronto-born celebrity chef, tells Mediaplanet about adjusting to the new normal, reshaping the way he does business, and his new wine bar, David Rocco – Bar Aperitivo, opening this spring.
How did you get your start cooking?
I was born Italian and into a food-obsessed family. My earliest memories are about food, which was always front and centre in our home. As a result, you learn from seeing your mom and Nonna prepare those great family Sunday pranzo or lunches. So, on some level, food was always part of my childhood and upbringing and is where I learned from osmosis or just being in the environment.
Travel is an integral part of what food means to you. How have you adjusted to the lack of travel during the pandemic?
Over the course of the last 10 years I would, on average, travel 20 weeks of the year, so the pandemic was quite the adjustment. But, with not being able to travel came an incredible opportunity. Like many people, we ended up cooking 24/7 since we were all in lockdown and it was the only thing we could do in those early months.
Although cooking wasn’t new to our family, what was new was how much cooking and baking my kids were doing on their own. So, for me, being home and spending that much time without having to hop on a plane was a nice change of pace, which also inspired my kids to pick up a camera and begin filming us cooking.
That inspired us to create Dolce Homemade, our latest series which we filmed right from our home. It was really a direct result of being home and in lockdown that got me thinking how much fun it would be to film an entire new series right from my home kitchen like we had been doing throughout the lockdown.
Tell us a little bit about your new wine bar opening this spring, David Rocco – Bar Aperitivo.
The other exciting opportunity that came up for me as a direct result of being home from the pandemic was the decision to create a new venture, David Rocco – Bar Aperitivo, a cicchetti and aperitivo bar opening in Yorkville this summer.
I’m super excited about this new project, as I’ve always said, “If I ever opened a restaurant, it would be an aperitivo bar.” This new project will be a small bar serving vino, prosecco, Negroni, and spritz, and cicchetti. It’s how my wife Nina and I would eat in Italy when we lived and worked there.
Cicchetti are little bite-size snacks that you find in the aperitivo or cicchetti bars throughout Italy, but perhaps no place more than in Venice, where it’s part of the Venetian DNA. It’s that local bar where you can get a half glass of prosecco (or full glass, of course) on your office break, or the pit stop you make after work for a spritz and an aperitivo before you head home for dinner. It’s exciting to bring that type of casual eating and drinking experience to Yorkville.
When I was living in Italy, sometimes a glass of wine and just standing at a table with a group of friends nibbling on snacks would often be how we started our evening. Friends would meet ‘per un aperitivo’ and those meetings would end up becoming our dinner, as we had way more fun where we were compared to leaving for a more formal sit-down dinner at a restaurant. So, we wanted to bring that all-day aperitivo concept to Toronto.
How have you had to adjust and reshape the way you do business during the pandemic?
Not being able to travel was a huge hit for my business. We were scheduled to return to Italy to film more shows, but because of the pandemic, we couldn’t. Then again, having to remain home presented other opportunities. The biggest was filming in our home. I think the pandemic really presented this opportunity based on all the fun I was having with cooking at home and the kids filming it.
For the family, it’s been pretty seamless as they would travel to one location every year with me when I was filming, so being around a set was not that different. What was different was waking up and finding the set was my entire home. But, we used all that in our filming – the kids would pop in from school and see what I was cooking, and we just kept the cameras rolling.
The other big adjustments were all my appearances and keynote addresses which were initially all cancelled. I think clients quickly realized that they still needed to engage with their staff, clients, and partners. At times this last year, I was busier than ever with all these bookings we were getting. We quickly saw that with new platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, we were creating curated online events for companies and clients around the world and saw an entirely new part of our business emerge. Those business events and appearances in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur could now be done via Zoom.
What advice would you give other chefs struggling during the pandemic?
It’s been a tough year for everyone and in particular, the hospitality industry. Everyone is trying to figure this new normal out and hoping for a return to pre-pandemic times, so I think our dining habits are about keeping things simple. People are craving simplicity, which is now an opportunity for chefs to pair things back and keep a lean kitchen – a smaller, more manageable menu and kitchen.