Why hunky, hetero Cooking Channel star David Rocco dreams of gay Pride

DR-Stairs-SmallSTEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
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David Rocco is everything a gay man wants in a husband: Handsome, smart, funny, multi-talented and he can cook. And, unfortunately, straight. But that isn’t about to stop him from getting a title he really wants: Grand Marshal of Pride. Dallas Pride, Toronto Pride, any Pride.

Before getting to that particular wish, let’s start at the outset of Rocco’s career, when his love for food first blossomed. The Italian-Canadian lived in a house with what he calls “cliché Italian family dinners.”

“It was a bit dysfunctional,” he laughs. “Yelling, kids running around, aunts, cousins — the whole extended family. One of the nice things I can say is that there was this inclusive factor. Everyone was at the table together. There wasn’t an adult table where the adults had foie gras and steak and the kids sat at a small table with Kool-Aid and hot dogs.”

Instead, they supped on traditional Italian favorites loaded with flavors from old family recipes prepared by his mother and grandmother. These weren’t half-hour dine-and-dash meals — they lasted entire afternoons. It was during these marathon meals that Rocco first learned to cook.

“I love cooking. I’m not a formally trained chef, but that’s very Italian. It’s passed on. It’s generational. You learn from osmosis,” he says. “I think when you like to eat, you’re more inclined to learn quickly.”

Fast forward to the 1990s. Rocco’s pursuing work as a filmmaker, but inspiration from his heritage and his past experiences sends him in a whole new direction.

Food-Issue-Logo-02“I thought doing a cooking show would be a lot easier. I shot a cooking show on PBS, and I got hooked on the whole food cooking show racket.”

His first series, Avventura, was followed by David Rocco’s La Dolce Vita, which was shot entirely on location in Italy.

His new series, Amalfi Getaway, just started airing on the Cooking Channel.

“Twelve years later and I’m still doing the racket,” he says.

His next show will focus on the Italian influence in all types of cooking. Dallas restaurants could even be a possibility, after he enjoyed a recent meal as a local Tex-Mex restaurant that served a version of caprese salad.

As host of travel and cooking shows, Rocco has toured not just Italy “from the top of the boot to the bottom of the heel,” but the world over. His message on living La Dolce Vita (which means “the good life”) is finding the perfect tone in his current collaboration with Ruffino Winery, which allows him to bring that message to a wider audience while creating recipes that utilize a variety of wines from their portfolio.

“Ruffino is iconic Italian. It was the first Chianti to be imported into the U.S. almost 100 years ago. I think it’s symbolic of Italian-American history. You look at films and you see the cliché godfather/Italian scene, but the straw decanter of Ruffino Chianti is always there,” he says. “When they called me, it was a part of my history, something we always had growing up, and it also touches on what modern Italy offers today.”

Then almost seamlessly, Rocco launches into a pitch of Ruffino products, hawking them with a sincerity indicative of his passion for everything he’s involved in.

“Ruffino prosecco is, like, 15 bucks. You can drink it everyday, but it’s also good for a wedding. You don’t have the guilt of a $60 bottle of champagne, but you still have the glamour. It’s quality without expense. You can achieve the finer things by not trying to overcomplicate things,” he says.

Rocco has a new book, Made In Italy, featuring plenty of recipes that exemplify the point-of-view that the finer things can be achieved at home. The photos alone should make any reader salivate.

That leads us to another type of salivation: That of people the world over, gay men and straight women alike, who dream of Rocco. His face reddens briefly at the discussion, but turns to a huge smile at the mention of a “Chefs with Hot Bodies” Internet forum where his physique  — and his sexuality — are frequent topics of discussion.

“Who are they saying is hotter than me?” he laughs, appearing genuinely curious. As for the gay thing, he shrugs that off with another laugh.

“I’m not gay, but it’s a non-issue,” he says. He notes that Matthew Smith, a publicist who frequently accompanies him on trips, has a favorite “gay Rocco” story.

“Matthew is my travel buddy and date. A few months back [we were on] one of those really packed flights. Matthew was in [boarding] group four, I was group one,” he explains. Then the gate agent recognized Rocco.

“I motioned to Matthew and said, ‘Sweetheart, come on over.’ I told the gate agent, ‘We just got married, can he board with me?’ People didn’t know if I was serious or not. And I think Matthew was more embarrassed about it than me.”

More recently, on a promotional trip for the Cooking Channel, he received a panicked phone call from the person trying to book his ticket. She informed him that it was Gay Pride in the city he was headed to and asked if he was OK with that.

His response? “I don’t care, but I will mind if I’m not the gay pride marshal. Make it happen.”

So, to the organizers of Dallas Pride, here’s your chance.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 3, 2012.