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David Rocco divides his time between Canada, where he drives the Mercedes SUV, and Italy, where he drives a Smart fortwo cabriolet. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/THE GLOBE AND M)
David Rocco divides his time between Canada, where he drives the Mercedes SUV, and Italy, where he drives a Smart fortwo cabriolet. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/THE GLOBE AND M)

My Car: David Rocco

La dolce vita meets German engineering Add to ...

He has never taken a single cooking course, but dishing out Italian cuisine comes naturally to David Rocco.

The self-taught cook and host of David Rocco's Dolce Vita on Food Network and TLN launched his career by accident. He pitched his first cooking show Avventura: Journeys in Italian Cuisine more than a decade ago even before Food Network existed. Now, his shows, shot on location in Italy and edited in Toronto, air in 160 countries.

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While Rocco has a deep-rooted connection to his Italian ancestry, when it comes to cars, he skips the Italian exotics in favour of German vehicles. Rocco drives a 2008 Mercedes-Benz ML 320 diesel SUV.

"I'm really fond of it. It's really peppy. We got the sports package with bigger tires and running boards. It's white. I don't really like white cars. But in that car, white to me is the right colour. It really works - it wasn't porcelain white, it was a softer white."

Rocco and his wife and business partner, Nina, test drove several vehicles to accommodate their growing family - 19-month-old twin girls, Emma and Giorgia.

They took a spin in a Porsche Cayenne GTS, but it was too expensive, they judged BMW X5 too ugly, and a Land Rover Range Rover was too big for the garage in their trendy Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto. But the ML was "bang on in terms of everything and it was the least expensive."

The ML isn't the only three-pointed star he owns. He also has a silver 1989 Mercedes SL 560 roadster. "I drive it seldom because of the family situation.

"I love it. I think the older I get the more I appreciate it. It was my wife's family's car - she wanted to sell it about seven, eight years ago. I said, 'No, you don't want to sell this car, especially when you're the original owner!'" he expresses passionately.

Rocco, who divides his time between Italy and Toronto, drives a Smart fortwo cabriolet in Italy. He has driven different versions for the past decade; its compact size and handling are ideal for tight, narrow Tuscan streets.

And he notes there's a big difference between European and North American car owners. "In North America, very wealthy people will drive expensive cars. In Italy, they don't care, especially in urban settings.

"We had a meeting with a count - a famous family. We [gave]him our address and he was coming to my place. I didn't know how he looked. My wife and I are waiting and this Mercedes pulls up and we approach this guy, 'Massimo?' and he says, 'No.'

"A minute later this … Panda with rust all over it pulls up. This guy comes out and he says 'David? I'm Massimo.'

"A week later we went to his villa in the country and he had millions of dollars worth of art alone.

"The mindset in North America is to drive an expensive car because it's a reflection, a statement.

"I don't really care what I drive. I'm not going to overextend myself to get a fancier car so I can impress someone on the street. I'd rather spend it on clothes, food, and travel. In Europe they're less concerned with the car they drive."

Rocco's best driving memories are in the Smart. "The scenic drives, especially in the Amalfi when you're coming home from the beach, the roof is down and the weather is perfect. It's so surreal, it's incredible.

"The Amalfi coast is my favourite road. It's a driver's road - the curves are really, really fun. The salt in the air, the smell of the sea. It's romantic. It makes you feel alive," he says.

Despite his fondness for Mercedes cars, Rocco does pay tribute to his Italian roots by owning three older Vespas. A 1989 200-cc Vespa with only 800 kilometres on it, which he bought from his cousin's neighbour for $2,000, is one of his favourites.

"It's a beautiful Bordeaux wine colour - mint condition. I got it for a steal. It's brand-new.

"I have it stored at my mother-in-law's place. She keeps threatening me she'll throw it out! 'I swear to God - I'm going to put your little moto-ce-clete …' he mimics with an Italian accent, 'in the front with the garbage if you don't pick it up!'" he laughs.

He has also owned an Alfa Romeo and a Mercedes-Benz 560. His first car, however, was more basic: a 1990 Honda Civic.

"My family were big Honda purchasers especially in the '80s and '90s. They're really reliable, efficient, and the cost is great. My Dad swears by Honda - he has an Accord now."

Rocco is a self-described "aggressive driver."

"I guess it's my DNA. I like to drive fast. I drove with my wife last night and she warned me, 'You better not drive like that tomorrow,'" he says, referring to our drive through Yorkville, where he's constantly stopped by adoring fans of all ages and nationalities proclaiming their love of his TV shows.

"I'm pretty aggressive - I have more of a European approach to driving. But I'm pretty lucky. Even when I've gotten speeding tickets, I've gotten off."

However, since the twins came along, he does take it slower on the road. "I drive more cautiously. Even when I'm driving by myself I'm more careful. With them, I'm even more careful."

Although he loves his ML, there is one Italian exotic he'd trade it in for. "I really have it for the Maserati two-door coupe - Bordeaux with tan interior and navy-blue piping. I love piping.

"That car would be eggs with truffle - it's all class and style. It's not too showy, but it's stylish."

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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