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the cooking channel

DALLAS — When it comes to food and entertaining, David Rocco recommends keeping it simple.

The popular Cooking Channel personality admits that this is hardly a new concept. But it bears repeating, he said during a recent interview, because for some reason we tend to forget.

"Many people seem to believe that it has to be complicated to be good," says Rocco, whose TV shows celebrate Italian cuisine and culture. "In my experience, the opposite is usually true."

The host and producer of "David Rocco's Dolce Vita" and "David Rocco's Amalfi Getaway," both currently playing on the Cooking Channel, came to Dallas last month to scout potential locations for an in-development series that would champion great food in America.

While dining at Dakota's in Dallas, he shared tips about living the culinary good life without going overboard.

Q: What's the easiest way for people to turn dinner into a memorable experience? What should they bring to the table?

A: I think food tastes better when you're eating with family and friends and people you like. It's better when you celebrate the food experience together. Dinner is better with conversation.

Q: You also maintain that a great meal doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, right?

A: Absolutely. There was a dish I had the last time I was here in Dallas. It was a bread salad: essentially croutons with cherry tomatoes, a little cucumber, some olives and some creamy mozzarella cheese. They tossed it with bread that was a little bit reconstituted, wetted up with beautiful olive oil. Some salt and some pepper. That's all there was to it, a very simple dish, a throwback to what the peasant farmer ate. But it was wonderful, and even this five-star restaurant was understanding and appreciating that.

Q: What if someone is planning to have guests over for a summer get-together? How would you recommend keeping that simple yet elegant?

A: Why not go to the deli, buy some Italian prosciutto, some Parmigiano-Reggiano, get some good bread and some olives? If that's all it takes for your party to be a success, then that's what you should do. Because, No. 1, it has to be relaxing, 100 percent. If you're going to have stress, nobody's going to have a good time.

Q: Can you suggest any shortcuts to figuring out the best thing a restaurant has on its menu?

A: I was in Babbo in New York City, Mario Batali's restaurant. When my wife and I got a table, we said; "You know what? Surprise us. And keeping bringing out food until we say stop." So they brought us probably eight different dishes, small sample sizes, and it was a remarkable meal.

If you invited me to your home for dinner, there wouldn't be a menu. You would feed me whatever your go-to dish is. This is the same philosophy. Talk to any chef. If they get a table that says; "Go crazy. Give me whatever you want," they love it. They will make sure that they give you their best dish.

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And as a diner, it's fun, especially if you say; "Listen, we're in no rush. We're going to be here a few hours." Because you don't know what the next dish will be. So part of the enjoyment is discovery.

Q: That said, do you think it's wise to plan ahead when traveling and vacationing, to scout out your dining options in advance instead of leaving it to chance?

A: Absolutely. I've never heard anyone go traveling and say, "Oh, I had such an amazing time, except that the food was terrible." It's always, "I had such an amazing time, and the food was great." There's a reason that travel bloggers spend a lot of time writing about the food scenes. The two are so connected.