Verge Meets: Roger Mooking

Cooking is an art form unlike any other. Connecting people sense of smell, taste, sight and feel while also being patient in the kitchen is a truly special gift. Imagine being so talented as a chef as well as musician and songwriter?

Enter Roger Mooking, the immensely talented Toronto based chef, musician and published writer. Verge had the pleasure of catching up with Roger about his successful life in many fields of work.

Paulie: How much does your birth country, Trinidad and Tobago, influence you as a chef?

RM – Incredibly so, T & T is one of the most culturally diverse islands in the Caribbean and my family lineage is a direct recipient of this reality.  By both positive and negative influences, within a couple of generations, my family has African, Chinese, Carib Indian, Spanish, Irish and SE Asian lineage; this is not entirely unusual in Trinidad.  So, I grew up eating Dim Sum, Goat Roti, Mutton & Potatoes, Curry Crab & Dumplings, Oil Down, and Coo Coo regularly.  The way I cook to this day reflects a globally influenced palate which to me is as normal as breathing.

You spent time as MC Mystic, a part of the hip hop band the Maximum Definitive, as well as Bass is Base. How much did your music career differ from your career as a chef/TV Personality?

Well, my music is still very much a part of my day to day so there is no differentiation between my “careers.”  I have one career and that is in the entertainment industry, whether I’m releasing an album, a tv show, a book, a restaurant, scoring music for a show or movie, or doing a live music performance it is all entertainment.  The pillars of what I do are music and food-related, so there is no difference because they are so intrinsically intertwined.  It is like separating Harry Potter from that lightning bolt on his forehead, which one gives the other power.

Do you listen to music while you cook? If so do you have a go-to playlist? In general who is some of your favourite artists?

I listen to music, podcasts and news while I cook.  My favourite artist that is still breathing at the moment is Stormzy, and I’m not just saying that because this is a UK magazine.  My cousin and I were having a Hip Hop debate a few years back and he introduced me and I fell into a Stormzy rabbit hole since then he has come to be my favourite artist.   Otherwise, some of my other favourite artists are Bob Marley, A Tribe Called Quest, Sade, Justin Nozuka, and also at the moment I’m loving this kid named JID from J Cole’s Dreamville camp.

You’ve appeared on Iron Chef, Top Chef Canada, the Today show and Good Morning America. Out of all your TV appearances, is there one that stands out as a personal favourite of yours?

I always have fun judging on Chopped.  But…I will never forget the time that I was doing Today show for the first time and Regis Philbin came back from a much-publicized hiatus by bum-rushing my cooking demo.  It was a moment in tv history that I was caught smack in the middle of.

Can you describe what it’s like to turn your passions into something written and the process of writing a book?

Every writer of every type will tell you that writing books are gruelling adventures.  This is probably why so many writers are notoriously in love with mind-altering substances.  Being passionate about a topic doesn’t get you through writing a book, you have to have a double measure of stubbornness and discipline to get through the process.  Once that book hits the stands and readers are sharing your thoughts with their friends and family then that is when you realize that all that attention to detail and editing was worth it.  There is also a shockingly small amount of return on that investment of time for the majority of writers, not everyone becomes J. K. Rowling, bless her soul.

You’ve worked with the likes of World Vision Canada, Second Harvest as well as Save the Children. Your work in charity is truly admirable, but how do you find time to be a part of such great causes and make a difference while you’re so busy?

The work I do is very well organized and scheduled so far in advance that making everything possible is just a matter of effective management of time and resources.  Regardless of industry or status, our most important resource is our life and our time and if you want to do something you will use your life and your time to accomplish that thing if it is important to you.  I may have an unusual commitment to being mindful of appreciating and improving the lives of children and their families, but we all have a purpose.

Is your favourite dish to cook the same as your favourite to eat?

No.  I love cooking a new thing every day if I can.  It’s about learning and mastering the craft through piecing together a variety of culinary disciplines.  I like to find similarities in different culinary traditions and techniques while investigating the differences simultaneously.   Some will say that repetition is best, but I find the repetition in the less obvious parts of the craft by exploration.  My favourite thing to eat is Roti and Pho, in alternating order, but I rarely cook those two things myself.