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Busy Chef Roger Mooking Enjoys a Full Plate

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With a Trinidadian heritage and Canadian upbringing, Roger Mooking has naturally developed a global view of his cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Roger Mooking)

Roger Mooking has an overflowing schedule being a world-renowned celeb chef, restaurateur, television host, author, and award-winning recording star. Mooking’s countless endeavours include many television appearances and cooking shows, the latest being “Man’s Greatest Food” and the long-running “Man Fire Food” on the Cooking Channel. Modest, and thoughtful, Mooking’s globally inspired vision began quite simply. I had a chance to catch up with Mooking and find out how his journey, which began in Trinidad, all started.

Vacay.ca: How were you influenced by food  growing up?

RM: My family ate all kinds of food from all over the globe all the time. We were a culinary-curious household growing up and I’m still this way with my own family to this day. I was also aware of food being medicine as well as sustenance because of my grandmother. 

Vacay.ca: When did you decide that you wanted to be a chef and where did you study?

RM: I quickly realized that the fastest way to eat what I wanted was to learn how to cook it myself so I was three years old when I realized I wanted to be a chef. Learning from my family, reading books, working in restaurants, and going to culinary school in Toronto were all part of my studies.  Now I travel — before COVID-19, of course — and explore foods all over the world, so the studying never ends.  

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Roger Mooking has many reasons to smile as he has built a culinary brand around his personality and cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Roger Mooking)

Vacay.ca: How did training with chefs from other culinary backgrounds change your cooking style?

RM: I was taught “rules” that were very rigid from one school of culinary thought and then I would work with another chef with a specialty in a different cuisine and they would conflict the first chef’s “rules” completely. The realization struck that there are very few universal culinary rules and the pursuit is forever evolving and there is always something new to discover. My curiosity drives my cooking style and I’m always looking for a way to break any rules that try to form in my “style”.

Vacay.ca: Thinking of travel, how has this impacted and changed how you cook and how you developed your television shows?

RM: Every TV production I was part of was shut down due to COVID-19 so in terms of execution it all came to a halt.  Because I travel a lot, the quarantine time allowed me to experiment with new cooking techniques that I always wanted to dive into but never really had the time, that’s been fun.  

Vacay.ca: Toronto has been lauded as one of the most multicultural cities for its culinary scene. Do you think this helped in your evolution as a chef?

RM: Definitely, but so does my family background, so did my formative years in Edmonton. But Toronto definitely contributed to my culinary evolution in a way that would not have happened had I been raised in a more homogenous society.  

Vacay.ca: By the time you had your first television cooking show, were you still involved with the day-to-day business of running restaurants in Toronto and how has that changed?

RM: My work life now is much more dynamic and unpredictable than ever. My business now is more multifaceted and the responsibilities are ever increasing as it continues to work with more teams and more partnerships.  

Vacay.ca: Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement, did you ever feel or experience any biased roadblocks to your phenomenal success?

RM: Firstly, ‘phenomenal success’ is a matter of perspective and I have a lot more to tick off my list for me to decide that I have succeeded. I learned very early that I will have to work harder, faster, and better than my colleagues to get half as far, and I embraced that. Anyhow . . . I have faced more roadblocks than open doors in my career, and every open door was kicked open with a mix of wild stubbornness and relentlessness. I’ve learned that investing in oneself is infectious, and opportunity likes opportunity, so create your opportunity in the direction you are heading and continue to believe and invest in yourself while others won’t. In time, the very same closed doors begin to crack inevitably and that’s when you kick that door in and run through it . . . then way past it.  

Vacay.ca: How has your creative mindset and success changed your leadership style in such a highly charged industry?

RM: Once again that ‘success’ word . . . but . . . the only guarantee is change and a creative mind is always problem solving. The logical part of my mind will organize the problem and the solution, but that is just analytical and procedural. My leadership style continues to evolve as circumstances evolve, but I tend to be decisive, focused but still always willing to switch any plan on the fly.  

Vacay.ca: You have a worldwide fan base and despite any negative experiences, what has your mindset  been to overcome obstacles and get where you are today?

RM: What we see is not what is. Obstacles are real but they are also only as powerful as they are perceived. My perception of obstacles is that they are in front of us only as long as we allow them to hold power over us. Although very real and impactful, a stubborn mindset relentlessly battling against any obstacle will prosper.

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Patricia Noonan is an accomplished food and drink writer whose work has been published in the Toronto Star, Elle Magazine, the National Post and elsewhere.