The Jakarta Post
Cooking with fire, according to Canadian chef and musician Roger Mooking, is not just about barbecuing.
Chef Roger Mooking hits the road to travel across America to unearth the most inventive use of fire to cook in his Man Fire Food TV show.
'We do all kind of stuff; sometimes it's with direct, high heat, sometimes it's slow, long heat for 12 to 16 hours,' said Mooking, who was in town for his Man Fire Food Southeast Asia tour.
He has cooked inside wine barrels, layering heated rocks on the bottom before adding layers of seaweed, lobsters, clams, potatoes and corn; or used dried pine needles and coal to cook mussels on the table.
'We also use different kinds of wood, such as applewood, cherrywood, hickory and oak, and it's really amazing to get different flavors from different kinds of wood and different kinds of heat.'
Humanity, Mooking said, had been obsessed with fire since ancient times, with the methods of grilling and roasting traceable to the caveman period.
'Every culture, every part of the world has their own ways of cooking over fire. For instance, you guys in Indonesia have satay, people in Texas do barbecue and the Caribbean has jerk chicken and many more,' he said.
Mooking's love affair with cooking began early, as he was born into a family with deep culinary roots in Trinidad.
His Chinese grandfather had moved to the island, opening a bakery and a Chinese restaurant, which was later taken over by Mooking's father.
Since the age of three, Mooking liked to help his parents in the kitchen. The experience sparked his interest in becoming a chef when he grew up.
The family later moved to Alberta, Canada, when Mooking was five, allowing him to indulge his taste buds with many new flavors, especially European food, from the neighborhood.
'I grew up around food. When we had breakfast, we were already talking about dinner,' he said, laughing.
Apart from his family, Mooking also learned about cooking from his experience working in restaurants.
His first kitchen job was in a small family restaurant in Alberta when he was 16.
'It was a small, bad restaurant, and I cooked breakfast. That restaurant was located right over the highway where all the truckers and car drivers eat ' it was so busy,' he said.
'I learned how to get organized and efficient and work fast in that kitchen. Then I started to learn better food in other restaurants.'
When Mooking was not in the kitchen, he took off his apron and put his musical outfits on. For him, the epicurean world and music are seamless ' one feeds the body, the other the soul.
'I took the money I got from the restaurants to go to the studio and make music,' he said.
Mooking, who has released three solo albums, was a member of soul trio Bass is Base, which won a Juno Award in the R&B/Soul recording category in 1995.
He then moved to Toronto to focus on his music career, before quitting the industry and returning to the culinary world.
He continued his professional culinary development at Toronto's George Brown College of Hospitality, where he earned top honors.
'One time I was busy with cooking, then I went to music, and then the music took over my calendar, and then cooking took over again,' Mooking said.
He worked at Toronto's world-renowned Royal York Hotel before opening his first restaurant in 2007, followed by some more openings, catering ventures and consulting jobs.
His cooking skills stole the attention of a TV executive who offered him a spot to host his first food show, Exotic Everyday, in 2008.
He has also made appearance on shows such as Iron Chef America and Top Chef Canada and is a resident judge of Chopped: Canada.
'Thanks to the TV shows, my business went crazy. We got a lot of local customers at first, then I started seeing international guests; people started coming from all over the world to see the restaurant,' he said.
Last December, Mooking opened his new restaurant, Twist, at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
'I've done catering companies, bars, lounges, but I never did airports. Having a restaurant at the airport is an interesting challenge, because bringing good, fresh food to the airport, where people usually eat fast, is hard,' he said.
While at home, Mooking always cooks for the family, but 'I also take my four daughters to dine out sometimes so they can try many kinds of tastes.'
He also lends his skills and knowledge to help improve the world's food industry. He went to Bangladesh in 2012 to create sustainable health and nutrition programs to be applied worldwide, and is actively involved in Second Harvest, Toronto's most significant charity for providing rescued food to families in need.
'It just feels amazing to be a chef; you can take a piece of meat and feed people and see how happy they can be. You can also bring people together with food, even if you don't speak the same language.'
' Photos Courtesy of AFC
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