Celebrity chef, restaurateur, television host, author, and award-winning recording artist Roger Mooking tells Mediaplanet about his culinary career, supporting local, the pandemic’s impact on dining, and more.
What inspired you to begin your culinary career?
I grew up in a food obsessed household where we would be talking about the next night’s dinner plan while eating lunch. The realization struck me that the best way to eat what I wanted was to make it myself, so I started asking questions and learning. In my teens, my first kitchen job became a reality as a breakfast cook in a busy Alberta family chain restaurant.
What does ‘supporting local’ mean to you?
Seeking out, purchasing, and sharing with others the wide range of things available by boutique independent businesses. There are so many incredibly dedicated craftspeople, artisans, farmers, and service providers that support their families and the communities needs with their offerings. The direct connection to the products and the people behind them is so intimate and it’s nice creating those human connections over a mutual interest. Our family buying practices are dynamic, like everyone else, but we do love making that personal connection where and when possible.
How has culture played a role in your culinary career?
Culture is the framework for any endeavour. We enter every situation with our cultural roadmap as a guiding principle. My family is filled with and embraces so many nationalities, and I draw on this dynamic reference point in all aspects of my culinary career. Whether I’m testing or developing recipes, travelling with an inquisitive spirit, or working on marketing campaigns, I bring an open and inclusive mindset showcasing how dynamic and powerful our world is. Selecting, preparing, and sharing a meal is very intimate and every tradition has its own practices. Embrace new experiences, enjoy, and keep an open mind.
As a restaurateur, how have you adapted to the massive shift in dining habits since the pandemic started?
Twist by Roger Mooking is inside of Pearson International Airport and our customers are travellers in transit or at the beginning or end of their respective journey. As COVID-19 has impacted the travel industry in unprecedented ways, we’ve had to take significant measures to protect those who still need to travel for a variety of reasons. We’ve done this through the implementation of additional safety and cleaning protocols, social distance separators, removing tables for additional social distancing, contactless menus, reducing the number of menu items, and staffing appropriately for the very unpredictable number of customers at the various stages of health and safety mandates. It’s like being on a rollercoaster in a tornado with the knowledge that one day the storm will pass and the cart will stop moving.
If you could share some advice with Canadians on how to tackle food waste, what would it be?
Audit your garbage bags weekly. This is a common practice in the restaurant industry to consciously be aware of what’s going in the garbage bags. In our house, we monitor the compostable kitchen bags of organic waste and our recycling bin garbage closely.
Here are a few ideas:
- Instead of throwing away the bones from a roasted chicken, save the bones in the freezer. Once you have collected enough, make a stock.
- Buy a lot of fresh perishable items when you shop so you’ll be more likely to use them up before they go bad. Where appropriate, keep these items visible so you see what stage of ripeness they are, and you’ll be able to get to them when they’re ready.
- Save cardboard for starting fires in your fire pit or BBQ instead of dumping in municipal garbage recycling by habit.
The pandemic has meant many of us are cooking at home more. What’s your best piece of advice for beginner home chefs?
Start with the things you genuinely love eating and you’ll work diligently to get that as best as you can. Before long, you will be a master of whatever that thing you love is, and you can then move onto the next thing you love. In short time, you’ll have a repertoire of reliable standby’s that you can cook on demand.