By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario – Roger Mooking, a celebrity chef, television host, cookbook author and award winning recording artist says he always has a song in his head.
Recently, while shoveling snow outside his place, he was listening to a song from Jay-Z’s Blueprint album over and over.
Mooking has earned a reputation as one of North America’s premier chefs by developing a culinary philosophy built on perfect execution of globally inspired culinary traditions.
He is one of the five recipients of the Vice Chancellor’s Award at the UWI Toronto Benefit Gala on March 29 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Mooking said his family was one of the few black families in his neighbourhood.
He said while growing up there he had his challenges and was involved in fights, being chased after school and being called the “N-word” but he also made friends.
In 1993 he moved to Toronto and as a third generation restaurateur and chef began formal studies at George Brown Culinary Management Program where he graduated with top honours. Mooking is now the chair of the professional advisory committee.
He said when his aunt asked him at the age of 3 what he wanted to be, his answer, without hesitation was, “a chef.”
Knowing what’s involved in that line of business, his family asked if he really wanted to do that and he was resolute that it was his goal.
“In my household there were two things. My dad used to collect a lot of records so we had a lot of music always in the house from Simon and Garfunkel to parang, calypso, old soul Sly & the Family Stone – a lot of different music growing up. And, so there would always be music and cooking,” he said.
Mooking said the routine in his home was to cook breakfast and talk about dinner, be cooking dinner at breakfast, and talking about what would be prepared the following day and the next.
He continued his training at Toronto’s world-renowned Royal York Hotel before co-owning and consulting on many food and beverage operations.
Currently, he is working with Pearson International Airport on an upcoming restaurant project for later in the year.
Global restaurateur HMSHost, in partnership with several Toronto celebrity chefs, including Mooking, will transform Toronto Pearson’s Terminals 1 and 3 into a hot spot for dining that will take travellers on a culinary journey.
The new restaurants will open in three phases, beginning in summer of 2014.
Regarding his interest in music, the recording artist said when he was in grade 6 his brother started breakdancing and he used to hang around the crew, and at age 16, he started making music, rapping and never stopped.
“I would work in the restaurant during summer or on weekends, then take all my money from the restaurant and go into the studio and hone the craft and before you knew it, here I am,” he said.
He was a member of the 1990s Juno award winning R&B, funk, hip-hop trio, Bass Is Base.
Mooking has been on tour with “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown and said he learnt a lot from the legendary singer who had “an aura and a presence which he earned every night he stepped onstage.”
The recording artist has also graced the stage with Celine Dion and in 2013 released his album, “Feedback.”
He is the host and co-creator of his own Internationally broadcast television series, Everyday Exotic.
His award-winning cookbook, based on the show, explores paring ingredients from all corners of the globe with everyday meals. He is also the co-host of Heat Seekers
on Food Network and host of Man Fire Food on Cooking Channel.
The multi-faceted chef is also appearing as a reoccuring judge on Chopped Canada which premièred in January.
His culinary talents have led to appearances on The Today Show, Good
Morning America, Marilyn Denis, Top Chef Canada and Iron Chef to name a few.
Despite all of this, Mooking says he is a fan of music and a fan of people’s cooking so when he sits to eat in a restaurant he may see things that are exceptional or things that are flawed in a dish but he is there to enjoy the food.
“If I’m at a sandwich shop I don’t expect a five-course meal. It’s about expectation too. So, I’m just going to ride it out. One day at a time. I live moment to moment,” he said.
He believes that “food feeds the body, music feeds the soul. It’s all food in various forms.”
The dedicated husband and father of four girls said he has been very fortunate over the years to earn multiple awards in different fields but the Vice Chancellor’s award holds a special place for him.
“This is the community that birth me. This is the community that raised me, the sensibility that raised me, and now coming around and nurturing that in other ways. I really hold this very close to my heart,” he said, noting that his parents, aunts and uncles who are sending him messages on Facebook are quite proud of the award.
For the past three years he has participated in the Second Harvest Toronto Taste gala, which is their premier fundraising event in the city.
Second Harvest is the largest food rescue program in Canada. Since 1985, it has been picking up donated, excess food, which would otherwise go to waste, and delivering that food to community agencies in Toronto.
Locally, Mooking works with Second Harvest because he thinks its important to take care of people in the country, in his “backyard” but he also works internationally with Save the Children.
The other Vice Chancellor Award recipients are: Bishop Peter Fenty, the first Black Bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada; Delores Lawrence, founder; president, & CEO of NHI Nursing & Homemakers Inc. and philanthropist; David Taylor, community leader and entrepreneur and Dr. Anna Jarvis, staff physician, Paediatric Emergency Medicine and University of Toronto Professor, Department of Paediatrics
Legendary reggae artist Jimmy Cliff, Tessanne Chin, winner of NBC’s The Voice; and Dr. Hedy Fry, Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre, will receive the Luminary Award.
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Award.
Under the theme Light, Learning and Liberty, the gala raises funds for scholarships for outstanding academic achievers in the Caribbean, who are in great need of assistance.
Since the inaugural gala four years ago, just under 150 scholarships have been awarded.
The patron of the event is G. Raymond Chang, Jamaican Canadian business leader and philanthropist.