Chef Roger Mooking: Tasting and Creating a Canadian Mosaic — Kenzie Osborne
Story Previously Published on Kenzieosborne.com
Diversity. A word that’s been weaving its way in and out of every conversation lately — and it’s one that’s so important to appreciate and recognize in everything we do. Canada is a mosaic. A beautiful painting of seemingly endless identities, races, genders, and personalities. It’s sometimes difficult to immerse yourself in each culture and step into the shoes of your neighbour. That is, until you taste their food…
Tasting A Bit-Of-This And A-Bit-Of-That
Food is something oh-so-important to Chef Roger Mooking and his family. “My grandfather was from China, and when he moved over to Trinidad he opened a few bakeries and restaurants to stay afloat. As a young child, my dad learned how to bake bread, raise chickens, sell eggs, manage a grocery store, hunt and forage for foods, roast Chinese duck…. He learned every little thing you could about food — from growing it to hunting it to preparing it to serving it. My dad passed along the same knowledge and appreciation for food to me. My first memories were of me standing at the kitchen counter learning how to make curry goat, flip pancakes, and fold wontons.”
Yes, he was learning how to make curry goat, pancakes, and wontons all at the same time… His family was diverse — and they were embracing each n’ every flavour they possibly could. They were no stranger to learning about cultures and traditions — and they were excited by the different experiences that came with each one.
“Food is such a natural gateway to share information, pass along traditions, and learn about family history. It’s the one constant that brings everyone from all walks of life together. Every country is passionate about the food they offer — and when you’re given a plate of food that has been handled with such care and love, you can gain an appreciation and understanding of the one who served you.”
Hopping Right Into Their Neighbours’ Shoes
Immersing themselves into a variety of cultures was something that Chef Roger Mooking and his family loved to do. When they moved from Trinidad to Edmonton, the culture was completely different.. The majority of the population was from Ukraine and Poland — something none of them had ever really experienced before. Rather than sticking to their roots, they wanted to learn about the history, food, and the way of life of their Ukranian and Polish neighbours.
Bottom Line: They wanted to step into the shoes of each n’ every person that they met. Oh… And to clarify.. by “stepping into the shoes”, of course, I mean “gobbling up each n’ every plate of goodness served to them with love”.
“My family was super adventurous — we were always looking to try a new type of food or experience a new culture through the dishes we ate. My mom would go to the store and strike up a conversation with a Ukrainian from our town… I’d come home from school and there’d be some Ukranian 90yr old woman teaching my mum how to make perogies in our kitchen. It was a way for us to bond with our community and understand and appreciate the diversity that was around us.”
The eagerness to learn about new cultures allowed Chef Roger to not only develop an incredible palate, but also become extremely creative and appreciative in the kitchen.
A Worldly Menu
His menu wasn’t exactly the norm of an 11-year-old-boy (aka a slice of white bread with a gourmet spray cheese topping…) — but it sure did hit all the continents, and all the flavour profiles….
- Breakfast: Dim Sum
- Lunch: Roti Curry
- Dinner: Perogies
I guess you could say that Chef Roger Mooking took a trip around the world each and every day — and the flavours and experiences he was exposed to are makin’ me a lil jealous…. His family was able to embrace the diversity of our country — and they certainly weren’t afraid to branch out and try something completely out-of-the-ordinary.
No Filters in the Culinary World
As Chef Roger Mooking began to gain more appreciation for the world of culinary arts, he decided to step on into the industry himself. “I started working in restaurants at 15. You meet ALL personalities, and ALL types of people from ALL walks of life. I learned so much from working in kitchens — and it’s really shaped me into the man I am today. You learn about real life in the kitchen — there’s no filters and there’s plenty of commotion, but there’s also this incredible sense of comradery and inclusion.”
You’ve probably heard a bit-of-this and a-bit-of-that about the kitchen life. Long hours, low pay, stressful environment, and all that fun stuff… But what you don’t hear about is the love and the passion that every chef in the industry has. “It’s almost impossible to find someone who’s extremely passionate about food but doesn’t like to socialize and contribute to their community. The hospitality and culinary industry is so loving towards the community — it’s just who we are.”
Priority Number One: Share a Smile
Chef Roger is certainly no exception… His endless appreciation for culture, his curiosity of others, and his unwavering dedication to help others has led him down a road of community service and life-changing initiatives. Food is something that’s not only necessary for life — and the discrepancy between excess food in some places and insufficient food in others is heartbreaking…
“A lot of people in this world suffer from extreme food insecurity on a daily basis. They don’t have healthy food to go to school and they can’t nourish their brains and bodies… Food can truly improve lives — it’s something so simple, yet we’re failing to provide everyone with the nutrients they need to live their life to the fullest. There’s enough food on the planet for everyone — we’re just doing a poor job of managing it.”
Changing Lives with a Fresh Piece of Fish
This point couldn’t have been made more clear to Chef Roger on his travels to Cambodia. “I’ll never forget the time I went to Cambodia to help with the Save the Children initiative. There were about 100 kids playing in an alleyway with a stream of urine and feces running right under their feet. Being able to help nourish those children and provide that community with resources was an unforgettable experience. The program would help the people dig a hole, line it with plastic, fill it with fresh water, and cook baby tilapia. It was so simple, yet it brought so much happiness. The idea of a fresh protein was so unfamiliar, and to provide a family with something so essential was incredible.”
It’s so sad to hear that something we toss out without a care is the same thing that brings an entire community so much joy, love, and light. The food we have in our world is plenty enough to feed each and every soul — but our carelessness and tendency to toss this-and-that in the garbage is preventing us from reaching our potential.
Looking at the appreciation of food from country to country is kind of telling of North America’s somewhat gluttonous society… If you travel to less-fortunate countries, you’ll see tables and tables of food — with nothing wasted, and EVERYTHING tasted. You’ll see families sitting together and bonding over a meal. Dishes are appreciated, ingredients are cared for, and food is something that makes a day truly special.
Take A Taste, and Dive Right In
“I’ve been all around the world, and it’s obvious that every single culture LOVES their food. They’re so willing to share their food — it’s something they’re truly passionate about. It’s their way to let others into their culture, appreciate their way of life, and embrace what they as individuals have to offer.”
In general, I think North America takes a bit of a backseat when appreciating the significance of food. We scarf down food on the way to work, toss out this-and-that because it looks “ugly”, buy in excess and waste without care, and opt for processed food made from machines rather than embracing what our country, land, and people have to offer.
Embracing Our Roots
Canada is special. Canada is a mosaic. We have our own ingredients to share, and we have a variety of people that can prepare those same ingredients in a million different ways. There’s so much to experience, there’s endless potential, and there’s so much love and care to be shared through our food. We just need to realize and embrace it…
Inspiring Change with Every Bite
Chef Roger Mooking has certainly embraced the wonders of food in every way possible. He’s used his food and flavours to help others thrive, he’s indulged in foods of the world to improve upon his own knowledge of different people and cultures, and he continues to pass along his own values and traditions to his own children through each and every dish he creates. Chef Roger is certainly an inspiration for all — and he’s leading change with every ingredient he puts on the plate.
“Food is of paramount importance. It opens a gateway to innovation, problem solving, creativity, companionship, and comradery. It winds its way into all aspects of life. Food is love. It’s that simple. It’s everything.”
A HUGE Thanks to Chef Roger Mooking!!
Thank you so much to Chef Roger Mooking for taking the time to speak with me, and share your story. I cannot be more grateful for the work you do in the community, and the light you shed on the importance of food, family, and sharing. Canada is a mosaic — and you’re embracing every lil bit of our beautiful piece of art!
Check out chef Roger Mooking on his social media by clicking the links below (uhmm y’all have GOTTA check out his social media — the globally-inspired food that he’s whipping up is looking jaw-droppingly delishhhh!)
Originally published at https://kenzieosborne.com on July 3, 2020.