“You know when you ask little kids, what do you want to be when you grow up? My aunt did that when I was three years old, and without blinking I said, “I’m going to be a chef,” laughs Roger Mooking.
In 1979, the Mooking family left their native Trinidad for a new life in Canada. They took a train across the country to decide where to live.
“My dad loved Alberta,” he says. “He loved the big sky, he loved that there was a booming economy, the cost of living was low, and there was no provincial (sales) tax. We lived in northeast Edmonton, and for years we were the only black people in our schools.”
Mooking’s grandfather came from China and opened bakeries and restaurants, and his father, aunts and uncles owned restaurants and catering companies. In his late teens, he worked in restaurants and put all his earnings into recording music.
“I sing, I rap, I produce, I write, so there’s been times in my career where music dominated my calendar. Now it’s a mix of food, music, cookbooks, and television shows,” says Mooking. “It’s all entertainment.”
Hating the industry of music, Mooking went to George Brown College in Toronto while working full time in a restaurant. He worked hard in restaurants, catering companies, and hotels for years before accepting the executive chef position at Toronto’s Barrio, in 2004.
“They were launching Food Network at the time, and they used to film television shows around the corner. The skeleton staff were working ridiculous hours, and they used to come to my restaurant,” he says. “I had already done TV and performed with bands, and I just wanted to chill, cook my food, and go home – but they said, ‘We want you to do some shows.’”
Mooking didn’t like the concepts and declined, but a couple of years later they met again, and eventually launched Everyday Exotic, selling it aroundthe world. Life took off with the opening of Nyood in 2008, more restaurants and albums followed, but he was in too many meetings, hiring and firing — something had to give.
Working for Food Network and the Cooking Channel in America, Mooking opened Twist at Pearson Airport, and while catering the Junos in Calgary last year, Telus Spark — knowing his history of working with all dietary restrictions, age and income levels — asked him to revamp their food and beverage program. That’s when he came up with the new Social Eatery concept.
So what is Mooking’s special bottle?
“I live in a multi generational home, so every now and again we’re able to sneak off,” he explains.
A work trip provided the opportunity for his wife to join him for her first visit to Las Vegas, and his friend, Giada De Laurentiis’ culinary director, arranged for him to take her to Giada for dinner.
“We were treated amazingly,” he says. “When we arrived, the maître d’ brought us a flute of La Marca prosecco with a twist of lime in it, and my wife drank it and said “What is this drink? It’s the best drink I’ve had in my life!”
“I bought a few bottles, so there’s always one ready in the fridge,” says Mooking. “It may be because I’m home and it’s a Tuesday, and the kids are in bed. I don’t believe in waiting for an occasion, you wake up and breathe — that’s an occasion.”