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Ink

On my mind: Celebrity chef Roger Mooking

“There’s something communal about a fire. We’ve been doing that for eons. You sit around a fire. I think if you have a fire and a bunch of people, you build a community.”

ROGER MOOKING, TORONTO, CANADA

Chef, traveler, host, musician

Man. Fire. Food. For celebrity chef Roger Mooking, it’s just that simple. At least it is on the surface.

Mooking’s background and cooking style are a veritable gumbo of cultures — Chinese, Caribbean, Canadian and classic European — and his television hosting duties have a wide range, too.

He is co-host of Heat Seekers on Food Network and the host and co-creator of the internationally broadcast television series Everyday Exotic, as well as Man Fire Food on the Cooking Channel. Man Fire Food recently brought him to Grain Valley where he featured mechanic Bill Rousseau, who has transformed a retired Cessna airplane into a smoker that he named “Swine Flew”.

Despite the brevity and busyness of his Kansas City visit, Mooking made sure to eat at Gates Bar-B-Q. And during his interview with Ink, he went even deeper with the local love: shouting out Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne before even one question was asked.

Special to Ink

On Kansas City’s Tech N9ne: “I have to give a shout out to Tech N9ne since he’s from Kansas City… He’s been around a long time — doing it — and has managed to be a very, very successful independent artist outside of the traditional record company model. So I admire that aspect of what he does.”

On Swine Flew: “Those guys were crazy. They are mechanics by day. By nights and weekends they are really avid skydivers and barbecue freaks. What they managed to do was blend all their worlds of expertise together — the mechanic interest, the skydiving and the food — and they turned a Cessna plane into a smoker. And where you would sit to operate the plane is where you’re actually cooking the meat. We had pork butt that they cooked up. We had some chicken that they cooked up. They used a magic dry rub that they wouldn’t tell me all of the ingredients for.”

On being called “eccentric”: “My grandfather came from China, ended up in the Caribbean and Trinidad, which is very multicultural. I moved to Edmonton, Alberta, and grew up from 5 until 18 there and I learned a lot of Ukrainian food from the Polish and Ukrainians who inhabit that area a lot. And then I moved to Toronto, which is extremely multicultural, and I was trained by Swiss, German and French chefs. I kind of draw the influence of the classic European, the Chinese and the Caribbean at the roots of my cuisine.”

On music: “I just finished recording my record two days ago. …it should be released next year. To me I just like to create things. So whether it’s a cookbook, TV show, record, a live show with a band, a recipe, a song, lyrics, anything; it’s just a creative endeavor and I get to make something. The process is the same: You have the seed of an idea, you fight your way through it, you refine it, you tweak it until it’s perfect, and then you let everyone know about it and you share it with people. It’d be the same if I was a painter or a photographer or an architect. I just happen to live in the worlds of food and music.”

On cooking with fire: “Part of it is the experience…there’s something very primal. You have to commit to building a fire. It’s part architecture and part craftsmanship and part instant gratification once that fire starts. I think the process is what’s interesting but also there are dynamics you can create flavorwise from cooking with fire depending on the type of wood you use. Everybody’s got their own type of sweet spot when it comes to the wood. And each type of wood does impart a specific flavor. There’s a real magic you can create just with salt and pepper or just a piece of meat or vegetable and different types of wood.”

On what to expect from his show Man Fire Food: “You’ll learn a lot about how regional American cuisine is through fire. You go to the South, they do a very specific thing, and different parts of the South do very specific things. When you go to the Northeast, you do a clam bake. You go to California, and we are doing Santa Maria style barbecue, which is a very specific thing. We go to the Northwest and we learn the native tradition of smoking salmon. We touch all of the different corners of the country, the middle of the country and every nook and cranny to tell that regional story of America and we have a lot of fun at the same time. It’s not just hamburgers and ribs.”

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