Much like the eclectic fusion of flavours and styles that mark his dishes, Roger Mooking, chef, television host, musician, author and father of four, employs a similar strategy as a father of four.
“I grew up in a very West Indian household, but in Alberta for most of my years,” Mooking shared with Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk.”We ate a lot of West Indian foods, but we also embraced the culture. So in Edmonton, at that time, there was a lot of Polish and Ukrainian community. So I would come home and there’d be like a Ukrainian grandmother teaching my mother how to make perogies and stuff like this. We learned how to make like really good Ukrainian food and eat like that as well. So I kind of took that adaptability and the immigrant experience, and having to deal with a lot of social issues as a young kid, and you just kind of embrace that and embrace the world around you. And we just relay that same kind of thing to our kids. You know, like that sensibility. Just put in the work, have fun, enjoy what you’re doing and take care of the people around you. And so we just follow that sensibility.”
Click for video transcription
Welcome to Where Parents Talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a father of four, a chef, television host musician and author. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, he comes from a family of restaurant tours, infusing his Chinese Caribbean heritage into his cuisine. He was raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and moved to Toronto, Ontario in his late teens. Chef Roger Mooking joins us today from Toronto. It’s great to be with you. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me. Lianne. How are you today?
I am excellent. And I’m always excited to talk about food and parenting. So here we go.
They go pretty much hand in hand.
Yeah, they do. You know, it’s interesting, your portfolio of work, your body of expertise, the projects, you’re involved in all your areas of interest, really do read like a menu. And I wonder, you know, where does parenting and being a father of four girls fit into all of your different roles and responsibilities?
I mean, it’s one life, right? I know, people like to try and separate like a work life balance thing. I don’t, I don’t subscribe to that idea. I don’t believe in that idea of one life. And all of these different components are part of my life. And it’s really holistic. Like I like to make things right. I make records, I make TV shows, I make recipes. I make babies, that’s what we do.
Now have you always wanted to be a dad.
I never wanted to be a dad. And me and my wife bonded initially, because we both didn’t want to be parents are like, Oh, my God, you are the human for me. And then suddenly, we just started creating these little monsters and got addicted to them and kept creating.
So how did you go through that transition? Because obviously, you know, it’s the hardest job that anybody could possibly sign up for. I think we can all be in agreement with that. And that is being being a parent. How did you make that transition from not wanting children to, to having them?
Well, I just embraced it. You know, what happened is my wife was were folding laundry together, and we weren’t married at the time. We were both single. And, you know, we weren’t saying that we were but we weren’t married at the time. So we’re living together and we’re folding laundry and my wife. Now life looks at me, she goes on, I’m telling you something. I’m like, okay, what’s that? I’m pregnant. And I was just done. And I said, Okay, well, let’s go get the rest of the laundry. Stop shopping online first. And then I just you know, use embrace it. It’s like, Okay, this isn’t life just happens, you know. So here we are, life happens. You know, my grandmother grew up in a one bedroom house with five kids in it, like dirt poor, and we weren’t in that situation. But you make it happen. And so we just kept making it happen and then another kid and make it happen. And we just said that then adjust right? This, this is life, right? You just adapt and adjust.
So how did your childhood on that note? How did growing up in the Caribbean and then, you know immigrating to Canada as a young boy, how did all of that experience influence? And how does it influence how you parent?
Well, it’s interesting, I grew up in a very West Indian household, but in Alberta for most of my years. So you know, we ate a lot of West Indian foods, but we also embrace the culture we’re at. So in Edmonton, at that time, there was a lot of polish and Ukrainian community. So I would come home and there’d be like a Ukrainian grandmother teaching my mother how to make Portuguese and stuff like this. And so like, we learned how to make like really good Ukrainian food and eat like that as well. So I kind of took that adaptability and, you know, the the immigrant experience, and having to deal with a lot of, you know, social and social issues as a young kid, and you just kind of embrace that and embrace the world around you. And we just relay that same kind of thing to our kids. You know, like that sensibility. Just put in the work, have fun, enjoy what you’re doing and take care of the people around you. And so we just follow that sensibility. But you know, West Indian households are fairly strict household. They say the community raises the child, they’re in the Caribbean, right? So it’s not unusual that your aunts and uncles would check you for something just like your parents would. And so there’s accountability beyond just your household. So I’d take that sensibility still to this day, too. Right?
So are you the disciplinarian and then in your household?
I think we both have our moments of disciplinarianism. I tend to have shorter fuse with certain things and my wife has shorter fuse with certain things. And I’m more compassionate with certain things and she’s more compassionate to certain things so it balances out. Yeah, we know being a parent is the most rewarding and the most frustrating thing in life.
It is and yet many of us sign up for it, you know, it’s it is it is absolutely a challenge every day, and you never know what’s going to be coming at you. I wonder, when you talked about adaptability, you know, your career has taken you all over the world. It’s a very busy, dynamic, robust schedule that you that you lead. How do you go about managing guilt? Or do you feel any guilt when you’re away from your family and your girls for for long periods of time?
That’s a really good question. You know, I used to struggle with that a lot. But also, you know, I tell her, I tell her kids, and they understand, like, Look, this is what my job is, I don’t have a conventional job, like your friend’s parent down the street, who, you know, they see them every single day, and that kind of thing. But it allows us to, you know, have the food, clothing and shelter that we need. And live a lifestyle that, you know, we can, everybody can be taken care of, you know, reasonably comfortably, right? So I just kind of tell them over time, it’s like, well, I got to go, do you have to go get why do you got to go how long you’ve gone for? And so we answer those questions, were very forward and direct about it. But we also remind them, it’s like, Look, this is my job. And if you like those shoes, I need to go out and get these jobs and do the work. You know, unfortunately, or fortunately, my work is unconventional in that way. So my kids understand, like, now, you know, one daughter might say, Oh, where are you going? How long you gone for the other daughter be like, Oh, he’s got only three days. That’s not me. It’s a community of parents, I the household that we kind of support each other emotionally. And you know, to be honest, technology has been amazing. I can see them on video as many times a day as as, as I like. And as they like, they call me at any time of the day, any hour, no matter what I’m doing. So there’s that communication and connection still. And then when I come back home, we just pick it back up. No, but that’s all my kids know. So it’s not like I started doing like, I was an accountant. And then at seven years old, I became like, this traveling chef guy, you know, that’s all. That’s all we’ve ever known. And so it’s just part of what their existences you know.
Speaking of traveling chef guy, I wonder how has fame and celebrity impact impacted if at all, the way that you parent?
Well, that’s interesting question, because I’ve been in the public eye since I was like, 17 years old, you know? So I don’t know how to answer that question, because it impacted me long before I was a parent. And because I’ve been doing that for so long, I’ve set up a framework where I can protect my privacy, but still be a public figure. And you know, I figured that out maybe like 15 years ago, how to protect the privacy and still be a public figure. And I live, my team works very much in that format of protecting and segmenting those aspects of it, while still creating an intimate connection with our audience and appreciates us right. So that’s an ongoing thing, I don’t know how it impacts my parenting because it’s always been that situation for me, and then our kids entered our lives, and it was they entered that situation, you know, so it didn’t impact me to change anything in terms of that, but we are very defensive about my kids. And if you tried to try and find a picture of my kids or their names anywhere, which you may have tried you It’s impossible to find it because it’s not published anywhere and you won’t see them until they have a choice themselves if they want to do that when they become you know, 16-18 whatever they feel like right but we’ve protected that.
That is a really interesting point because that goes counter to the culture that we currently live in and I can relate to you in the sense that I don’t really post a lot of photos of my kids I’m very superstitious and I am absolutely not famous like yourself so I but I understand the idea of protecting privacy but you’re going against the grain of the world that we live in so I think that’s really interesting.
I’m not a very go with the grain kind of person going against the grain since I was like about six years old so like what why change it now?
Let me let me ask you you’ve been blessed with for four little girls who are now ages eight to 14 years old. I wonder you’re outnumbered in your household five to one in terms of girls to boy what what did you look at? How did you go about preparing to to raise these these girls and especially in today’s world?
Well, first of all, I have an amazing wife who’s just incredible. empathetic human. So a lot of blessing goes to her. Secondly, I was raised by women. I was raised really primarily by my grandmother, and my mother in my household. If you look at my team, it’s primarily surrounded by women by the person who runs my life database. As a woman. One of my assistants is a woman, another person who assists me as a woman. I my whole life just surrounded by women, you know, and at one point actually had a male manager and I said, Can I get a female manager, please? I just one more, I’m just comfortable with me around a lot of women, you know. So it was never a leap, a leap for me in any sort of way. And it was no shock, actually, that we have all living female children. So that just it’s just par for the course for me, you know, just I wasn’t shocked and surprised and very comfortable being around women. I mean, obviously, there’s things about being a woman that I will never understand or relate to in my life, kind of those stuff. But if they come to me, I’m happy to embrace it and have the conversation because there’s just like, yeah, they want to feel, I want them to feel that they can come and talk to me about anything, whether they think I fully understand it or not. And I’ll listen and if not, I’ll find the professionals who can really help them or, or my wife.
So on that note, what do you find most challenging as a dad raising four girls in today’s world.
Um, I’m just really afraid of the over sexualization of women in media, and how that impacts them, and how they are going to interact with that as they turn into young women and women themselves. We’re very mindful of that, I guess. But you also, I don’t want to restrict their body positivity in any way. Like I want them to feel like strong, powerful women, right. So what we do to be proactive about that is we give them we use certain external tools to accentuate their confidence. So you know, they all take boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, and I’ve seen over the time that they’ve been doing that their confidence has gone through the roof, you know, because they feel strong and empowered. They know how to control their bodies, and they know how, if there’s a threat, that they feel empowered, that they can, that they can challenge that threat. So that’s been very powerful. And also, like, it seems very simple, but I get them in the kitchen, you know, if you can control the environment, about what you put in your mouth, and what what the foods that you eat your body to nourish it, and you become part of that creative and logistical process of doing something that you do so much every single day, it really gives you a sense of confidence and pride, you know, I made that I did that. And they’re enjoying it. And it’s a community thing. Now I started this. So it’s very, very empowering. And so when I get the opportunity to share with them, like really creative ways to cook, like adding grapes to dishes, grilled skewers, or flatbread, and, you know, we’re throwing in California black grapes, and, and doing like, really interesting flavor profiles, they get really keyed up and interested in, they’re always the ones who are like, Yo, what’s up with this, you should put some rosemary on those plates, you know, so there’s like my recipe testing peanut gallery, you know?
Well, and it’s so interesting, because, you know, a lot of people who are not chefs probably don’t really consider the kitchen or cooking as a classroom unto itself as literally a laboratory of experimentation that can go on. And I wonder, as a chef, how do you go about navigating that with your girls? I mean, is it stressful for them? Because you are such an expert, and you know, you are have have this all these different things that you do? Or are you more sort of laid back in your approach to teaching them how to navigate their way around a kitchen?
Well, you got to realize my kids don’t care what I do, actually, they just don’t care. They may see like a show on TV, sometimes they just get my shows on TV, sometimes they’ll stop watch it. Like they really don’t care. I mean, just care that when are you coming home from this trip, and you’re my back. And when I’m at home, I’m like cooking in pajamas. They’re in pajamas, we’re just a family, you know. So there’s no intimidation factor. And they know that whatever they cook is what I’m cooking is for them and the family and so it’s it’s that give and take. So they’re not intimidated by that at all. And they know that I’m like, willing to help them or ask any questions they have and willing to answer those questions. So whether it’s rolling out the door, you know, they just asked me like, how do I do this? How do I do this better? Like, cool. How are we going to talk this and we just go so now they’re like Really, really good. I have my eldest daughters, many food stylists, she’s helped out on a lot of virtual cooking classes for us over this summer. She sets up the demos, she can set up the lights and the cameras and the whole thing between a couple of the girls now, right? So they’re totally involved in the process and they’re helping out and it’s an amazing, amazing thing. So there’s no intimidation or threat like that. It’s this is a loving household, you know, we’re just passing information.
Now I understand on that note that you are going to demonstrate a recipe for us. Can I ask you, is it kid friendly? And what does it entail?
Yes, it’s a flatbread with prosciutto go cheese in green grapes with rosemary. It’s very simple dough, and very simple, commonly available ingredients. And it’s absolutely delicious. And so what are testing this recipe? Actually, my kids were the were the taste testers. And so they’re like, Okay, cool. The dough needs a little bit more salt, you know, add a little bit more Rosemary to the Braves. I really liked the goat cheese in the shooto. They were like super, super duper into it, you know, and I thought maybe it needs some chilies on this and try something with Oh, yeah, the chimneys are good. And then the passing around. So they’re part of the whole thing. And so that’s the rest of you will be doing so yes, it is.
Awesome. We look forward to seeing you make it.
Can I say something. I think all food is kid friendly. Right? I think in North America, we have this notion of kid friendly food. But when I go to India, when kids in India are eating french fries, right? Or spaghetti with butter. They’re eating lamb vindaloo and naan bread and some of the put near and doll like that’s how they’re eating. So I think that we as adults in North America, we project what we imagine the kids palate will like, but that’s not actually the case. And we’ve proven that because we only cook one meal, they eat what we eat, and sometimes that’s spicy, curry vindaloo sometimes it’s California grapes on a pork skewer with mint and onions and Orissa. Sometimes it’s sushi. Sometimes it’s Greek food, sometimes it’s Persian food, they were missing themselves like crazy during the pandemic. So we went to the car been some picnic that in the car. So, you know, I think that it’s really how the family interacts with the kids relationship with food. And I think it’s the adults projecting more than the kids desires.
It’s such an important point because as I’m sure you’re aware, that is such a huge challenge and struggle in many households where you’ve got separate menus for every single meal. And I actually don’t know how people do it. But as parents, I think, you know, you get desperate, right, and you just want your child to be nourished and you’ll do whatever it takes, you’ll steam the broccoli, you’ll you know, you’ll puree it, you’ll do whatever for each child to make sure that they’re eating, although probably they won’t starve. But that’s, that’s, you know, that’s important to let them have an open and a free mind. But also understand that there’s just certain parameters in life, you know, there’s one factor in life. So our form factor is very wide. And then adaptability. adaptability is very wide. But yes, it’s a challenge. And I don’t know how parents do that. I hear about parents doing that. And it sounds absolutely exhausting.
Agreed, agreed. Chef Mooking in closing, I just want to ask you, what are you most proud of as a parent?
I’m what am I most proud of? You know, I’m really proud that my kids are very adaptable and receptive to learning. They are very observant, they observe and look around and learn a situation very quickly, and can problem solve really, really well. Like, you know, they think like engineers in terms of problem solving, they may not be great at the math, they may not be great at the English and you know, various of the kids, but they are all very good critical adaptive thinkers and problem solvers, which at the end of the day, you want that from a doctor, a plumber, a carpenter, the ditch digger, the architect, so the chef, so whatever they’re going to be whatever at some point in life. You’re going to need adaptive creative thinking. So I’m most happy about that then, and food plays a very prominent role in subconsciously planting that message in their minds every day.
Chef Roger Mooking, dad, chef are obviously a chef, host, musician and author. It has been an absolute delight, learning about your parenting journey. Thank you for taking the time today.
Be sure to have some California grapes!
They look divine. They really do.
I’m sure they do in season from May to January.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you Have a great day. You too.
What’s up everybody I’m Roger Mooking and today I’m making prosciutto rosemary and California green grapes, flatbread absolutely delicious using green grapes not only as a snack, but also in your cooking. So I’m gonna take the green grapes I’m using seedless California green grapes, and just cutting them in half right. Here’s a nice sharp knife. Make sure your knife is super sharp. As you see it becomes effortless. And then when you have what you think is enough to keep the rest of snack on. Now I love the rosemary because it’s kind of that sharp, bright, very specific flavor of rosemary sort of Piney mixed with the first thing sweet and slightly acidic grapes is like the perfect perfect combo. Okay. Add it to the grapes, like so, season them with a little bit of salt. That’ll help make it look really nice and juicy. A little bit of olive oil, just to make it all stick together. Add some freshly cracked black pepper to that, give it a toss. And just let that sit off the side. We’ll get to that right. So here got this amazing Joe, the recipe is on grapes from california.com. Okay, lightly flour your board. So what I want to do is portion This is enough for for flatbreads, we’re among friends or eyeballing it and there’s somebody you don’t like you can give them a smaller one. Then you’re going to make a dowels out of it like this you need to get these into dowels to roll them out into flat rate. Okay, put the seam down and then start rolling. Roll from the center out start. You want to make a nice long piece of dirt. Nice long oval. I’m going to take this I’ve heated this grill to about 350 degrees here. Oil boiled it lightly take this flatbread let’s get this door that’s what you want. Now you’ll notice only one side is cooked. The other side is still wrong. This side is going to go down flat against the grill the next time I put it in. So first, we start dressing the flatbread goat cheese, I promise you go cheese, can take some goat cheese, smear it off to the flatbread. And this goat cheese is gonna melt and be super delicious in the mix here. Take our grapes that we’ve masqueraded with the rosemary and just kind of started along like this filling in little gaps. Alright, now we’re just looking for the dough to finish cooking on the bottom and throughout so you don’t have any Rob dough. Of course we want to just warm up those grapes so that they burst in the oils. We have Rosemary Mary with them, and they become juicy and delicious. When you bite into it. You’re going to get the salty prosciutto which I’m still going to put on it. You’re going to get the chilies, you’re going to have grapes bursting with juice in there lately melted cheese on his own to his delicious dope. So it’s very, very simple. Very, very quick. All right. popped up nicely. not sticking to the thrill to take this off. All right, now it’s time to clean up the slack. All right, so I want to cut these just down into portions so it’s easy to share because this is all about sharing. I’m going to take some chili flakes or pepper in Chino to take the puts a little garden so people know what’s going on here. I always like to finish it with a little bit of drizzle of the best quality all of all your money can buy. drizzling all around the edges like this and all over it. And then sprinkle in finished with a little bit of finishing salt. Alright, so now seasoned up a little bit, I’m going to add the pursuit. So just take some pursuit don’t just kind of lightly feather it. Place it on top. net for shooto on each little portion. That’s it. Back there right? And like that, for shooto, rosemary and green grape flatbread, absolute madness
The product of a Chinese-Caribbean background, Mooking was born in Trinidad and Tobago and says he knew from a young age that he wanted to following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were also restaurateurs. The family immigrated to Canada when Mooking was five years old, first settling in Alberta, before moving to Toronto when he was a teenager.
Fatherhood, he says, was not on his radar.
“I never wanted to be a dad,” he says. “And me and my wife bonded initially, because we both didn’t want to be parents. And then suddenly, we just started creating these little monsters and got addicted to them and kept creating!”
Mooking appears in or hosts a series of shows including Man Fire Food, Chopped Canada, Chopped, Man’s Greatest Food, and is also a Juno-award winning musician.
He and his wife Leslie have four daughters aged 8 to 14.
“I’ve been in the public eye since I was like, 17 years old,” says Mooking about managing parenting with celebrity. “I’ve set up a framework where I can protect my privacy, but still be a public figure. And you know, I figured that out maybe like 15 years ago, how to protect the privacy and still be a public figure. And I live, my team works very much in that format of protecting and segmenting those aspects of it, while still creating an intimate connection with our audience and appreciates us right.”
During his interview with Where Parents Talk, Mooking also discusses:
- How he navigates the kitchen with his own children
- Raising girls in today’s world
- His childhood
- How he manages guilt as a father
- What he is most proud of as a parent
- His parenting approach