Chef Roger Mooking: Living food

Food Network celebrity chef Roger Mooking is a true culinary adventurer, with a vibrantly creative approach to cooking that’s powered by a pantry full of spices from the four corners of the globe. He’s also a Juno award-winning recording artist with his second album, Feedback, coming out this summer, an author and the father of three lucky girls who never eat the same supper twice.

If I’m just discovering the world of spices, where’s a good place to start?

“Start with what you know. If you like chicken soup, put a pinch of a spice mix you like in your soup. You can use just a little, as though you’re seasoning with salt and pepper, or try going for a bolder flavour if that’s what you feel like. If you really don’t know what you like, start with a recommendation from someone you trust – a more experienced cook or chef like me! You might think buying a whole bag of coriander seeds for just one recipe doesn’t make sense. But trust me, you’re going to be able to use that spice – whatever it is – in so many ways that you’ll be buying more before you know it.”

You’re a notorious heat seeker. Is this related to your roots in Trinidad?

“There’s a pepper sauce on the kitchen table of almost every home in Trinidad. Everyone has a slightly different recipe, somewhat like in India, where each cook has their own personal blend. Some will have mango, some have vinegar or different seasonings. My aunt liked a lot of pepper flavour in her meals and always said she wasn’t satisfied until her eyes were watering. I like how chilies have this physical component to them – the heat and sweat and tears. It’s why I call chilies a ‘living food.’ The experience of eating them is so naturally exciting. It’s more than a flavour, it’s an adventure.”

Are you adventurous when it comes to cheese?

“Absolutely. At the moment in my fridge I have some Canadian Feta and some fresh Canadian Ricotta, but it’s sure to be something different next week. At the market and at the grocery store I always try to come back with something I’ve never tried before, and frequently it’s a cheese. I love Canadian cheeses, and there are so many different kinds! I had the opportunity recently of visiting a local cheese maker here in Ontario, and I made my own fresh Canadian Mozzarella. There’s nothing like bringing home a cheese that’s still warm, and I love how Canadian cheeses pair so well with spices of all kinds. You can even find spiced Canadian cheeses, cheeses with chilies in them, and all kinds of fun combinations. I must admit that my favourite cheese is the Paneer I make at home from Canadian milk. I’ll use it to make pea and Paneer curry and serve it with jasmine or basmati cardamom rice. We’re so lucky as Canadians to be able to access and enjoy all these amazing flavours. It really gives me pride.”

Check out our Featured Chef Recipe: Maple Smoked Cheddar rib-eye

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