“It’s in my blood to be nomadic,” says Roger Mooking, the Toronto–based chef who would typically travel 20 days a month for his TV shows (like Man Fire Food, in its ninth season). A wandering impulse runs in the family: His Hakka grandfather emigrated from China to Trinidad, and later started one of the first Chinese restaurants in Bonaire. When Mooking isn’t creating signature dishes, like chili–dusted fried chicken (available at his restaurant Twist by Roger Mooking, at Toronto Pearson), he’s making music (Eat Your Words is his latest album). “Whether you come to my restaurant, watch my shows or listen to an album, I want to entertain.”
enRoute How does travel inspire your culinary creativity?
Roger Mooking I love seeing how people around the world do things slightly differently based on their resources and how ingenious they have to be – that always inspires me. For example, one little–known fact is that Houston is like the Toronto of the United States: It’s the most diverse place in the country and home to a large Vietnamese population. I love those pockets where I can find authentic things. When I’m travelling globally, I’ll go and try every spot, from the person on the corner making jhal muri [a Bengali street–food snack made of puffed rice] in Jakarta, or everything humanly possible at the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok.
ER Do you have a travel tip for those who want to discover hidden gems or real chef–flavoured spots to eat?
RM I’m a little spoiled. Because I travel so much and because of my shows, I can talk to chefs in every location and say, “Yo, I’m looking for ramen today. What’s the move?” and they’ll break it down for me. I have lists for every city I’ve been to with the best places to hit. People know this, and they’ll holler at me like, “Rog, I’m in Jakarta. Do you know the spots?” And I’m like, “Well, funny enough, here’s the list.”
You’d be amazed what you’ll find if you Google a place with the phrase “off the beaten path” – that alone can take you on some interesting adventures. You’ll find lesser–known bloggers who know the little nooks and crannies, the secret hidden spots that are in the back of the back of a restaurant.