What’s in the Bag of a Globe‑Trotting Celebrity Chef?

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Roger Mooking, Trinidadian‑Canadian chef, musician and TV personality, reveals what he packs on his around‑the‑world quests for bold flavours.

“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.

April 20, 2021

ER What do you love to eat when you’re travelling, but not working?

RM I’m perpetually on the hunt for two things when I’m on the road: Trinidadian goat roti, and the best ramen. For me, good ramen just does everything. The noodles are perfect and have a little bit of bite to them; they hold their integrity. The broth is rich and creamy. You get the zing of the citrus. It’s such a big flavour in your mouth. A little bit of chili. I like a garlic bomb in there, too.

ER Is there a place you love to visit specifically for its food scene?

RM I’m really enamoured with Turkish cuisine, but I’ve only ever transited through Istanbul Airport. So, I’d like to go explore beyond the airport. I’ll tell you that my favourite restaurant in the world is this place called Devi’s Corner in Kuala Lumpur, and every time I’m in the city, I go there three times a week. It’s an open‑air dining space with a covered ceiling, but all the doors are wide open and it’s famous for making roti canai [Indian‑style flatbread that’s popular in Southeast Asia]. The place is cheap but stupid delicious – you can eat like a king for three bucks and it’s always full of locals, with cabbies parked up outside.

ER What’s your packing style?

RM I’m a folder. My approach is organized and specific, because every TV episode I shoot requires a new outfit.

ER Do you pack in advance or at the last minute?

RM I always have the basic stuff, like my passport and toiletries, already packed in my luggage. The rest I pack the night before I travel.

ER Any travel hacks to share?

RM You can rack up a lot of benefits with loyalty programs, like getting an hour in the lounge or upgrades when the budget is tight.

What’s in Roger’s bag?

An eyeglass screwdriver with various parts from a pair of sunglasses
  1. Eyeglass screwdriver — I’m always dropping my sunglasses, so they need a little attention every day. Instead of trying to find a shop, I can repair on the fly.

A hotel shower cap in its box from Crabtree & Evelyn
  1. Hotel shower caps — I often trample around muddy or dusty areas while shooting, so I wrap each dirty shoe in a shower cap before packing them neatly, like a game of Tetris.

A tin of Jacobsen sea salt
  1. Jacobsen sea salt — This all‑natural sea salt is harvested from Netarts Bay, Oregon. When I’m on the road and need to hook my food up with a bit of extra salt, voilà!

A pair of Penn 3 orange tennis balls
  1. Tennis balls — For an easy back massage, I lie over these – one on each side of my spine – and just dissolve. You want inexpensive balls that deflate quickly for the perfect pressure.

A bottle of Kiehl's Facial Fuel moisturizer
  1. Kiehl’s Facial Fuel moisturizer — I’m out in the sun and harsh environments on set, so my skin gets parched. I put this on before bed, and by morning, it’s like I’m a newborn baby.

A wallet made from repurposed food packaging from Thailand
  1. Recycled wallet — I picked this up in Thailand. It’s made from repurposed food packaging – we need to do more of that on Earth.

A black Hedgren backpack
  1. Hedgren backpack — It’s compact but incredibly well designed for travelling, with tons of pockets, zips and loops. I can access what I need very efficiently.